If you live in an inner city surrounded by concrete and pavement, growing your own herbs for your kitchen and personal use is one of the easiest ways to start growing your own food. An herb spiral is a simple, practical, and almost fool-proof method to fill your kitchen with the scents of fresh herbs.
Why Should You Grow Herbs?
There are numerous benefits to growing your own herb garden. First and foremost, herbs add flavor to any meal. Spaghetti is just spaghetti if you simply add a can of simple tomato sauce. Add some dried oregano leaves and some fresh sprigs of basil and rosemary, however, and your pasta suddenly becomes a delicacy straight from the heart of Italy.
Most herbs, unlike vegetables, are perennials, meaning that you plant them once and will enjoy their leaves, roots, and other parts of the plant for years to come. Additionally, herbs are also easier to grow than most annual crops. The strong scents and odors that most herbs emit are often natural pest repellents. While certain bugs might eat up your cucumbers they will usually stay far away from your dill or yarrow plants. The pest repellent properties of certain herbs can be used in a companion planting arrangement together with a traditional vegetable garden. For example, planting basil plants around a patch of tomatoes can help to repel certain pests that are notorious for ruining young tomato plants.
Another common companion planting option is pairing comfrey with any type of fruit tree. Comfrey is a large leafed herb that can be made into a healing balm. The tap root of the comfrey plant can reach several feet into the earth. As the comfrey plant grows, it is able to gather nutrients from the deep subsoil and bring them to the surface. When the comfrey plant sheds its leaves, the micronutrients from the sub soil are then more accessible for young fruit trees whose shallow feeder roots will benefit from the added nutritional boost.
Lastly, herbs should be grown not only for the flavor they add to our meals or the benefits they bring to our vegetable garden but also for the health benefits that they offer. Indigenous cultures around the world have long standing herbal and natural medicine traditions. Whereas our modern-day culture is almost completely dependent on the mega-pharmaceutical industry for our health needs, much of our day to day health problems could be prevented and cured with the aid of different herbal remedies.
What is an Herb Spiral?
One of the main contributions of permacultures design process is the herb spiral; a simple and practical way to grow an abundance of diversified herbs. The herb spiral looks the specific growing preferences of each type of herb and seeks to design a miniature system that provides the different conditions each herb needs to grow in optimal condition.
Not all plants like the same type of soil. While some plants need dry and sandy soil, others will flourish in water logged clay soils. In most landscapes, the specific growing needs of each planet limits what you can and can’t grow. The herb spiral, however, seeks to allow for as many different growing conditions in a small space.
Structurally, an herb spiral is simply a spiral construction made from stone, brick, or some other type of durable material. The spiral needs to have at least two complete revolutions and can be anywhere from three to six feet high and as wide as you want to make it. The spiraling structure will have two walls that run parallel to each other as they slowly spiral upwards. This space will be the garden bed where you will plant your different herbs.
Microclimates: What to Plant and Where to Plant It
The herb spiral is essentially a miniature ecosystem in itself with several different micro climates. Even though your construction is no bigger than a regular garden bed, the height and spiraling nature allow for very different growing conditions. The way the sun, wind, and rain interact with the spiral will create very distinct micro climates that will be best adapted for the different types of herbs that you plan to grow.
For example, near the top of your herb spiral will be where the most sun can be harvested by whatever you plant. Furthermore, since it is at the top of the structure that slopes downwards, the rain water that collects in the soil will wash downwards keeping the soil drier and less water logged.
Herbs such as basil, oregano, and rosemary all are considered “Mediterranean” herbs because they thrive in warm and dry climates. The microclimate created at the top of your herb spiral, then, is a perfect spot to grow any of these herbs. Aloe Vera leaves also enjoy drier soils, so you could plant out a row of Aloe Vera along one of the top parts of your spiral as well.
Depending on where your prevailing winds come from, your herb spiral will also have a windward and leeward side. Herbs with weak, skinny stems that can’t support high wind speeds should be planted on the leeward side where the herb spiral structure (and the other plants) will offer added protection. These plants can include horsetail, yarrow, and others. Certain herbs grow much better in the shade than in the sun. The north facing part of your herb spiral will receive much less direct sun exposure than the south facing side of the structure. Herbs such as chives, leeks, and caraway are good options for growing in shady areas.
Finally, near the bottom of your herb spiral, you will find that there is usually an accumulation of water that runs through the structure and settles near the bottom. Most all of the mint family herbs thrive in wet to waterlogged soils and also do well in the shade. Planting any type of mint at the bottom of your herb spiral, then, will give you an unending amount of leaves for your afternoon tea.
The specific micro climates that arise from your herb spiral will depend on your exact location, where you place your herb spiral, your climate, and other factors. Before planting out your constructed herb spiral, observe it for several weeks to see what areas receive most shade, sun, and wind. Use a watering can to simulate a heavy rainstorm to see where the water accumulates and where it quickly dries out.
The Health Benefits of a Few Common Herbs
There are millions of different plants that have been used as herbal medicines over the years so it is close to impossible to offer a complete rundown of every type of herb and the health benefits they offer. Below you will find some of the recognized health benefits of five of the most well known and most common herbs used today.
Basil: This staple of pretty much any type of Italian food packs a lot of flavor. It is also a natural anti-parasite medicine and a good remedy for an upset stomach.
Aloe Vera: The leaves of the aloe Vera plant are filled with an extremely bitter gelatinous substance that is a natural antibiotic ointment for skin wounds. Aloe Vera gel can also be used to heal mild burns. If you don’t mind the bitterness, a glass of aloe Vera “juice” each day can also help to cure acid reflux disease and gastritis.
Horsetail: This herb grows wonderfully in wet areas and you might often find it along creeks and streams. It is also one of the best natural diuretics and can help to cure urinary tract infections and other kidney related problems.
Garlic: This herb is also a vegetable and has dozens of health enhancing properties. Eating garlic regularly helps maintain heart health. It is also a natural antibiotic that was used by doctors during World War I when the penicillin ran out.
Oregano: Another classic herb of Italian cooking, oregano has natural anti-inflammatory properties. Making an ointment from dried oregano leaves can help to relieve swelling from any number of bumps and bruises.
The Multiple Benefits of an Herb Spiral
Even if you live in rain drenched areas like the Pacific Northwest, a well-designed herb spiral should allow you to grow drought loving herbs like Aloe Vera and basil. Through careful design and observation of how the natural elements interact with your structure, an herb spiral can offer you an abundant harvest of plants that will keep your kitchen smelling delicious and your body strong and healthy.