Every herb has two sets of names – common names and a Latin name, which is usually its botanical name also. While the common names of the herbs may be modified by people in different eras and different places, the Latin names of the plants remain the same almost always. Generally, many gardeners refrain from using the botanical names of the herbs, as they find these names difficult to pronounce and even daunting. In effect, the Latin or botanical names of the herbs are often also redundant or preventable. It is possible that farmers growing vegetables like tomatoes and carrots their entire life, still not learn their Latin names.
Horticulturists have developed several flowers and vegetables propagated from their original species, it may be sufficient to use their general English names. On the other hand, often herbs do not change from their original species – leaving them unchanged from how Nature made them, and grow them in the gardens very much in the same form as they are found in nature and under various names. In addition to being a certain way to identify a herb, the Latin names also help us to connect with the gardeners through different ages as well as all over the world.
Often, the botanical name of a herb lets us know something specific regarding the plant – for instance, the place of its origin or where it is found growing; the first person to discover the herb; and few words about the plant’s distinction, color, the shape of its leaves and so on. As English has its origin in Latin, very often you will notice similarities between a plant’s common English name and its Latin or botanical name and this helps to work out the information regarding the herb. For instance, all plants belong to the mint family are Mentha. This includes M. aquatic, which is found growing in or close to water bodies and M. rotundifolia, a plant whose foliage is more round compared to many and the variegata form of this plant is mottled green as well as white. On the other hand, M. spicata is spearmint having leaves that are spear-shaped or spiked. Then again, M. citrata is the botanical name for citrus or orange mint, while M. piperita denotes peppermint. In fact, this will also help you to deduce that menthol, the natural chemical compound which forms the soothing and cooling component in throat lozenges and pain balms, is obtained from the mint!
It is worth mentioning here that all plants are categorized according to their broadest family link down to their most precise distinctive name. In addition, each herb has a separate Latin name which comprises two parts – first comes the genus name and then the name of the particular species. For instance, the herb southernwood’s botanical name is Artemisia abrotanum, a herb that belongs to genus Artemisia and is named after the Greek Goddess of Hunting – Artemis. Approximately 200 other species also belong to the same genus, counting the herb tarragon (A. dracunculus). It is interesting to note that dracunculus in Latin denotes a little dragon, possibly referring to the sharp bite of tarragon.
What actually makes the botanical name-tree even bigger is the fact that plants belonging to all genera as well as their entire species are a part of a more extended plant family. The family connection of the species is founded on their common characteristics. For instance, the genus of all plants belonging to the genus Artemisia is a division of the family called Compositae – also known as the daisy family. All plants belonging to this family produce flowers that are made of several small blooms that form a central sphere. When you look at the flowers casually for the first time, you may possibly not notice any family similarity between the flowers of artemisias and sunflowers, which form the most outstanding species of the family Compositae.
The individual flowers of the sunflower are noticeable very clearly. They are a close collection of several hundred disk flowers, which appear in a spiral arrangement interwoven with one another and encircled by yellow-hued rays or larger petals. However, you would be requiring a magnifying glass to distinguish the minute flowers that make up the trivial disks without the rays found in nearly all flowers produced by plants of the genus Artemisia. However, when you are able to discern the defining characteristics of the flowers of this plant family, you are able to distinguish the various members of this family. Irrespective of the flowers being tiny as those of chamomile or the much bigger sunflowers, all varieties of the daisy belong to the family Compositae.
While all plant family comprises a number of herbs, three plant families include a notable number of helpful aromatic herbs. If asked to name any four herbs spontaneously, most likely you would talk about sage, parsley, thyme, and rosemary. Three herbs of these four are members of the family Labiatae – a name derived from the Latin term denoting lips. In fact, all members of the Labiatae family bear distinct flowers that typically resemble open mouths, wherein the lower lips are a little extended. It is simply astonishing to note the huge number of herbs belonging to the family Labiatae – the vast genera and several different types of species belonging to each of them. The family Labiatae comprises some of the familiar genera, including the oregano, mints, sages, savories, and thymes. Precisely speaking, there are over 750 varieties of sages, also known as salvias, throughout the world, in addition to bergamot, basil, catnip, lavender, hyssop, rosemary, lemon balm and several other genera in the Labiatae family. In fact, there is no other plant family that includes such a large number of herbs. In addition to the lipped flowers, the family Labiatae is also identified by the form of the flower stalks of the plants. These flower stalks are not round but have a square or four-sided cross-section.
Next, to the family Labiatae, the plant family called Umbelliferae includes the second largest number of herbs. This is a Latin term, which sound very much like umbrella in English, and the plants belonging to this family characteristically give rise to a small cluster of flowers that have the shape of umbels and are arranged at the terminals of the slender stems that spread out from the uppermost part of a stalk that resembles the spokes of an umbrella at its handle’s end. Going by this description of the plants, it is easy for you to conjure up the images of the herbs that belong to this plant family, including anise, angelica, coriander, chervil, cumin, celery, fennel, dill, parsley, sweet cicely, and lovage. Almost all the plants belonging to the Umbelliferae family have a concentration of flavor in their leaves as well as the seeds. In fact, some seeds of these plants are also used for seasoning purpose.
As far as the number of herbs it includes, Compositae is the next most important plant family. In fact, the herbs belonging to this family do not grab your attention immediately. In fact, this plant family contains only some well-known herbs that produce flavoring leaves. However, there are a large number of therapeutic herbs in this family, such as artemisias, anthemis, feverfew, Echinacea and yarrow.
As one is likely to look forward to, the onion genus known as Allium, which is a member of the Amaryllidaceae plant family, comprises a number of culinary herbs having a pungent smell, such as chives, garlic, Egyptian onions, shallots, and scallions. On the other hand, the poppy family called Papaveraceae includes the opium poppy, which is harmless when the seeds are used for baking purposes, but vital in medicine as the main supply of morphine. The remaining herbs come in the grab bag of different plant families. The mallow family, known as Malvaceae, includes many medicinal plants that have been used for long. For instance, musk mallow (botanical name Malva moschata) is considered to be a garden flower of the settlers and is now found decorating the roadsides. It also ricochets into our gardens and the white or pink flowers, such as the hibiscus are always accepted by everyone. The Rosaceae family includes different types of roses, which have been popular all the times for their delicate scent. Then again, the dried Florentine iris (belonging to the Iridaceae family) roots provide us with a fixative that aids in retaining the aroma of roses when used in potpourri. Perhaps, it can be safely concluded that all plant families include no less than one species that may be called a herb.
In addition, learning about the origin of a herb prior to growing it in your garden (irrespective of whether it has come from the low-lands, mountains, the temperate Mediterranean region or the freezing North) may be of much help. It would help you more if you know about its precise local habitat – whether it is found growing naturally in the sun or in a shade; in an arid soil or beside a stream. The herbs will flourish better when you create an environment similar or almost the same as their original habitat in your garden.
It is suggested that you ought to also try to find out if a new herb is annual, perennial or biennial; or tender or hardy. When we use the terms ‘tender’ or ‘hardy’, we actually mean the ability of the plant to tolerate cold, which could vary between a mild frost to a solid freeze or a climatic condition similar to the Northern winter, where it is absolutely cold for five months of the year. As expected, plants that wither or shrink even when there is slight frosting are known as tender. In fact, tender annuals only grow during the months when there is no frosting. On the other hand, tender perennials, such as ginger, bay, pineapple sage, lemon verbena, scented geranium, and rosemary, are among the most well-known herbs and may be grown outdoors during the summer months. However, similar to some people, these plants need to spend the winter months indoors. In fact, these types of herbs are ideal for growing in big pots that are portable too.
As their name suggests, annual herbs survive for just summer only. Their entire life cycle – sprouting, growth, blossoming and seeding, is completed only in one season. Similar to the perennially growing plants, annuls may also be tender, semi-tender or even hardy. For example, sweet basil is the most common tender annual plant that shrinks even when there is an indication of frost and stops growing even when there is a cool spell. On the other hand, coriander possesses the aptitude to tolerate mild frosts but dies when the temperature drops to freezing level. Chervil is a very hardy annual plant that survives in a hard freeze and, the cold notwithstanding can still continue to grow.
Every spring, it is important for all gardeners to start growing nearly all the annual herbs afresh either from their seeds or plants obtained from nurseries. However, there are some annual plants that remain in the garden by means of sowing their hardy seeds during the later part of summer and appear once again when the robins are back in May. It is worth mentioning here that among all the self-sowing annual plants, three are excellent culinary herbs – coriander, chervil, and dill.
While chamomile is one herb that grows naturally, there are some other vibrant colored herbs, such as blue annual woodruff, calendula, borage and painted sage that also start growing on their own in the vegetable gardens to enhance their beauty every year. While the creeping thyme forms more mats in the spaces between the stones used for paving, additional foxgloves growing among roses. They may also bring some additional work for the gardeners who may require getting rid of a forest caused by lovage seedlings or maybe by lemon balm plants that are deep-rooted in the soil.
The best way to grow perennial herbs is to group them along with other different permanent plants in the garden. They may form a segment of your garden landscape that may be improved over several seasons. Speaking from a sensible viewpoint, it will be less problematic if you undertake several phases of maintenance, which include weeding, cutting back and top dressing, in case you are growing the perennial plants in beds or borders of your garden. If you make some planning the relative heights of the perennial plants, other plants growing in the vicinity and also the overall impact of the foliage texture as well as the color of the flowers, the final outcome would be a garden that manifests the imagination as well as the taste of the passionate gardener.