Maintaining an herb garden offers a variety of benefits

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Looking for a satisfying hobby? Try herbs.

They’re beautiful in the garden, delicious to eat, lovely in crafts and decorations of all kinds, and widely used as natural remedies for many common ailments.

“Herbs are so fascinating,” says Gail Adamski, owner of The Farm in Salisbury, Ill. “It’s such a broad topic, and there’s some myth and mystery to them. People think if you grow herbs you’ve got to be a gourmet cook or a really good gardener. But herbs are just a simple, sturdy group of plants with multiple uses.”

About half of the 200 plant varieties Adamski grows at The Farm are herbs, which she uses as landscaping elements in her theme gardens, materials for indoor decorations and in simple recipes.

While “cooking is not my forte,” she does snip chive for baked potatoes, crush a little mint or lemon verbena for tea, and freeze fresh sweet basil for sauces and entrees.

“Fresh oregano and basil from the garden are not like anything you buy in the store,” says Adamski, who uses fresh oregano on her pizza and fresh basil for homemade pesto.

Pat Lindsay, 62, has been growing herbs for about 10 years. “I love to cook. It’s just so wonderful to go outside your back door and pick fresh herbs.” She grows oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley and chives in pots and among the flowers in the side yard of her home, as well as in her front-yard “fairy garden.”

Herbs work well in theme gardens, Adamski has found. She has created 24 such gardens with all textures, shapes, scents and colors of herbs interspersed with flowers.

For aspiring herb growers, she recommends starting with chive. She describes this perennial as tall and grassy, with large, round, purple ball-like blooms that are among the first blossoms in the garden each year. “And you can snip some for your baked potato,” she says.

Maribeth King, founder of Mari-Mann Herb Co. in Decatur, Ill., teaches nutrition and cooking with herbs. “Season with herbs,” she says, “It’s almost like you’re taking vitamins.”

Basil, for example, is an excellent detoxifier, she says. And there are many others that are useful for digestion, headache relief and more. But before delving into the medicinal uses of herbs, she cautions, do your research. “There are a lot of look-alikes and a lot of misinformation,” she says, “Be careful. Identification is vital.”

It is essential to be aware of potential toxic reactions or interactions with prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about possible interactions with medicines you take.

Overall, growing herbs is fairly easy. Adamski describes herself as a “late-blooming gardener,” who knew nothing when she started her business in 1994.

“Herbs are pretty hardy,” King says. “They’ve been with us since Genesis, and they’ll be with us forever.”