Get down and dirty in the garden
Lisa is a writer, budding photographer and herb enthusiast. She enjoys poking around in the garden, creating in the kitchen and reading a good book (when she’s not answering the call of “Mom!” from her five children).
I think kids and herb gardening go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Like macaroni and cheese.
Like cookies and milk.
Like ... well, you get the picture. Here are a few tips to help you introduce the wonder of herbs to your children.
Appeal To Their Senses
Encourage your kids to do a lot of handling, smelling and tasting things from the herb garden. (But always with the caveat that you should not eat an herb unless you are sure of what it is.) Show your children how to rub the leaves of herbs to release the scent and then take a deep whiff. Our sense of smell is directly wired to the brain, so this is an effective way to help kids learn the difference between herbs.
Ask your child to collect herbs from the garden while you are cooking. Then let them help strip leaves, cut, mix and sample the food. Or make a special garden based on their favorite food. Plant a pizza garden with herbs like basil, tomatoes, oregano and garlic, (Yes, the garlic will take some forethought.) or make a taco garden with cilantro, tomatoes, jalapenos and oregano. Let your child decorate and label plant markers to add a unique-touch to their special garden. (As a matter of fact, your kids could make plant markers for your larger herb garden, too!) It's easy to buy your plants in small pots at the store, but also plant some things from seed so that they can watch them emerge from the soil. Try planting potted herbs from which to harvest right away, then plant seeds next to the started plant to observe and harvest later.
Encourage hands-on learning about herbs with your children.
Photo by Barockschloss/Courtesy Flickr
Appeal to a Child's Natural Love of Learning
Ask kids to help you weed the herb garden for short periods of time. By the way, “giving the plants room to stretch” may sound more appealing than “weeding.” This is mostly a time for you to just be together in the herb garden, allowing time for lots of questions and exploration. (“Hey mom, is this an herb? How about this one? Taste this one!”)
Give a quick botany tutorial every once in a while. For example, if you are checking out spearmint, be sure to point out the square stem and opposite leaves. Then when your child encounters another member of the mint family, which includes a good many herbs typically found in a kitchen herb garden, they can start to make basic connections and differentiations between herbs.
Appeal to Their Delight in the Disgusting
My kids all know how to spot plantain. (This is not too difficult, given it's abundance.) They like knowing it can be used to draw out venom from insect stings or splinters. I taught them to pick it, chew it up, then spit it out and put the plantain on the affected site. It can then be held in place with a bandage. Or, if they are feeling really rustic, they can bind it all together with large blades of grass. To be most effective, the poultice of chewed plantain should be replaced every hour or so. Kids especially like this because plantain is easy to recognize, and our process for making the poultice looks disgusting! For those that would prefer it, you can use a mortar and pestle. We don't use chemicals on our lawn, but I do warn the kids not to chew herbs from other places if they don't know whether it's been sprayed.
Plantain often grows in the cracks of sidewalks.
Photo by Shandchem/Courtesy Flickr
Appeal to Their Love of Giving (or Earning!)
Kids love to create, and using herbs to make gift or sale items is a great motivator for helping them learn about herbs! Sachets, face scrubs, bath tea bags, aromatic mug coasters, custom herb blends for cooking, photos, note cards, bookmarks ... the possibilities are endless. Your child's herbal craft or gift items would be a great addition to your yard sale or their lemonade stand this summer. You can find more gift or craft ideas and tips here.