March 2013 – Double-Duty Herbs for Your Garden

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Rita's Monthly Gardening Tips,  March 2, 2013

ritaPlant herbs in your garden and enjoy a flavorful harvest to enhance your meals. Herbs will also really lure beneficial insects to your garden.

Beneficial insects feed on pollen and nectar until it is time for them to eat the harmful insects.

Beneficials are insects that feed on common garden pests, like aphids and mealy bugs. Beneficial insects are considered the good guys and are why
gardeners are cautioned not to spray insecticides at random. You don’t want to accidentally hurt those that are on your side.  

Keeping insecticides and pesticides out of your yard is beneficial to the entire ecosystem because it prevents deaths in other wildlife and won’t contaminate any groundwater.

It’s important to maintain a variety of herbs because different herbs attract specific beneficial insects and the herbs flower at different times of the season. Incorporating herbs into the garden will not only help avoid harmful pesticides, but it will also provide fresh culinary herbs throughout the growing season.

Provide separate growing areas for annual and perennial plants.
Plant spreading herbs such as mint into containers.

Many members of the Carrot/ Parsley Family (Apiaceae formerly known as Umbelliferae) are excellent insectary plants. The flowers attract beneficial insects such as lacewings, ladybugs, hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps. They are also a favorite food of the swallowtail butterfly. The flowers are noted for having many small flowers that come together in a flat surface. Here are some examples of herbs from this family that have flowers which attract beneficial insects:

Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Dill is a ferny-leaved herb that grows very quickly and easily to about three feet tall.
The leaves or seeds can be used in recipes such as in pasta or potato salad, dressings, sauces, and making pickles.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel looks and grows like dill but smells like licorice. Fennel seed is a great ingredient to add to breads. Like dill, the stalks and/or leaves are a wonderful culinary companion in many dishes.

Caraway (Carum carvi)
Caraway is a biennial, which means it grows leaves the first year, then flowers and goes to seed the second year. It is used to flavor rye bread, soups, stews, and vegetable dishes. The roots of the plant can be boiled and eaten like carrots, and the leaves can be used in salads.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Parsley likes full sun for up to eight hours a day and is a perennial in many warm climate zones.
Far more that just a garnish, it’s great in salads and myriad other culinary concoctions.

Cilantro/Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
The leaves of the plant are cilantro and the seeds are coriander. It’s also known as Chinese parsley. The plant grows easily and quickly. Plant every three weeks to keep a consistent fresh supply. Cilantro is commonly used in Mexican, Asian, and other ethnic recipes. The coriander seeds are used as a spice in meat products, bakery goods, gin, and curry powder.

One of the largest plant families in the world is called the Compositeae or Asteraceae family. It’s commonly known as the aster, daisy, or sunflower family. The flowers in this family have the characteristics of having a head that contains a multitude of tiny flowers brimming with delicious nectar. Flowers in this family will attract bees, predatory wasps, hoverflies, and robber flies. Some common herbs in this family are:

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
This cool-season flower grows easily and provides beautiful color in the fall and early spring.
Calendulas have edible, orange, or yellow flower petals that are beautiful in salads.

German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is an annual, but Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is a perennial. Chamomile is a small, bushy herb that grows flat along the ground. These plants are best known for their ability to be made into a tea, which is commonly used to help with sleep and is often served with either honey or lemon.

Spanish Tarragon (Tagetes lucida)
Other common names include sweet mace and Mexican tarragon. Mexican tarragon grows 18–30 inches tall. The plant is bushy with many smooth, upright, unbranched stems topped with bright yellow daisylike flowers. Dried leaves are ground into a powder, then used as a tarragon substitute for flavoring soups, sauces, etc. A pleasant anise- flavored tea, popular in Latin America, is brewed using the dried leaves and flowering tops. The petals are used as a condiment.

Mint (Lamiaceae)
Herbs in the mint family  are distinguished by having square stems and opposing leaves. Many of them are low- growing plants that provide shelter for ground beetles and other beneficial insects. The flowers will attract a variety of predatory wasps, beneficial flies, and bees.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
The apple green leaves and delightful lemon smell make this a great herb garden plant. The plant spreads but not as quickly as regular mint. It can also travel by seed coming up quite a bit away from the original plant. The lemon-flavored leaves make a good tea. Mint (Menta sp.)
Mint is a delight in the garden but best kept in its own container to keep its spread in check.
There are many different flavors of mint that can be used for teas and in cooking, such as peppermint, spearmint, pineapple, chocolate, orange, and many others.

Thyme (Thymus sp.)
A low-growing herb that is very easy to grow. It is a versatile spice that adds a pleasant taste to many dishes. Thyme comes in a variety of flavors such as lemon, lime, orange, and caraway.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Oregano spreads but not as quickly as mint. It can also be spread to other locations by seed.
This is another common culinary herb for flavoring a great variety of dishes. Honeybees that frequent oregano flowers may even produce honey with a mild oregano-blossom flavor.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
This well-known, warm-season annual is available in many varieties and is delicious in pesto, insalads, and sandwiches and is delicious in Asian soups.

Here are a few other notable herbs from various plant families that attract beneficial insects and provide taste and beauty to our food:

Borage (Borago officinalis)
It’s often grown by beekeepers because it’s reputed to help bees make more honey, and of course bees are essential for pollination.

Onion Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) and Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum) leaves and flower buds are used fresh in many recipes. Chives attract bees and butterflies like crazy.

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum)
This easy-to-grow hardy annual attracts beneficial insects such as bees, butterflies, and ladybugs. The nasturtium also provides peppery-flavored leaves and beautiful flowers for salads. The leaves can be made into a pesto, and the seeds can be soaked in vinegar to make caperlike delicacies.