Care of the herbs defined

This is the time of year when the herbs you have been growing are getting ready to be used in some way.

That herb garden that started back in the spring as a neat space containing nicely spaced little plants, labeled and sorted by type, has grown into something of a jungle of sprawling plants, mingling their scents in an inviting aroma.

They cry out for attention, but what do you actually do with them?

If you are like me, a few favorites get regular attention as they are harvested for the table or for decoration, while others languish until fall when either their annual life cycle is over or they have to be cut back to prepare for next year.

When I was preparing to give a program on herbs this spring, I collected a sample of each one I had growing in the garden to put into containers to illustrate my talk. And to my utter surprise I found I had 17 varieties.

About half of them were to get regular harvesting, while the rest had been planted because of their nice appearance or had been given to me as babies.

Herbs are, by definition, “useful plants.” Generally, the culinary herbs, those grown for the kitchen, get the most attention.

I depend on fresh parsley, basil, mint, thyme and chives all summer long. I go to the supply across from the back door instead of reaching for that half-empty bottle in the cupboard, which is probably nearing its expiration date anyway. So, their existence is fully justified.

But what about oregano, marjoram, tarragon, lovage, cilantro and the like?

If I want Italian herbs, they come in convenient mixtures, already dried and crumbled and mixed in the right proportions for a recipe.

Sage and dill I use rarely, but they are there for the picking if I need them. Lemon balm and lemongrass are wonderfully scented, and I like to pick a leaf and crush it as I walk by, then inhale the lovely lemon fragrance.

Angelica was an impulse buy, seeing it I remembered the sweet candied stems we used to have as cake decorations in my childhood. Stevia was a gift, and I do buy Truvia, which is a commercial stevia product and an excellent non-sugar sweetener, but I don’t know how to turn the green plant into the gray crumbles, although it should be easy to find out.

Then, there are the decorative plants such as lavender, which I love.

There are three or four bushes around the garden, but I don’t have luck carrying them through the winter. One of them is 3 years old and getting to a good size now, but the rest are small and producing only a few spikes of flowers.

I had a really good-sized Munstead lavender by the rock on the corner in front of my house, but when I had a break-in a couple of years ago, the invader trod right on that cherished plant as he left. I think I minded that loss as much as that of the laptop he took.

If my fellow members of the Sandusky Valley Herb Society are reading this, I am sure they are tut-tutting and shaking their heads. But I am being honest here, and see how badly I am wasting chances to use herbs properly.

Maybe seeing my sins of omission in print will prompt me to do better in the future

Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at