10 Things You Didn't Know About Herbs

10 Things You Didn't Know About Herbs

Why herbs - humble as they may be - deserve your attention. Both in the garden, on your plate and in your life. 

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Herbs are much more magical things than we give them credit for in this modern age - a little bit of history and some culinary know-how from Sara at Hawkwell Herbs will put you to rights and maybe inspire you with some rites of your own...


  1. There are many definitions of a herb. In early medieval times, it was said that a herb was anything that grew and was edible – e.g. a cabbage! Then it became the focus of medical herbalists. Over time, the most common definition has been a plant that is edible, looks pretty, and can be used as a medicine. All three elements must be present – even if a herb tastes awful in your opinion, looks a wee bit ugly, and is poisonous if ingested or applied in medicine. By this definition, a rose is a herb – the hips are edible if processed, it looks beautiful, and rose hip syrup is said to be beneficial. Another definition is that the seeds are the spice, and the leaves are the herb. So – coriander is both herb and spice.

  2. A herb’s flavour varies depending on whether you cook it or not. Liquorice Mint tastes of liquorice, raw. When cooked, no liquorice flavour, just a sweet taste. Doone Valley Thyme tastes really lemony, raw, but loses its intensity when cooked. Lemon Thyme is not as strong as Doone Valley when raw but retains its lemony flavour when cooked.

  3. A herb’s flavour varies depending on how you cook it. Lovage (tastes of very strong celery when raw) used in a stew and cooked for a long period of time tastes peppery. If fried, tastes nutty!

  4. Many herbs come in a range of varieties, each with a different flavour. Never just refer to Thyme in a recipe – after all, you could mean the spicy Broad Leaf Thyme or the sweet Lemon Thyme. And that makes a big difference if you put 'Thyme' on top of lemon ice cream hoping for a sweetness and instead get a raw fieriness! (It's the way you can tell a chef who knows herbs - they specify which Thyme, which Mint, which Lavender.)

    Salmon dish with fresh herbs and lemon thyme
  5. Old wives’ tales tend to give every herb a back story – usually based on how passive men are and how clever women are! We all know that the size of the Rosemary bush reflects the power of the woman in the house. And that Sage grows best where planted by a stranger. Sleep with Oregano under your pillow and you will dream of your future love.

  6. Many herbs are associated with life moments – Borage drives away sorrow. Myrtle, goddess of love and beauty is traditionally found in bridal bouquets. Amaranthus is related to immortality! If you wear Basil in your hair, you are yet to be betrothed. If a boy accepts the Basil from the girl, you are engaged! Dill, in Greek Times, was used to pay taxes.

    Refreshing drink with fresh herbs

  7. Most herb flowers are edible. And most contain seeds which, in certain circumstances, can be saved for next year’s planting. I try to grow three of each herb at a time: one for everyday use, one for the bees (for the flowers), and one which I allow to ‘bolt’ (i.e. put on flowers quickly) to save for next year’s seeds.

  8. There are 9 ‘sacred’ herbs used in pagan festivals: dill, sage, tansy, lovage, valerian, mugwort, yarrow, calendula and arnica.

  9. Books by Nicholas Culpepper (1616-1654) about herbs have apparently been in print continuously since he wrote them.

  10. There are thousands of herbs in the world – yet most of us stick to about 5… (No scientific fact about that - just my sorrowful observations!)
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