As a child I used to watch with fascination as my grandfather's hands gently teased apart leaves and flowers and spread them over paper towels to dry in the hot still air of the attic. That attic looked much like an apothecary's shop with dried hot pepper bunches, hanging herbs, long braids of onions and garlic and drying racks of chamomile and lovage intermixing their fragrances in an indescribable but immediately recognizable scent.

We used to walk together in the garden and every day I learned something. One day I would find out that Saint John's Wort tea soothes a peptic ulcer. The next I would collect plaintain to mix in a syrup for chest congestion and sore throats. It didn't seem like learning at the time and it never occurred to me that my grandfather, a natural sciences teacher by trade, was presenting a very special kindergarten Materia Medica lecture for one.

Herb growing usually starts with a modest pot of parsley and dill on the kitchen window sill and most people leave it at that. Once you venture looking for specific herbs' culinary and medicinal qualities, you get seduced by their ancient significance and an herb garden is born.

More than a small patch of dirt with greenery growing on it, the herb garden is a thousand year old concept that witnessed the birth of modern medicine and pharmacology and generated its own design patterns, some of which were more intricate than embroidery or lace.

Half alchemy ingredients, half cooking stock, all shrouded in symbolism and superstition, common herbs used to stew in both humble and distinguished pots to turn up flavorful soups, healing poultices, or invigorating brews.

When you hear "herb garden" an image immediately comes to mind: a small round divided into quarters, with a fountain and a bench in the middle, and taller dill growing protectively on the perimeter. Inside the circle, small sectors radiate neatly, changing color and texture as they move from thyme to parsley or sage. There are always bees and butterflies buzzing around a tall anise seed head and the overheated fragrance of mint fills the air.

If you have the room, the time and the sun exposure I definitely recommend creating one.

Author's Bio: 

Main Areas: Garden Writing; Sustainable Gardening; Homegrown Harvest
Published Books: “Terra Two”; “Generations”
Career Focus: Author; Consummate Gardener;
Affiliation: All Year Garden; The Weekly Gardener; Francis Rosenfeld's Blog

I started blogging in 2010, to share the joy of growing all things green and the beauty of the garden through the seasons. Two garden blogs were born: allyeargarden.com and theweeklygardener.com, a periodical that followed it one year later. I wanted to assemble an informal compendium of the things I learned from my grandfather, wonderful books, educational websites, and my own experience, in the hope that other people might use it in their own gardening practice.