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Learning More about Herbs

My African mint plant finally got to bloom this winter until that hard rain washed all the flowers to the ground.

Ten years after writing Ortho's Guide to Herbs for the country as a whole and Herbs and Spices for Florida Gardens, I keep learning exciting new things about herbs, plants with other uses beyond being ornamental or producing food.

Years ago I went to visit Maggie's Herbs in St. Augustine with a busload of herb growers. I came home with a small potted plant of Iboza riparia, African moth plant, musk plant, or misty plume plant. It was blooming and beautiful and had a fragrance that I rather enjoyed. But everyone else on the bus considered it stinking and pitied the friend who had to ride home with me.

I did write about this plant in the herb book, but I'll have to change some of that in the next printing. Plants CAN take freezing. Every year mine has been nipped back just as it started blooming around Christmas time--until this year, when it became a six foot tall cloud of white. This was used as a moth repellent in its native Africa and prized as a house or greenhouse plant by Victorian gardeners. Just inhaling the scent of crushed leaves is said to relieve headaches. Because this is a hard one to find, I'll have cuttings for those who want them.

Ammi majus, bishop's flowers, or laceflowers will give clouds of white in the garden in late April through May.

Arugula or Rocket was once used as a cough syrup and the ancient Romans liked the flavor. It is now used only for eating or garnish. I had never heard of it until we moved to Florida, but now I plant seeds every winter and we eat it in salads for months. The seedlings come up looking just like cabbage or radishes but soon the long, curly, dark green leaves appear. It will have many small pinkish white flowers later, but the foliage never gets bitter like lettuce does and the flowers are edible also. A few leaves really perk up a tossed salad, and arugula leaves with pommelo, oranges, and/or papaya and nuts with a celery seed dressing makes a delicious gourmet salad.

My nasturtiums have been blooming a bit since before Christmas and abundantly since mid January. All parts of this plants are edible and good in salads or as garnish. Mine self seed so abundantly that I have to thin them out. They are beautiful in bouquets and the subtle fragrance is of one my favorite.

I had never seen or tasted papaya until we moved to Florida. This dessert melon of the tropics also grows easily from seed. If you buy one and throw the seeds on the garden, you'll have papayas plants ever after. It qualifies as an herb since both fruits and leaves are high in papacin, an enzyme that aids digestion and is used in meat tenderizer. You can wrap your meats in the leaves to make them tender. Different fruits have different flavors and they can be eaten green as a vegetable fixed any way you'd fix squash. Ripe ones I freeze to make papaya bread.

Larkspur, Consolida orientalis, our annual cut flowers, I recently learned, can also be classified as herbs since all parts have insecticidal and parasiticidal action and were used by soldiers during the American Revolution to kill body lice. I have finally got a stand of them growing, partly from seeds sown in late fall and partly, I think from some that self sowed from last year. I can't wait until they bloom.

Citrus are perhaps the most useful of Florida herbs. Samples Jan 04.

Laceflowers, Bishopsweed, Ammi majus, was known to the ancient Egyptians as a treatment for certain skin diseases. This wild plant of the Nile valley has recently shown great promise in cancer and AIDS therapy. It is a lovely cut flower that looks much like Queen Anne's lace except that it lacks that one black floret in the center. These also grow easily from seeds sown in the fall. I transplanted some just before the rain and should have more clouds of white in my garden in May.

All citrus trees are considered herbs since they can be used for medicines, perfumes and cosmetics and also attract bees and butterflies. They are among the most beautiful of trees, will soon fill the entire state with their heady perfume for almost a month, and keep us healthy with delicious fruits all year.

Roses are also herbs because of their use in perfumes, cosmetics, potpourri and such. And so are some of our weeds such as mistletoe which we can now see in clumps in the nearly bare oak trees, rice paper plant, mustard with turns fields and roadsides yellow, nightshade which can be poisonous, pokeweed, and dock.

Now's the time to...

  • Ask that anyone with an especially nice planting around their swimming pool email Monica@gardensflorida.com or call me, 654-1969. I need photos for an article in Florida Gardening magazine.
  • Seeds and/or plants are available from Richters Herb Specialists, #357 Highway 47, Goodwood, Ontario Canada LOC 1A0. You can also order their catalog on the internet and it is full of great herbal information.
  • Remember to never use herbs instead when consultation with a doctor is indicated. We take no responsibility for the effectiveness of any uses. Also be careful of mistaken identification of herbs. But with herbs on hand, in many cases we can help ourselves or members of our family long before a minor problem develops to the doctor state. And many people are finding that herbal preparations such as Airborne, available without prescription at most stores and pharmacies, is very effective against colds and flu if taken at the very first sign.