Many herbs that we know today have been used for thousands of years and were used by the great civilisations of the ancient world. They were originally wild plants gathered for a variety of purposes including foods, preservatives and flavourings, beverages, insecticides and insect repellents, perfumes, fragrances, religious worship and decoration. Later they were cultivated and found to be useful as companion plants, bee plants, compost accelerators and for making fungicidal and insecticidal preparations.
Traditional herbs from Europe have been augmented by useful plants from the rest of the world, including many plants used by the aborigines. They form an important part of modern living, their value once again becoming recognised in the community.
What is a herb?
Botanists describe a herb as a small, seed bearing plant with soft, fleshy parts which die down after flowering. It is often referred to as ‘herbaceous’ and would include such plants as bulbs. Such a definition excludes most plants considered as herbs. A more appropriate definition for a herb is a plant that is useful in some way, e.g. culinary, medicinal, perfume etc. Herb plants include herbaceous perennials, trees, shrubs, annuals, biennials and more primitive pants such as ferns, mosses, algae, lichens and fungi.
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Growing herbs in South Australia
South Australia is classed as a temperate or Mediterranean climate. It has cold, wet winters and hot, dry summers with the majority of rainfall occurring in the winter months. Many of the well known herbs are originally from the Mediterranean region and so grow especially well in our climate. The main difficulty that people have with herbs is knowing where they originate from and the climatic conditions that they are found in and the type of soil that you grow have them in.
Soil types vary enormously. The best soil is loam with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH (7 – 7.5), however many people will not have this type. Many will either have sand or sandy loam or clay type soils. They both are suitable but can be improved. Sandy soils can benefit with the addition of organic matter such as compost or well rotted animal manures to increase the humus content and water holding capacity of the soil. Clay type soils can benefit with the addition of gypsum to help to form a more crumbly texture and allow water to pass through more easily. The pH of soil in South Australia tends to be alkaline (over 7.5), except for the Adelaide Hills area, which is acidic. Hills dwellers can add lime to the soil to increase the pH.
Knowing where a herb originates from and the conditions it grows in may prove to be more difficult but many plant labels will indicate the type of soil (such as well drained) and the amount of light required. Generally, herbs will either require full sun (minimum of 6 hours direct sunlight) or part or full shade ( directly out of the sun in a sheltered position) and in well drained soil.
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What type of herbs you wish to grow is really up to yourself. You may want culinary herbs to complement your cooking or perhaps some medicinal ones to use in home remedies. You may want a herb garden or just a few in pots. The following are a few suggestions for herb gardens.
- A Biblical garden (those herbs mentioned in the Bible)
- A Shakespearean garden (those herbs mentioned in the works of Shakespeare)
- Formal herb garden.
- A knot garden.
- A woodland herb garden.
- A vegetable potager with herbs
- A cottage herb garden (informal)
- Kitchen (culinary)
- Monastic (herbs originally grown by monks.)
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Many herbs from the genus Labiatae (mint) family grow especially well in our climate. These include: lavenders, mint, rosemary, thymes, salvias, catmints and germanders. The selection of herbs is large, with many unusual ones becoming more widely available each year. Below is a brief selection of herbs that can easily be grown in our climate:
|Kitchen Herbs (culinary use) |
|artichoke||coriander||marjoram ||salad burnett|
|borage|| garlic|| parsley||tarragon|
|chilli ||horesradish|| |
|catmint ||ginger *||lemon verbena|| roses|
|chamomile|| lavender|| scented pelargoniums|| salvias (sages)|
|bergamot*|| lemon balm|| lemon verbena|| white yarrow|
|German chamomile|| lemon grass|| peppermint|| |
|Insect Repellent Herbs|
|Balm of Gilead - moths and silverfish||pennyroyal - ants and fleas|
|dog bane - cats and dogs|| pyrethrum - aphids and mites|
|feverfew - most insects||rue - aphids and mites|
|lads love - mosquitoes||tansy - ants and fleas|
|lavender - silverfish and moths||wormwood - flies and slugs|
|*prefer shaded positions|