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Seasonings Greetings : The soothing aromas of herbs are wafting out of the kitchen and into medicinal, aesthetic and practical realms as enthusiasts explore the plants' many uses.

November 11, 1995|CINDY LaFAVRE YORKS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Gardeners who grow a little rosemary to occasionally sprinkle its aromatic needles on their chicken are merely nicking the tip of the herb-berg.

Though tarragon, rosemary, peppermint, fennel, sage and thyme are commonly used to flavor foods, enthusiasts espouse herbs' virtues as low-maintenance beautifiers in existing gardens, deterrents for voracious insects and effective augmenters for medicinal and psychological well-being.

Although prepared herbs are viewed with far more reverence in other cultures than in the United States, people in Orange County are experimenting with herb infusions, tinctures, tonics, poultices and mood enhancers.

"Essential oils from herbs and flowers are becoming increasingly popular with people who believe the aromas alone are healing," says Robin Rogosin, who works in the body care and nutrition division at Mrs. Gooch's, a health food store in Tustin.

"Elderly people have been using them as a form of alternative medicine, to scent potpourris or for something as simple as making their shampoo smell better. Now, teens and kids are using them to treat acne, and people in their 20s, 30s and 40s are becoming interested in holistic healing," Rogosin says. "That interest will continue to grow as people learn more and more about its benefits."

Which herbs are best for what purpose?

Lavender is a calming essence and acts as a natural antiseptic. It can help heal blemishes and reduce skin inflammations.

Rosemary acts as a stimulator. It facilitates hair growth, acts as a highlighter when applied to dark strands, eases skin lines and wrinkles and, when taken internally, acts as an anti-oxidant.

Some people use rosemary as a stimulating aroma, inhaling it at work to promote alertness.

Pennyroyal repels fleas, says Norm Yoder, proprietor of an herb garden that grows behind Country Roads Antiques of Orange.

"Herbs are so easy to grow," he says, "and most people are amazed when they find that out."

Planting herbs requires little advance planning and a few specifications. Yoder recommends that newcomers start with fresh plants rather than starting from seed.

The weather is now ideal for planting herbs, says Kathryn Rue, president of the Rue Group and one of Orange County's veteran landscape architects. Plant them a minimum of two feet apart in an area that gets six to eight hours of full sun daily.

When digging a hole for the herb plant, go no deeper than 1 1/2 times the size of the container. Rue suggests gardeners back-fill a little so the crown of the plant remains at the same height as it was in the container. Plants can die if planted too deep.

To enhance fledgling and even mature plants, feed the herbs with general purpose fertilizer every four to six weeks, Yoder suggests.

Dry harvested herbs by hanging them in a warm, dry place or putting them on a baking sheet in the oven at 95 degrees until they are brittle. After drying, pulverize them with a mortar and pestle and store them.

For those who want to create a separate herb garden, Rue proposes a scenario consisting of a path of stones surrounded with thyme.

The lower area of the path is bordered by a chamomile lawn on the both sides of the path and peppermint ground cover on the left. To the left of the upper area of the path, Rue suggests a tiny rip-rap garden wall covered in jasmine. In the upper right of path, she recommends growing patches of lavender, sage, fennel, hyssop, tea tree and roses.

To the far right of the chamomile lawn, Rue suggests a picket fence border with an allowance for more lavender, sage and other herbs. To adorn the picket fence, she suggests rosemary which, as it matures, would cascade over the spikes, creating a romantic effect.

Just behind the wall, she suggests a eucalyptus grove. On the upper half of the picket fence, she envisions a vegetable garden incorporating tarragon.

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