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 bottles
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 has
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
An example of a pest repellant is garlic (photo on right). It can be sprinkled around an are
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)
Sage (burned dry sage gives off a pleasant odor and some people gargle with it to ease sore throats) - photo on right
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)
Fennel (has a slight nutty flavor and sports fern-like foliage that is
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.
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. You’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.
Amazon Price: $34.95 Buy Now
(price as of May 2, 2016)