Georgia gardener Jaclyn Weldon White offers tips on planting herbs in the Southern garden — and using them to cast a spell if you so desire.
“Herbs are not difficult to grow if you take the time to prepare the soil and plant them in the right locations,” writes Jaclyn Weldon White in A Southern Woman’s Guide To Herbs. Published by Mercer University Press in Macon, Georgia, this little book is full of advice on growing and preserving herbs, along with their culinary, craft, bath, medicinal and even spellbinding uses. White, who lives in Hoschton and usually writes about mayhem and murder, shares her own journey with herbs, from her healer grandfather Joseph R. White to her first failed attempt at a garden and now, many years later, successfully growing herbs for many different uses.
We contacted White by email to ask her for some tips for Southerners who are preparing their gardens for spring. She tells us what herbs thrive in the Southern garden, which ones can add color and what herb to snip if you’re aiming to attract a lover.
What herbs grow best in the Southern garden?
Most perennials — thyme, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage and chives, for example — thrive in Southern gardens. However, the mints, such as peppermint, lemon balm and catnip, prefer slightly damp soil and afternoon shade. Basil, an annual, does well here, but also likes afternoon shade.
What herbs should Southerners be planting now?
All herbs can be planted in the spring, but you must wait until after the last frost.
What are some flowering herbs that can add color to the garden?
Sage has beautiful stalks of purple flowers. Lavender and anise hyssop will reward you with spires of blooms. Bee balm’s red and pink flowers will lure bees and hummingbirds to your garden. My favorite is the evergreen rosemary. It starts blooming as early as February. Mine has been showing off lavender-colored flowers for weeks, even through the snow and ice we’ve had.
You say in your introduction that your first attempt at growing herbs was a failure. What did you learn from that experience?
Yes, that first experience wasn’t successful — not a surprise since I’d never done any gardening and had no idea where to start. But that first failure taught me the importance of soil preparation and planning. You need to research what type of soil your herbs need and what kind of conditions (watering, sun, etc.) will keep them happiest.
You offer many different ways to use herbs in your book, from crafts to cooking, but at the end there’s a small section on magic, potions and spells. Why did you decide to include this part, and have you tried any of these superstitious uses yourself?
Growing up here in the South, I’ve heard about herbal spells and potions and root doctors all my life and wanted to acknowledge the part herbs have played in that history. So I did a little research on the subject. However, no one should take this part of the book seriously. It’s just my attempt to add a little humor to the book. The section itself is purely whimsical. For example, one spell says if you want to attract a new lover you should soak catnip leaves in whiskey and sprinkle it on your doorstep. As I warned readers in the book, you might attract a lover or you could end up with a bunch of drunken cats instead.
Get White’s recipe for Carrot Thyme Soup here.