This series of articles encourages your family to learn and create through a partnership of nature topics and craft projects kids will love.
Herbalists have been singing the praises of native plants for centuries...literally. Have you ever heard the Simon and Garfunkel song from The Graduate soundtrack called “Scarborough Fair”? The song says:
"Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather:
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
And gather it all in a bunch of heather,
Then she’ll be a true love of mine."
Simon and Garfunkel adopted this version of an old folk song from Medieval England. In the song, a man sings of his desire to find his true love. During those times, weaving the different herbs into the song was thought to add comfort (parsley), strength (sage), love (rosemary) and courage (thyme) to his words.
To Herb or Not to Herb
So, what is an herb, you ask? Well, it's defined many ways. To some, “herb” is the term used to describe a herbaceous plant, one that doesn’t develop woody stems and dies each year (like grass, for instance). However, this definition is a bit constricting for several reasons. For one, a few of the plants we think of as “herbs” indeed have woody stems. Rosemary is an example. As a result, I prefer to think of an herb simply as any plant that helps us.
Herb vs. Spice
Now that you have an idea of what an herb is, can you name a few? Here’s a hint: open your cupboard and pull out some of your “spices.” Let your children go through the different bottlesCredit: TerraTrade Studios and divide them up into two piles: herbs and spices. The ones that are green or light brown are considered herbs, the green leafy part of a plant. The others are probably dried roots, berries, seeds, or bark and are commonly referred to as spices. It's likely your kids confused a few of the bottles, but that happens frequently. Luckily, the result of using either is the same…added flavor and goodness to your favorite recipes.
It turns out that most of us are more familiar with the term “spice” because we tend to use them regularly in our baking (i.e. cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.). However, when you cook certain dishes at home, such as lasagna for instance, you're probably adding herbs to these dishes rather than spices. Herbs have a more subtle taste than most spices. So what other uses do herbs have in our daily lives? You might be surprised…
Herbs Help Us in Many Ways
Complete Herbal lists the following uses for herbs:
Medicinal: used to supplement our diets in a way that benefits our health.
Culinary: sprinkled on our favorite foods to add flavor.
Pest Repellants: can be applied to our skin, clothes, or used near growing plants such as corn to discourage annoying insects or other pests.
Dyes (look for photo): produce lovely colors when used to dye clothing or other soft materials.
Fragrance: many have a pleasant scent and can be used in potpourri, teas, to scent bath water, for candles, oils and perfumes.
An example of a medicinal herb that also has a lovely fragrance is lavender (photo on right). This tall plant hasCredit: www.pixabay.com been used to calm nerves, sooth fussy children, and relax tired parents. It is often used as a sleep aid either by placing dried flowers in the pillow case or infusing it as a tea and drinking before bed. Lavender is also known to ease the pain of sunburns or other skin burns and has been used this way in some countries for centuries.
I’ve attempted to grow this wonderful plant from seed, but have had absolutely no luck. Instead of trying (and likely being disappointed), I recommend you buy potted plants or cuttings. Either way, lavender is an excellent addition to any garden.
An example of an herb that is commonly used to flavor food is basil (photo on left). Basil is quite easy to grow from seed and comes in multiple varieties. The “pizza Credit: www.pixabay.combasil,” as we call it at home, is used to season foods like pizza, and sweet basil is routinely added to spaghetti sauces.
An example of a pest repellant is garlic (photo on right). It can be sprinkled around an areCredit: www.pixabay.coma of your home where you commonly see insects coming and going to drive them away. It can also be added to water and sprayed on clothing or skin to deter mosquitoes. But beware: you’ll smell like garlic if you make the mixture too strong! Garlic can also help a person fight off a cold, maintain digestive health, and lower cholesterol levels in the blood.
Marigold is a common herb that can be used as a dye. Many people are familiar with marigold as a fall flower that spruces up window boxes and raised flower beds, but it also produces a lovely yellow-gold dye. Marigolds are quite easy to grow from seed, and are often grown alongside vegetable plants to ward off insects.
Common Herbs You Can Grow at Home
We’ve only barely scratched the surface in regards to the different kinds of plants you might want to grow in your home or garden. Following are a few more suggestions. You can usually find seeds or cuttings for these plants at your local grocery store, gardening shop, home improvement store, or nursery.
Thyme (has a lemony flavor and is known to ease stomach cramps and coughs)
Parsley (a great source for vitamin C; a tea made from a few sprigs of parsley has more vitamin C than orange juice)
Oregano (goes great with basil on pizza and in spaghetti sauce)
Mint (several different kinds; mints are great for seasoning tea and cookies/candies)
Lemon Balm (has a lemony scent with a hint of mint and is considered deer resistant)
Chives (produce bright pinkish-purple fluffy blooms and have a mild onion flavor) - photo on right
Sprucing Up Your Herbal Garden
Once you’ve decided which herbs you want to plant, it’s time to gather the proper supplies. Credit: www.pixabay.comYou’ll need containers, soil, a watering can, a small trowel, seeds or cuttings, and some fertilizer. Be sure to follow the specific planting instructions for each herb (i.e. soil moisture, sun or shade, etc.). Be patient; gardens need lots of love, nourishment, and time to grow.
After you’ve planted your new garden, you’ll want to remember where you placed everything. Here’s a fun craft you can do with your kids that will help you do that:
Garden Stake Supplies:
- Polymer or air dry clay
- Anything you can use to create texture (tree bark, sand paper, etc.)
- Acrylic paint pen
- Rolling pin, old wine bottle or other similar tool
- Letter stamps (optional)
- Glitter or embossing powder (optional)
- Molds or stamps (optional)
- Choose the colors of clay you prefer and condition the clay for use.
- Use the rolling pin to flatten out a shape similar to the one in the photo. Credit: TerraTrade StudiosYou’ll want the base of the stake to be more narrow than the top and pointed so it will go into the ground easier.
- Use textures, stamps, and/or molds to add embellishments to your garden stake.
- If you have letter stamps, use them to spell out the various herb names. Otherwise, you can use an acrylic paint pen to write the name on the stake after baking/curing your clay.
- You can also rub glitter or embossing powder onto the stake for added color and sparkle.
- Once your designs are perfect, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to cure your clay.
- After your stakes have baked/dried, you can paint them, write/paint the herb names on them, or add more glitter, etc. with a clear glue.
- If your herbal garden will be outside, you may want to consider covering your stakes with a clear finish (Varathane works well for most plastic clays).
- Place your stakes and enjoy your garden!
I hope this article has inspired you to learn and create! Check out the other articles in this series for more family fun.
Check out these "Green Thumb" Garden Stakes you can make with your kids! Create several and place them in your new herb garden.
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