Have you ever asked a kid what they thought about history? Chances are they said, “It’s boring!” Well, here’s a way to make history both interesting and relevant. Design a garden using plants that were used by people in colonial times. The plants they used are quite common and still used today but for different purposes. For instance, most of us don’t have to run out to our herb garden to snip sage for a snake bite!
The herbs can be found at any greenhouse or garden center. With summer just around the corner, this activity is a great way to spend some quality time outside with your child.
What You Do:
- Select a sunny garden location to plant the herbs, or purchase some pots if you don't have garden space.
- Dig a hole deep enough and wide enough to accommodate the root size of the plant. You’ll want the hole to be a little wider than the plant’s container. Follow the individual planting instructions that came with the herbs. Repeat the process for each herb.
- Prepare the soil for planting by mixing some planting mix in with the soil you’ve dug up.Place the plants in the holes and fill in around the plant with loose dirt. Tamp the soil down to eliminate any air pockets.
- Water thoroughly.
The plants may be arranged however you wish. In colonial times the herb garden was for function not aesthetics, and was prized for its medicinal and culinary purposes, not to impress the neighbors. Therefore, the garden was often planted close to the house so people didn’t have to go far to get what they needed.
If you visit a historic Colonial home, you will usually find an herb garden nearby. Here’s a list of some of the herbs’ uses in Colonial times:
- Lamb’s Ear (stachys byzantina) - used to bandage wounds (disputed)
- Lavender (lavendula)- used to perfume linens and also helped to stop giddiness
- Lemon Balm (melissa) - helped to expel afterbirth
- Mint (mentha) - stopped hiccups and helped to stop lactation
- Rosemary (rosmarinus) - used as an air freshener and helped with memory
- Sage (salvia) - helped to quicken childbirth and was also used for snakebites
- Thyme (thymus) - stopped hiccups, helped an upset stomach and was good for warts, among other things
- Yarrow (achillea) - used as a dye
The uses of some of these plants by the colonists can be used to initiate a conversation with your child about Colonial America’s agrarian economy. Compare the colonists’ way of life with our lives today. Where did the Colonists get their food? How did they cook their food? Where did they get their clothes?
Many of these herbs can be grown as container plants if you don’t have space for a garden. Check your planting instructions. Some herbs are annuals, others are perennials. If you have perennials, you will be able to enjoy them for years to come.