10th September 2014
Ruth Ridley of The Herb Society kindly answers some questions about herbs with some great advice and tips!
Can you tell us a bit about the herb society and its aims?
The Herb Society is an educational charity dedicated to encouraging the appreciation and use of herbs. Founded in 1927 by a medical herbalist, the society aims to promote the use of herbs in medicine, cooking, gardening, craft and beauty.
What herbs are the most visually appealing?
I think Monarda is fabulous with its exotic shape and vibrant colours. My favourite variety is Cambridge Scarlet, which is particularly vivid.
What herbs do you recommend for a beginners herb garden?
Lavender is useful, pretty, and attracts bees. I would recommend any herb that you actually think might be used regularly. Mint, for example, is easy to grow and its leaves can be used in a refreshing herbal cuppa as well as an ingredient in recipes – but keep it in a pot to stop it spreading.
Is there any herbs native to the British Isles?
There are very many British herbs! A herb can be broadly defined as any useful plant, so it includes any plant of which the leaves, seeds, flowers or roots can be used for their medicinal properties, flavour or scent. They can be annuals or perennials, shrubs, trees, and even seaweed and fungi.
Some native British herbs include:
Nettles – these make great soup, but be careful how you pick them!
Primrose – do not pick these from the wild, but Primula vulgaris is both a symbol of Spring and an edible flower which is great crystallised.
Woad – famously produced the blue facepaint of the Iceni tribe.
A few others are St John's Wort, dandelion, elderflower and milk thistle.
Some herbs are known for their medicinal qualities. Which garden herbs do you think are most useful to help ailments?
Lavender is a great antiseptic, and can be used on minor burns, but most people use a bought essential oil rather than the garden plant for this (lavender essential oil is one of the few that can be used undiluted).
Calendula (pot marigold) petals can be made into an ointment for uses on minor cuts and grazes.
Many herbs can be simply infused in boiling water to make a tea, such as calming chamomile and lavender, peppermint for digestion, and even jasmine and rose. Many teashops are now stocking these, but I always think that fresh is best!
How can people make the most of herbs they grow?
I think the best way of making the most of a herb is to preserve it for year-round use. Many herbs such as rosemary, marjoram and sage, can be dried simply by hanging in small bunches in a warm dark place with good air circulation for a few weeks. Once dry, remove the leaves and store in an airtight container. Delicate herbs flowers such as borage and viola can be frozen in icecubes to add a classy touch to a cold drink. Mediterranean herbs such as garlic and basil can be infused in olive oil to flavour savoury recipes.
Lavender is well known for being a bee friendly plant. Are there any other less well known herbs that are good for wildlife gardens?
There is a long list of herbs which are great for bees! They love borage, catmint, monarda, and mint flowers, to name but a few. Double flowers are best avoided as they may lack nectar and pollen.
Which is considered the best herb garden in the UK and can people visit?
There are some great herb gardens in the UK. I recently visited two London herb gardens: the herb garden at Kew, and Chelsea Physic garden. Both have a massive range of plants, and some really informative signage.
The Herb Society has its own herb garden at Sulgrave Manor near Banbury, and is in the early stages of collaboration on a herb garden at the Old Medicine House at Blackden in Cheshire.
How can people get involved with the Herb Society?
Join the Herb Society for a variety of benefits such as the quarterly Herbs magazine, email newsletters, local group activities and national meet-ups, and free access to our garden at Sulgrave Manor. Individual membership is currently £27, more details on our website at herbsociety.org.uk. To get a feel for what we do, visit our blog at herbsocietyuk.wordpress.com, or search for herbsocietyuk on facebook, twitter and pinterest.
What is your favourite herb and why?
My personal favourite herb is lavender, simply because of its wide range of uses. The flowers are beautiful, and can be in flower right through from the beginning of June until the end of August. It's great to watch the bees visiting them. They make lovely additions to floral arrangements, or small bunches can be hung up to dry for year-long colour and scent. The dried flower buds are a moth repellant and have a lovely clean fresh scent which can be used to keep linen fresh, or to fragrance a room as potpourri. Use a lavender bag under your pillow to aid sleep, or drink lavender tea before bed. And that's before you even get onto the medicinal properties of a bottle of lavender essential oil!
Herb society membership form. Download and print HERE
Interview with The Herb Society