Published on 08/04/97

Gardeners Can Obsess over Herbs

Gardening used to be so simple: plant, water, eat. But Wayne McLaurin says herbs demand more of you. Much more.

"Beware of herbs," says McLaurin, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. "Herbs are not only attractive, aromatic and often tasty. They are obsessive."

With ordinary plants, a container or two on the patio may satisfy your creative drive. Not so with herbs.

"Two pots rapidly become four. Four become eight. And these spill over into the landscape," McLaurin says.

But adding to the collection within a species is not the major cause of herbal spread, he says. There's the music and myth factor. Anyone growing parsley and sage must, of course, add rosemary and thyme.

Nor does the herbal obsession stop with growing the plants. Books begin to appear.

"The history and lore of herbs are the history of mankind," McLaurin says. "Marco Polo opened China for these little plants. The search for herbs and spices led the Spaniards across the ocean and helped build the Dutch and English empires.

"Modern medicine has its roots in ancient herb gardens," he says, "and the mythology of Greece and Rome is colorful with the origins of herbs."

Herbs will assault other areas of your life, too. You may find yourself dyeing yarn with plants from your garden when you don't even know how to weave. Or concocting brews of herbal teas to delight your friends.

"The difference between a chef and a cook is the judicious use of herbs," McLaurin likes to say. "The kitchen is the heart of the herbal stronghold.

"Once you begin to flavor meats and soups with your own plants," he says, "all other cooking becomes bland. Vegetables, breads, drinks -- even desserts -- demand the heightened character brought about by herbs."

Herbs will eventually invade the privacy of your bedroom and bath. Potpourris and pomanders will change the air you breathe, McLaurin says, while herbal baths hold you captive.

"In the most advanced stage of obsession, you may even find yourself scenting your soaps or molding candles with herbal essences," he says.

If you're willing to risk obsessing over herbs, call your county Extension Service. Find out how to grow them and use them in your cooking.