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Herbs Not Just For Cooking Anymore

When you think of herbs, you usually picture holiday dressing seasoned with sage or spaghetti sauce spiced with basil and oregano. But herbs can be useful beyond the kitchen.

"Most people have heard of chives, basil and thyme, but there are thousands of herbs out there," said Eloise Connolly.

Connolly experimented with herbs in her home garden and learned through training as a University of Georgia Master Gardener. The Master Gardener program is an extensive training offered through the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Imagine the Possibilities

To make herbs work for you, Connolly says, open up your mind.

"We all know chives are great on baked potatoes, but did you know they can totally transform the taste of hashbrowns?" Connolly told a "Lunch and Learn" audience at the Georgia Experiment Station Research and Education Garden in Griffin, Ga.

Herbs can provide essential vitamins, too. Parsley is stereotyped as a dish-decorating herb, but it's also a source of Vitamin C.

"A quarter-cup of parsley in your daily diet provides the recommended amount of Vitamin C," Connolly said. "The Italians have used it for years as the first ingredient in their recipes."

Tansy, a lesser-known herb, was often used in puddings and cakes in the late 1600s. Today, "I dry it and hang it in my closets to keep the bugs away," she said. "It's also wonderful for dried flower arrangements, as the yellow flowers stay yellow."

Homemade Teas

Connolly makes herb teas, too. Lemon balm and lemon mint are among her favorites.

"I once made Celestial Seasonings' Red Zinger tea using ingredients from my herb garden," she said. "Next, I plan to make lavender cookies and herbal tea from my private recipe ... for my gardening friends."

Connolly has another use for lemon balm. "I cut huge bouquets of it, and the smell permeates my whole house," she said. "It's great for marinating fish, too."

For a new twist, try planting a thyme lawn.

"I first saw one at the Herb Store in Fall City, Wa., and I just fell in love with it," Connolly said. "I came home and planted one in my home garden. Thyme makes the best ground cover and the most beautiful lawn you'll ever see."

Connolly has also planted a mint lawn. "I just let the mint take over an area and I mow it back now and then," she said. "When I'm finished mowing, I sit back and enjoy the wonderful smell."

Drought Resistant

And if you're tired of the drought killing all your landscape plants, try planting some rosemary.

"It's one of the few plants that can survive Georgia's drought," Connolly said. "It likes dry soil and produces thick, blue flowers that the bees just love."

Herbs don't have to be planted in rich soils, either. They grow well in poor soils. And if you don't have a large garden area, you can still grow herbs. They're perfect container plants.

As with all plants, gardening with herbs involves trial and error.

"Herbs, like other plants, have a life span all their own," Connolly said. "And sometimes they die and have to be replaced. And it's not your fault when they die."

Use caution, though, when experimenting with herbs.

"Some herbs are dangerous and can be toxic if eaten," Connolly said. "Don't just go by appearance. A friend once gave me a plant she thought was Queen Anne's Lace. It took me two months to identify it, but I discovered it was hemlock."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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