12 Herbs for the Colonial Garden

| December/January 2010

• Visual Plant Guide: Grow These Herbs In Your Colonial Garden

The Colonial garden served as the apothecary, perfumery and spice rack for the average household. Gardens graced both the farmyard and the city home. The first Colonial herb gardens were primarily kitchen gardens planted with herbs, fruits, flowers and vegetables. Later, as the colonists’ wealth increased, separate gardens were sometimes added to grow only flowers for pleasure, such as Thomas Jefferson’s flower walk at Monticello or the formal beds at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home.

Herbs for Health and Wealth

Herbs served many purposes. In an age when meat was the primary fare, herbs enlivened meals and provided added nutrition. The plants also brightened wardrobes. According to Laura Viancour, Colonial Williamsburg’s manager of garden programs, tansy, parsley, madder, walnut and bayberry were just a few of the many plants used to create dyes that would change last year’s frock into this year’s fashion for the frugal Colonial woman.

Meet the Colonial Garden

In their book Dooryard Garden: Colonial Herbs, New England Herb Society of America members Jane O’Sullivan and Rhonda Haavisto write that most New England colonial gardeners situated their gardens on a southern exposure to take advantage of the warmth and full sunlight, both essential to raising healthy herbs. Fences encircled gardens to keep livestock and animals away from precious plants. What would you find growing in the Colonial herb garden? According to Viancour, the following five herbs were found in the average Colonial garden. These multitasking herbs will work just as hard in your home as they did in the Colonial home, making them useful and beautiful additions to your garden.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) garnishes many a restaurant plate today, but in Colonial times, cooks seasoned food with parsley and prized the herb as a health tonic. Viancour also believes parsley was used as a dye, producing a green color. A little parsley goes a long way, so for most modern home gardens, one plant provides sufficient fresh parsley to enjoy in culinary dishes as well as for drying and storing.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) enhances the flavor of game meats and stews, two staples of the era.  Sage was also used historically as a medicinal herb. “Sage has known antimicrobial properties and it is anti-inflammatory,” says Keri Marshall, N.D., medical director at Gaia Herbs. Marshall says a controlled clinical study using a placebo, double-blind methodology indicated a commercial throat spray made with sage was effective in treating acute viral pharyngitis, thus giving an intriguing glimpse into research that backs up Colonial belief.

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