The Accidental Herb Garden


No time to garden? You might try what I did. Years ago, we had just purchased our first home, I was pregnant, mothering a 2 year old, and working. There was simply no way that I could start my dream herb garden. So…I decided to let Nature design my herb garden.

By happy accident, I discovered that our property had a nice selection of wild herbs growing quite contentedly on their own.

First, we had four old crabapple trees that stood on a carpet of violets. Violets are so wonderful. The blossoms, stems and leaves are all edible and make great salads. The blossoms are especially pleasing atop a tastefully arranged salad and can be candied for even a greater delight. They are also a premier anti-cancer herb. Crabapple blossoms are edible, as are their fruits.

Secondly, wild sorrel. This is a delightfully sour green that is great stuffed in fish before baking or used as one would use scallions as a garnish to soups, meats and grains, not to mention salads.

Thirdly, we had lots and lots of dandelions — again, a great liver food and cancer preventive. We had lots of salads from the corner of our yard that was allowed to have dandelions. We made fritters with the buds and flowers, steamed stems as a side veggie, and salads and green juices from the leaves. In areas of the yard where we didn’t want dandelions we dug them up, ate the roots as a steamed veggie, dried some roots for dandelion coffee and ate the greens.

Fourthly, I spied a couple of small patches of stinging nettles in my neighbor’s yard. He was quite bemused and agreeable to me digging up his nettles for him and I promptly transplanted them into our yard. These delightful greens provided a gourmand’s “spinach” green (served with butter) all summer long. Guests were always amazed at the most delicious “spinach” they had ever tasted! The dried leaves provided for nettle tea.

Fifthly, burdock. The bane of many farmers and yard owners, this cancer-fighting herb is one of my favorites. The young leaves are edible (spring) as are the roots, and the seeds in fall make a great nut butter.

Sixthly, plantain. The young leaves are buttery and slightly bitter and make a great quick energy snack, but the best part are the seeds in fall. They’re great fun to harvest (just grab the stem between you thumb and first finger and zip up the stem, you’ll end up with a palmful of delightful seeds.) The leaves are also wonderful at stemming pain from bee and wasp bites (crumble or chew the leaf first before applying to the bite).

Over the years, I transplanted the herbs into an attractive arrangement in our backyard. We had a violet patch that stood 20 x 10 feet, a nettle patch, a plantain patch, a sorrel patch, and a burdock patch. The colors and textures added to the ebb and flow of the garden. Low, light green plantain, dark green nettles, large bushy “Jurassic” burdock, yellow dandelions. It made for a great backyard garden bordered with old crabapple and Braeburn apple trees.

So I had this wonderful garden that took no work and no watering. And then, one lovely summer day a few years later,  my two little girls called for me to come out to have a “picnic” with them on the deck. Memories of mud pies and stone soup welled up as I wiped my hands on my apron and came out onto the sunny deck, only to have that vision shattered. There sitting on the deck were my two little daughters with three little dishes (the dishes were actually burdock leaves). Each dish had a salad of dandelion, sorrel, violet and plantain greens, topped with white and purple violet blossoms. No mud pies here. We actually ate our picnic salad!

So, if you have precious little time and no knowledge as to which herbs would best grow in your garden, take a look at what is coming up on its own. (Be sure to consult someone who knows your local plants so that you can be sure of your identification.) Dig up the candidates and transplant them so they are clumped artfully together. Water the transplants daily until they are well established — and then, your work is done. Just watch and harvest.

Note: Always, be careful that your yard is safe from chemicals that may be used by neighbors and never use chemicals on your own yard. How sad indeed that those carcinogenic lawn chemicals kill the very plants that prevent and cure cancer.



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