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STEVE KAWARATANI:Herbs’ benefits, varieties abound

Of the approximately 300,000 known species found in the plant kingdom, nearly 2,000 have been identified for culinary, fragrance or physics uses. Nature, in her infinite wisdom, has given us a bounty of useful plants that make our lives more enjoyable — we need only to experience them.

Before you rush down to your favorite nursery and select a plethora of herbs at random, think about the kind of herbs you wish to grow. Most of us are not herbalists, and we grow herbs mainly for culinary uses and simply because they’re intriguing and fun.

One might decide to grow herbs solely for their fragrance or for their medicinal qualities. Or perhaps you are interested in a collection of geraniums or lavender. Whatever you decide, make a list of herbs that intrigue you before you begin. And there is no better time to start growing herbs than in May.

While herbs are not that particular about soil and watering, you must first determine where you will grow them. Most herbs prefer at least six hours of sunlight, although parsley, nasturtium, angelica and others will tolerate less. Try to select a site free of wind and away from the competition of large shrubs and trees.

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Although every plant has particular preferences or requirements for soil preparation, herbs, like most plants, thrive in well-draining soil. Because she grows roses and citrus, Catharine finds that herbs are much less finicky. Dig down 12 inches and add a good planters mix, gypsum and Gro-power. That’s it!

All perennials require regular water the first season. Once established, you’ll discover many herbs are drought tolerant. The best advice is still to water according to your experience and the individual plant’s needs. Remember, when grouping plants together, select plants with similar cultural requirements.

Lack of garden space needn’t discourage you from growing herbs, as they grow well in any type of container. Be aware that soil will dry more quickly in porous materials like clay and wood. Always use packaged potting soils, as garden soil is too heavy for use in pots. Water as soon as the soil is dry one-half of an inch down. Watering may be a daily occurrence in hot, sunny locales.

I certainly do not recommend spraying toxic chemicals on edible herbs to control pests. Hand-picking is the most sensible solution to battle larger insects, while washing off aphids and spider mites makes good sense. When infestations approach the danger level, then one should resort to insecticidal soaps or oil-based insecticides.

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Nestled within the quiet confines of the garden, the sweet fragrance of flowers and herbs fills the adjoining patio. The family has gathered to honor dad on June 17. The homemade dill sauce tastes wonderful with the salmon, even though it’s your mother-in-law’s recipe. The dill, however, was picked fresh from your garden earlier this morning, and everyone can taste the difference!

Mom’s Dill Sauce

2 T butter

2 T flour

1 T chopped fresh dill (from your herb garden)

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice (lemon from your orchard)

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

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dash of nutmeg

1 cup milk

Put butter, flour, dill, lemon juice, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a small sauce pan. Over low heat, stir until blended. Add milk, and continue stirring until smooth and thickened. Serve warm over fish.


  • STEVE KAWARATANI is happily married to award-winning writer Catharine Cooper and has two cats and 10 dogs (one just had puppies). He can be reached at (949) 497-8168, or e-mail to plantman2@mac.com.

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