Introduction to Herbs

Renewed interest in Growing Herbs!

HERB growing currently enjoys immense popularity. The renewed interest so it is apparent in the second half of the twentieth century began in America in the 1950s and spread quickly. The two-way exchange of plants between the Old and the New World began with the sixteenth century voyages that preceded the founding of Jamestown. During the first hundred years of settlement (mainly in New England and Virginia), many plants that Europeans had cultivated and used for centuries were imported — herbs, fruit trees, vegetables and many flowering bulbs.

The colonists took their books by Gerard, Parkinson and Culpeper with them from England and sent for seeds and roots to maintain their households, while they explored the wealth of economic plants of the New World. Much of what we know of herbs grown in America at that time is gleaned from contemporary accounts and such notes and papers as have been preserved. Perhaps the most remarkable of these are the records of the Winthrop family (who were settlers from England) and the descriptions of John Josselyn, an English naturalist who voyaged backwards and forwards during the seventeenth century.

In England every homestead had its own supply of herbs, even if they were obtained from the fields, for flavourings and food and household remedies. These humble plants have served us throughout the centuries, and today the renewed interest in them centres particularly on their healing properties. As garden plants they have remained faithful, unassuming favourites.

During the seventeenth century in England, and in fact Europe generally, the excitement generated by plants from the far corners of the world began to turn scholars’ minds to the study of botany and to the development of horticultural science. At the same time medicine was developing along an independent course, until the nineteenth century brought the manufacture of synthetic drugs. All the while herbs were cultivated in the kitchen gardens, along with the vegetables and other economic plants. Only in the present century, with the gradual awakening of interest in herbs as plants for their own delight, and even more recently as medicine and natural flavourings, have decorative herb gardens become such a popular style of gardening.

Gathered within these plots are the oldest of our friends, harbouring delights of fragrance known to our forbears and legends repeated to countless generations.