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Growing Culinary Herbs for Pollinators and You

By: Elizabeth Dickey, Education and Visitor Engagement Director | 08/20/2021

Herbs used in cooking do very well in the climate of southern Idaho and in most of its soils. Many of them, such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage, are native to the hot, dry Mediterranean region. As long as they are in well-drained soil and are in full sun, they thrive.  Not only will these herbs flavor our food, their flowers support local pollinators.  Plant some herbs to benefit you and wildlife!

If someone in your household cooks, having an herb garden saves you time. If you need an herb, just step outside and pick it. Herbs, both fresh and dried, can be expensive. Growing and preserving your own herbs is an economical option. 

Herbs have a few requirements: 

🐝 Most perennial herbs, those that stay alive for years, prefer a well-draining soil. Test your soil by digging a hole and fill it with water. If it still is holding water an hour later, herbs will not be happy there.  If you have this situation try mixing your soil with compost and building a raised bed.  Raised beds drain more quickly than those in the ground.  Alternatively, you could grow the herbs as a container garden.  A few herbs prefer a moister rich soil, such as basil, chives, parsley, and marjoram.

🐝 Most herbs prefer full sun. Plant in areas that get at least 6 or more hours of direct sunlight.

🐝 Do not fertilize perennial herbs much if at all. Smaller leaves will have more flavor as their oils are concentrated.  Annual herbs such as basil, dill, and parsley may be fertilized as you would annual flowers.

🐝 Not only are the leaves of herbs good for cooking, but the flowers can be tasty too. Allow your perennial herbs to bloom for the bees to enjoy, but also for your meals. For example, Sage flowers are great lightly battered and fried.  Always, be aware of possible allergies you or your dining guest may have.   Harvest flowers before they fully open, wash with water, and then pat dry.  


Consider these herbs for your backyard habitat:

🐝 Basil – an annual, likes well-drained, medium rich soil. They can take some shade.  The flowers steeped in hot water makes a tea. Consider adding them to salad dressing, or mixing them with butter to top pasta or baked potatoes.

🐝 Chives – a perennial, prefers fertile, moist soil in full sun. Whole flower heads can have an overpowering onion taste, so break them into individual florets and sprinkle into your dish. Fry young flowers in butter with a bit of garlic and salt, to serve as a side dish.

🐝 Fennel- a perennial, likes full sun, and fertile well-drained soil. Flowers taste like licorice and go well with salmon. Collect fennel pollen and use small amounts in dry rubs for pork and chicken, or add to sausage mixes. Harvest the pollen by picking the flower clusters, and shaking them into a bag. The pollen is a creamy yellow color. Each flower head produces about a quarter teaspoon of pollen.

🐝 Lavender – a perennial, English Lavender, Lavendula angustifolia, does best. Flowers add a purple color to lemonade. Be careful, too much in your sugar cookies will create a beautiful cookie that tastes like soap. 

🐝 Rosemary- perennial, only marginally hardy and usually does not survive the winter.  Likes well-drained soil in full sun.  The flowers may be added to biscuit dough, or mixed into butter to be spread on warm bread.

🐝 Sage – a perennial. Be sure to plant culinary sage, Salvia officinalis, many other salvias are grown to be ornamental and not eaten. You may wish to replace it every few years as it can grow into a woody shrub.  In addition to being eaten as flower fritters, they sage blooms can flavor vinegar, or be added with thyme flowers to a gin and tonic cocktail. 

Learn more about growing, preserving, and cooking herbs at Idaho Botanical Garden’s class on Wednesday, 8/18 at 6:30 pm. Go to www.idahobotanicalgarden.org for more information and to register.


 August Gardening Tasks

🐝 Prune shrubs that have finished flowering.

🐝 Keep plants mulched to conserve soil moisture

🐝 Plant seeds beets, radishes, turnips; and fall vegetable plants

🐝 Order your spring flowering bulbs

Idaho Plant Doctor, Sierra Laverty, says this is a good time to check for pests and disease problems. Keep an eye out for rose diseases, and spider mites and leafhopper “bronzing” on vegetables and perennials. She suggests controlling powdery mildew on squash and pumpkins by applying horticultural oil early in the morning or late in the evening to minimize collateral damage.