Herbs can add a touch of magic to your garden with their supernatural associations and practical uses.
Records show that herbs were in use in ancient Greece where they were valued as flavorings and for their fragrance. Certain herbs were also credited with mystical properties. Herbs were introduced into Britain by the Romans who also valued the reputedly supernatural powers of the plants, as well as their culinary and medicinal uses. In Britain, too, herbs became a focus of superstition, reaching their peak of importance in the Middle Ages when every village had its witch, and every witch her herbs and potions. Herbs were also used to combat the witches’ powers; garlic, hyssop and wormwood all combated witchcraft and evil spirits.
The medicinal qualities of herbs were even more important. In 1597 John Gerard, the London herbalist and apothecary, published his “Herball”, a volume containing 1000 pages with woodcut illustrations of some 3000 plants. A rather smaller collection of some 400 plants was included in Nicholas Culpeper’s Complete Herbal first published in c1640 and still available from bookshops today.
For most of us today the main use for herbs will be as flavorings in cooking. A few plants within easy reach of your backdoor so that they are handy for the cook will be well worth the effort. You can even grow a small selection in a container on a sunny windowsill.
Generally herbs thrive on a light and well drained soil. Although herbs can be planted in borders throughout your garden, it is more usual to group them in one place. Many formal planting schemes have been devised ranging from a chequerboard design of alternating square slabs and plants to using an old wagon wheel with plants in between the spokes.