Herbs for our garden friends

At this time of year us gardeners are itching to get back into the garden to start preparing for the season ahead. It’s still too cold to be sowing things from seed and too early to be able to source many herbaceous perennial herbs. So instead we are focusing on planning. If you’ve been growing for a while or even if you’ve just started it’s always nice to try something new and grow things that can be enjoyed by other garden critters.

Here are five herbs that will encourage and support wildlife in your garden whilst also giving you joy with their appearance, fragrance or medicinal value.

1. Lavender

Lavender

An obvious choice and a herb that is adored by bees and butterflies. Lavender produces plenty of flowers so you can harvest some to use and then leave the rest to be enjoyed by pollinators. Most will also produce more than one flower flourish after an initial cropping in summer.

2. Lemon balm

Lemon balm patch

Its nickname ‘bee balm’ gives us an indication that it is enjoyed by bees who go wild for its small white flowers. As a fragrant herb it loses a lot of its flavour after flowering but good to know that the bees are benefiting from it during this period!

3. Nettle

Nettles in september

The common stinging nettle has many applications as a medicinal herb but also supports around 40 species of insects such as butterflies and moths. Many beautiful butterflies including the Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell rely on nettles. They lay their eggs on the nettles and once the larvae (caterpillars) have emerged they have an abundant supply of leaves to munch through. Due to the stings on the leaves which ward off animals and other predators, nettles are a safe haven for the butterfly to complete its metamorphosis.

4. Teasel

IMG_3230

If you’ve ever grown teasels or seen them growing in the wild you might have noticed that they are a hive for a whole array of wildlife throughout their life. You have have seen ants farming aphids along their long stems, or ladybird larvae enjoying this aphid farm! Lacewing and hoverfly larvae also make use of farms of aphids. While in flower, teasels are visited by bumblebees and butterflies who are attracted to its sweet nectar. When the flowers are gone, teasels make a plentiful supply of seeds which are a great source of food for birds and particularly enjoyed by goldfinches. If you pick a few dried stems (they make a lovely indoor dried flower decoration) you might find you disturb a few earwigs that had also moved in!

5. Rosehips

IMG_2879

All Roses produce hips but it is the Dog rose and Rugosa Rose which produce hips that are the favorite of many garden birds. The hips provide an important food source during the winter when insect numbers are low and grounds are frozen making worm-catching a difficult task. Thrushes, Blackbirds, and Waxwings are some common birds that make use of these vitamin C packed fruits!

Advertisements

Three herbs to try today

If you are new to herbs the range and variety of plants can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Here is a simple guide to show you how to easily incorporate three very effective herbs. You might even have some of these growing in your garden or in your kitchen herb rack!

1. Chamomile

Chamomile flowers

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a wonderful soothing herb and an important herb to always have stocked as it is used for a number of different ailments. A hot infusion of chamomile will help to soothe an upset stomach or combat feelings of nausea. It’s a good before bed herb as it can help you to unwind and drift off. Chamomile is an emollient – helping the skin to retain moisture – and an anti-inflammatory which makes it well placed to restore irritated or dry skin. You can make a relaxing herb soak by adding a couple of chamomile teabags into your bath and then rubbing the teabags directly on your skin to moisturise and restore.

2. Lemon balm

IMG_3265.JPG

We all need a herbal pick-me-up from time to time and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has long been associated with raising spirits and lifting the heart. The Arabian herbalist Avicenna (980-1037) said that lemon balm “causeth the mind and heart to be merry”. As a nervine, it works on our nervous system and modern research has shown it to be an effective remedy for anxiety, depression and insomnia. It combines well with lavender as a herbal infusion for relieving stress and tension. It’s also a great herb for bees who adore the flowers and explains its botanical name melissa which is derived from the Greek word meaning bee.

3. Rosemary

Rosemary geffrye

Most commonly regarded as a culinary herb, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) also has many applications as a medicinal plant. It is a circulatory tonic and a hot infusion of rosemary will not only aid digestion but will also help alleviate headaches and tiredness. We like to have a hot infusion of rosemary after lunch to help focus our minds and power us through the afternoon. It is also said to promote concentration and memory so good to carry a sprig with you to sniff on before a big test, interview or presentation. You can also make a massage rub by mixing 5 drops of rosemary essential oil with 15ml almond oil to soothe aching muscles and joints.

New faces at the Herb Society

The Herb Society welcomes three new trustees

This year we have been very lucky to attract three new committee members to the Herb Society. This is very important for us as the more help we get, the more we can do!

Introducing Fay Chapman

If you like herbs and are on Facebook, you may have come across Fay, whose page Herbalicious is very popular. She is a busy lady and current roles include working as Visitor Centre Manager for the Essex Wildlife Trust. She has taken over responsibility for local groups, so if you’d like to set up a herb group in your area, why not get in touch! To see if there’s already a local group in your area, do check out the local groups page on our main website where there is more information and contact details.

Introducing Natalie Mady

Natalie has been a trustee for a few months now, and has been doing a grand job of running the Herb Society Facebook and Twitter pages. Londoners may recognise her from Hackney Herbal, a social enterprise specialising in creative events which explore the beneficial uses of herbs.

Introducing Nicky Westwood

Nicky has also been a trustee for a few months, but has been active in the Herb Society for many years. Most recently she has been responsible for the email newsletter and events. You can read more about Nicky on a previous blog post.

Get involved with the Herb Society

It really is a case of the more the merrier! If you’re not a member, do think about joining – find out about member benefits via this link. Plus if you have some time to spare, do get in touch! If you don’t think you can commit to being a trustee, volunteers can help in almost every area of our Society, from running a stand at an event, to displaying leaflets, and there is often a project on the go. If you would like to get involved, do contact Elaine in our office info@herbsociety.org.uk.

A very pretty herb – Passionflower

This herb grows like a weed in my garden

passionflower herbThe common passionflower – or Passiflora caerulea grows very happily in my garden. In fact the Passiflora plant I use to shade the outside of my greenhouse is growing out of a crack in my patio (right hand side of picture).

passionfruit herb - uses - symbolismTreat this beautiful herb with respect

passionfruit herb societyThe passionflower fruits unreliably in the UK, although this year on the mild South Coast I have been lucky and my plants were covered in these pretty orange fruits – this photo was taken on the first of September. I looked into the edibility of these fruits, and although P. edulis is the species grown in warmer areas for its fruit, the RHS website says:

P. caerulea fruits “can be eaten when fully ripe, but please be aware that under-ripe fruits (yellow) can cause stomach upsets. All other parts of the Passiflora plants are potentially harmful and should not be eaten.”

I cut a ripe one up to eat, and although it wasn’t unpleasant, it was by no means appetising. So if you would like to grow a passionfruit plant for it’s fruit crop, I recommend buying a P. edulis and growing it in the greenhouse!

Passionflower in medical herbalism

Passionflower is traditionally used most commonly for problems relating to sleep and anxiety, and can be found as an ingredient in over-the-counter herbal remedies for these problems (although the active properties have not yet been fully tested). It is often found in combination with other herbal remedies such as valerian.

Deni Bown, former Chairman of the Herb Society, says in her “RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses” that P. incarnata is also useful for asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual tension, nervous tachycardia, hypertension and shingles. 

However, considering the RHS comment above, we would not recommend  self-medicating. Have a look at the range of ready-made products available in your health shop, or consult a medical herbalist!

Passionflower symbolism

The name passionflower is derived from Christian symbolism, referring to the passion of Jesus. This herb was named by Spanish priests in South America as the flower with the five wounds, and in the top photo you can see clearly the five green anthers which have been associated with the wounds of Christ on the cross. Different sources apply religious symbolism to this flower to varying degrees – some find a meaning in every single part of the flower.

passionflowers medical herbalismI hope you like these passionflower photos taken last year at the Courson flower show near Paris – the grower had put on a fabulous display.

Find out more about growing passionflower from the RHS.