Bouquets from the Herb Garden

April 6, 2014 lawanda Newspaper Columns

Herbs are often defined as “useful plants.”  This means they are used as food or medicine or in crafts.  But many herbs have an additional attribute – beauty – and can hold their own in gorgeous bouquets.

Take basil for example.  When growing basil for food, leaves are harvested before flowering for best flavor and flower stalks are clipped off to extend the harvest season.  But by August, it’s pretty hard to keep ahead of those flower stalks even with continuous cutting back.  In just a day or two, the plants develop pretty flowers.  Different kinds of basil present variously colored flowers and if you let them go, the stalks grow into tall spikes.  They add lovely color and scent to bouquets, and can be hung upside down to dry for use later in dried arrangements.  Their fragrance will linger for up to a year or more.

You might think that an herbal bouquet would have to be casual or folksy, but some herbs have elegant flowers suitable for formal décor.  Common sage produces purple flowers on sturdy stems.  Before the flowers are fully open, they are reminiscent of iris flowers just before bloom and could be cut at that point for a decorous bouquet.  Allowed to fully open, the purple spikes combine well with other cut flowers.

Lavender is an herb for smaller formal bouquets.  Fragrant purple, pink or white buds are held tightly on stiff stems.  This is another herb that is easily dried by hanging upside down.  Fragrance is retained for years.

For an even smaller bouquet in a tiny vase, thyme flowers form on stiff wiry stems.  Flowers are purple, white or pink.

Germander is an herb often used as a neat edging in herb gardens.  While it is mentioned as a cure many things in folk medicine, today is usefulness is mostly in its prettiness.  Like thyme but slightly more substantial, purple to light pink flowers form in whorls at the top of stems and would work in both formal and more relaxed bouquets.

Many herbs do a wonderful job as big bouquet fillers.  The yellow umbrella-shaped flowers of dill and fennel are perfect additions to a vase of zinnias.  White-flowered fillers include anise and caraway.

Fragrant and pretty greenery can be added to bouquets with mints, lemon balm, lovage, parsley, sweet wormwood, rosemary, sweet Annie and catnip.  Most of these herbs eventually produce flowers, and though they are insignificant, they will add a lovely casualness to the bouquet.

Some herbs stand on their own in easy bouquets.  These include calendula, feverfew and bee balm.  That’s not to say these lovelies can’t be combined with other flowers or a few greens though.

Back to basil again, nothing is prettier or simpler than a few non-flowering basil stems in a water glass on the window sill.  In fact, this is the best way to store basil if you can’t use it immediately.  Just change the water daily and snip leaves as needed.



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