The Prescott Communal Herb Garden

The Prescott community garden is surrounded by plants that can be shared by all. At one end, three new fruit trees; along the side, blueberries and raspberries; at the other end, a communal vegetable patch; and a long strip of beautiful herbs. The  lush herb garden is of particular interest as there are some less common plants that reside there. Here are a few of them, along with some well-known herbs, with suggestions on how they can be used and how to maintain them.

Evening primrose

  • Can eat the flowers, leaves, root, and seeds.  Apparently the roots taste a bit like parsnips.  Tea can be made from the flowers and leaves.
  • Certain varieties of the plant are very useful for its many medicinal uses:  the bark and leaves have been used to treat whooping cough and asthma.  The oil present in the flowers and seeds has been used to treat PMS, arthritis, and eczema.
  • Because of the powerful qualities of this herb, one should be careful to not to use refined evening primrose oil if on other medication – it can cause headaches and nausea on an empty stomach, and can lower the threshold for seisures.    However, a mild tea made from flowers and leaves is unlikely to cause these effects.
  • Evening Primrose is a biennial that will reseed itself where ever you plant it.  It requires little maintenance.

Horseradish

  • Medicinal and culinary herb from the cruciferae family that includes cabbage and broccoli.
  • Culinary – root is fantastic added to pickles, or grated with roast beef.  You can make a great horseradish and beet mixture that is a very tasty accompaniment to roasted meat or vegetables.
  • Medicinal – great for sinus infections – you can put a small amount of the grated root in your mouth, and the powerful effect will immediately start cutting the mucus loose from your sinuses.  Also has antibiotic characteristics, and is useful for urinary infections as well since it is also a mild diuretic.
  • The flavour of the roots is improved by digging up the plants every few years and dividing them, and then replanting them.

Black currants

  • Most commonly known for juice made from berries, the berries, seeds, and leaves are also used medicinally.
  • Culinary – berries are very tart on their own, but make lovely juice that can be made into jams, jellies, and wines.  They contain vitamin C.
  • Medicinal –The leaf can be dried and used as a tea.  Black currant leaves are a mild diuretic, and can also be used for treating coughs and colds. Oil made from the seeds can be treated for PMS and painful periods, and may improve your immune system.

Bee balm

  • Fantastic in a garden for attracting bees, butterflies and hummingbirds
  • Flowers and leaves can be dried and used as tea (Oswego tea) that will sooth colds, headaches, menstrual pain, and calm your nerves.  Avoid if pregnant.
  • Bee Balm requires little maintenance.  After the first killing frost, you can cut stems back to an inch or two above soil line. Divide plants in spring every few years or when you notice the center of the plant dying out

Purple Coneflower

  • Beautiful flowers that attract pollinators, and also very useful for medicinal uses.
  • All parts of the plant can be used in teas and herbal remedies that help boost immunity, and help shorten the duration of the common cold and reduce symptoms
  • Low maintenance.  To keep plant flowering, you can deadhead throughout the flowering season. Shearing back in the early summer will result in bushier plants that bloom longer into the season.

Sage

  • A wonderful, aromatic herb useful in cooking with some traditional medicinal values as well.  Great in a garden to keep pests away from cabbage, beans and carrots.  (But keep it away from cucumbers!)
  • A strong culinary herb that pairs well with squash and roasted vegetables and meats, and is great to toss in bean or split pea soups. Individual leaves can also be fried as a crispy, aromatic topper for veggies.  The leaves dry well and keep their flavour longer than many herbs.
  • To dry, hang sprigs of sage or place leaves on a screen in a warm, dry place; check carefully to be sure leaves are fully dried before storage and store them whole to be crushed just before using. The best way to crush sage leaves is to rub them between your hands.
  • The flowers of any culinary sage are also edible, and have a more delicate flavor than the leaves. Stems or leaves can also be tossed on hot charcoal where they will add a wonderful aroma to grilled dishes.
  • Medicinal – the oils have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.
  • Low maintenance.  After the flowers die down, prune the plant to about half its size. Other than that, leave it to fend for itself.

Chives

  • A very tasty springtime treat, chives can be cut off throughout the summer as well.  The flowers in spring are also edible.
  • Medicinal – have similar properties to garlic but less potent  (anti-bacterial, immunity booster).
  • Once established, mature chive plants need minimal care. Remove flowers after they bloom to prevent plants from self-sowing. Divide the plants every three or four years.

Lovage

  • Medicinal and culinary uses
  • Culinary – the leaves and stalks taste somewhat like celery and parsley.  Plants can be also be blanched like celery for a milder tasting stalk.  Leaves can be dried for a yummy tea.  Seeds taste similar to celery seed and can be used in cooking.   The leaves  are good in stock.
  • Medicinal – roots can be dried and used as a diuretic.   The leaves can also be used in bath water to relieve skin irritations.
  • Plant can be cut down after flowering to encourage new growth.

Lavender

  • Lavender flowers keep much of their scent when dried, and is known to be a calming aromatherapy herb that can help insomnia, anxiety and stress.
  • The oil within the flowers contain the medicinal properties, and can be made into a tea, or added to a salve to be applied externally to aches, scrapes and stings. It’s best to harvest the plants early in the day, picking flower spikes that haven’t fully opened yet. Bundle the plants up and hang upside down in a dry, dark area for about one to two weeks.
  • Lavender thrives with neglect.  Prune only if you like a tidier looking plant.

Russian sage

  • Flowers attract pollinators, and are edible and sweet (in small quantities)
  • Not a true sage, but smells similar to culinary sage
  • Tea made with Russian sage is great for colds and fevers.  The aromatic scent is soothing and helps open blocked airways.  Some also use it to sooth the stomach and arrest diarrhea.
  • Russian sage thrives in dry soil and rarely needs watering once established.  Prune in spring because the plant looks pretty in winter.  Pruning is done mainly to encourage lots of flowers.  When new spring growth emerges, you can cut the old stems back to just above the lowest set of leaves. Remove the top half of the stems if the plant stops blooming in summer. This encourages new growth and a fresh flush of flowers. If the plant begins to spread open or sprawl in late spring or summer, shear off the top 1/3 of the stems to encourage upright growth.

Lemon balm

  • A perennial herb in the mind family, it has a gentle lemon scent.  The leaves can be dried for tea, or used fresh anywhere you’d use mint.  Adding some lemon balm to a sauce for fish can be very nice, and it tastes nice added to lemonade.
  • Medicinal uses – the leaves can be used as a repellant for mosquitos, and has some antibacterial qualities.  Tea made from dried leaves is very calming.  Ointments containing lemon balm can help heal cold sores.
  • Lemon balm doesn’t need a lot of attention.  Heavy harvesting or pruning can encourage new growth, so don’t be shy about picking the leaves.

Thyme

  • A wonderful culinary herb.  Whole sprigs can be dropped into stock, to be removed later.  Leaves can also be removed and used in cooking.   It pairs well with roasted vegetables and meats, but is also nice added to salad dressing with white wine vinegar and some mustard.
  • Thyme requires very little attention – water only in very dry conditions and feed sparingly. Thyme will start to become woody and produce fewer leaves after three or four years, and at this stage, the plant should be separated and replanted.

  

Other useful plants in the Prescott garden:

  • Raspberries
    • Everybody knows how delicious raspberries are, but the leaves of the plant also make a delicious tea.  This tea is apparently especially good for pregnant women – it calms morning sickness, helps reduce risk of miscarriage, and is a uterine relaxant which can help for a smoother delivery.
  • Blueberries
    • Best berry ever?  The leaves carry even more of the antioxidant properties that the berries do themselves, and a tea made from the leaves is a great way to get these properties when the berries are out of season.
  • Goldenrod
    • A big beautiful weed that’s coming into season now.  Pollinators love them.   Goldenrod has traditionally been used topically for healing wounds – leaves can be boiled and used topically to bring relief from eczema and rheumatism.

 

The Prescott community garden is located at the North tip of the peninsula, on Prescott Street next to the water tower. The spot gets beautiful sun. Be sure to swing by and take a look. Check out their website for more details.

Written by: Alison Froese-Stoddard and Mhari Lamarque

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