"Herbs are the world's most interesting plants," says Howard Garrett. "They make beautiful landscape choices, are useful for cooking, controlling insect and disease pests, healing wounds, and are effective for improving the immune system." In this fully illustrated, easy-to-use guide, Garrett and veteran herbalist Odena Brannam offer expert advice on growing nearly 150 herbs suited to Texas and Southwestern gardens, along with detailed information on each plant's landscape, culinary, medicinal, and other uses.
Individual entries give each herb's common and scientific names and instructions for planting, growing, harvesting, and storing it. The entries also include ideas for using each herb in gardening and cooking (with occasional recipes) and discuss its medicinal uses. A special "insight" section that offers intriguing, often little-known facts about the herb rounds out each entry, as well as a color photo.
In addition to the individual herb descriptions, Garrett sets forth the basics of organic gardening, including pest control, and discusses how to design a herb garden and also raise roses, pecans, and fruit trees without chemicals. Of special interest are his instructions for making teas from dozens of herbs and his list of trees, shrubs, vines, and groundcovers with edible and/or medicinal properties. This wide range of information, not available for Texas herbs in any other single source, makes this book the perfect guide for homeowners, gardeners, landscapers, chefs, herbalists, and health care providers.
Here for Texas gardeners is a wide range of landscape, culinary, and medicinal information about the wonderful plants we call herbs: not only how to select the proper species, but also how to plant, maintain, harvest, and use the herbs. It will suggest new ways to think about and use these plants—for fragrance, cooking, health, and beauty in the landscape. Plants are important to our health. Health and nutrition is what I hope to promote along with an increased appreciation of herbs.
Herbs for Texas is easy to use because of the simple layout and the cross-referencing of common and botanical names.
Herbs are the world's most interesting plants. They make beautiful landscape choices, and their ornamental qualities make them ideal for wreaths, garlands, and potpourris. Some herbs are fragrant bloomers with interesting foliage, and many have decorative seed heads. Herbs are also extremely useful for cooking, controlling pests, healing wounds, and improving the immune systems of pets and people. Some make you more alert, some make you feel better, and some can even help solve serious medical problems.
For example, we've known for some time that cinnamon will at least repel and in some cases kill roaches and ants, but it may help protect against the deadly E. coli bacteria, and there is research to back it up. Food microbiologist Daniel Fung at Kansas State University has proven the power of cinnamon and four other common herbs in killing disease organisms. Fung and his team first tested twenty-three different herbs against E. coli in the laboratory, then took the five herbs that worked best and used them on store-bought ground beef that had been infected with 100,000 E. coli bacteria per gram. One of our favorite herbs, garlic, won the contest by killing the organisms completely, but four others (clove, cinnamon, oregano, and sage) also killed the bacteria to various degrees. Another of Fung's studies combined the herbs with salami and other fermented sausages. Once again the herbs controlled the pathogens on the food.
It has been reported that 20,000 Americans are poisoned by E. coli annually and about 250 die. Whether that is accurate or not, this is exciting news about these nutritious herbs. Scientists at Oklahoma State University also discovered that horseradish and mustard can help fight E. coli and other food pathogens. These plants are easy to grow here in Texas. Even cinnamon and clove can be grown here if protected in the winter. Simply grow them in pots and move them indoors in cold weather.
For some reason herb gardens have the reputation of being hard to start and grow, difficult to maintain, and messy-looking. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most herbs grow easily in a variety of soils and require minimal attention. Some herbs sometimes seem mysterious, but with careful selection they are very much at home in Texas. They can be grown indoors or out, in containers, in flower beds, and in traditional herb gardens. Exceptions will be covered in the specific entries in the text. For example, plants such as tarragon, valerian, lovage, rosemary, sage, lavender, and parsley need a little special handling.
Annual herbs such as basil and perilla and biennials like parsley are easy to grow from seed and should be used, but many perennials provide beauty and usefulness for years. The perennial herbs that are easiest to grow in Texas include wormwood, southernwood, thyme, comfrey, mint, chives, oregano, lemon balm, and purple coneflower. Bulbs like saffron and garlic and trees like ginkgo, walnut, jujube, and willow are all easy to grow and use. The book covers those in detail for you and also includes for your consideration the lesser-known and harder-to-grow varieties that have benefits worthy of a little maintenance trouble. You'll even find plants that you may not consider herbs—such as alfalfa, blackberry, peppers, dandelion, and the rose.
What is a herb? The primary definition given by the dictionary is "a seed-producing annual, biennial, or perennial that does not develop persistent woody tissue but dies down at the end of a growing season." This botanical definition eliminates many plants that are traditionally regarded and used as herbs.
Another traditional definition of a herb is "a herbaceous plant that is used to flavor foods, make teas, provide medicinal properties, and offer up fragrances."
The definition most commonly accepted by herbalists is "a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities." The Herb Society of America puts it this way: "Any plant that may be used for pleasure, fragrance, or physic." To me, herbs include a broad spectrum of plants, trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and bulbs that have specific uses other than merely beauty. Simple as that.
Herbs should never be grown without following organic techniques. Anyone who claims to be a herbalist and isn't organic just isn't a herbalist. Organic gardening is much more than merely a method of growing plants. It's a way of life. It's about paying attention to nature. It's about understanding how everything in nature is related. It's about learning from nature and working within nature's perfectly designed system. From the gardening standpoint it is also about using herbs that aren't contaminated with toxic chemicals.
This book was designed for ease of use. I am extremely irritated by books that use the "reference to another entry" approach. If you look up Monarda, for example, the index directs you to go to "Horsemint" or "Wild Bergamot." That's a waste of the reader's time and an unnecessary irritation. Why not just put a page number after the word Monarda? Good grief! That's what you'll find in this book. If you look in the index or in the body of the book, all the common and all botanical names are listed and cross-referenced. Seems like a simple thing, doesn't it? Hope you appreciate the convenience.
As you'll learn from reading this book and through personal experience, herbs have many attributes, not the least of which is that they are easy to grow, look good, smell interesting, and taste delicious. If you'll let the herbs help you, they will.
Many herbalists have helped me understand the plants we call herbs. Odena Brannam has been the most influential because she has such a good feel for the useful plants and deals with them more from an artistic and practical standpoint than a sterile scientific approach. Of course, the technical aspects of herbs are important, but science would have taken a long time to come up with the fact, for example, that crushed tansy repels fire ants. Odena has taught me to observe and to learn from the plants and to understand that the so-called experts don't necessarily have all the answers. I don't either, but with the help of many others, I'll give you some new ideas to try.
Those who have helped with ideas and details in this book include the following people and companies: Ken Satterwhite, Diane Huff, Blue Moon Gardens, North Haven Gardens, Rohde's Nursery, Redenta's Garden, Green Mama's, Barney Lipscomb, Bob O'Kennon, the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Madalene Hill, King's Creek Gardens, Misty Hill Farm, the American Botanical Council, and Mary Buchanan. Special thanks go to Dr. Judy Griffin, author of Mother Natures Herbal, and, as always, to my assistant, Tracy Fields. Without Tracy, I would not be able to write my books and columns, do my radio show, and continue my mission of converting the world to organic. Also, special thanks to my wife, Judy, and my daughter, Logan, for keeping my life interesting.