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The Times
  • Yardsmart: Herbs are a sweet-smelling Mother's Day gift

  • A recent study in Ireland shows that common thyme contains alkaloids that fight acne. It's the natural antibiotic in oil of thyme that kills bacteria that infects human pores, thus causing breakouts.

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  • A recent study in Ireland shows that common thyme contains alkaloids that fight acne. It's the natural antibiotic in oil of thyme that kills bacteria that infects human pores, thus causing breakouts.
    A study in the UK showed that rosemary oil can enhance cognitive performance. Tansy, an ancient herb, was tested in Spain, revealing that its components may be effective in the control of herpes.
    Modern medicine is taking a fresh look at these oil-rich plants to see if any of the ancient uses can be backed up by modern science.
    Ways to use herbs in the home was something mothers passed down to daughters for millennia. Known as the "useful plants," they grew in many families' gardens, or often thrived in small pots kept on porches to receive kitchen wastewater. This legacy makes herbs the ideal gift for Mother's Day because they have so many uses. Any foodie knows the culinary applications, but it takes time to learn the medicinal ones.
    While cut flowers may make a beautiful Mother's Day gift, they're expensive and short-lived. For dads and kids looking for a more affordable gift for Mom this year, consider a basket of herb plants. You'll find these at garden centers and home-improvement stores in small, affordable sizes. The plants may be ganged into a decorative basket or box, or planted in a set of teacups by small fingers.
    It's not easy for dads to pick out herbs for Mom, so let's look at three of the most useful groups to help select gifts she'll love.
    For an avid gardener, there are two quick-growing annual herbs: basil and cilantro. These are annual plants that grow from seed each year and, therefore, can blend into the kitchen garden with ease. They can also be grown in standard flowerpots in urban gardens or on the patio. There are many flavors of basil, so a whole basket of them would make a treasured gift for any pesto lover.
    Woody herbs are stiff-stem shrubs or sub shrubs that have been in use since Roman times. Rosemary is a divine topiary, sage is essential for Thanksgiving turkey and lavender makes an incredible scent anywhere in the home. For a mom who is crafty, make sure you offer her English spike lavender with its popular flower stems.
    Creeper-spreader herbs make outstanding groundcovers between steppingstones, in rock walls or between larger shrubs. In England, it's traditional to grow a lawn of creeping thyme or chamomile to scent the feet or trailing skirts. Thyme is a low-growing cascader that loves dry stonewalls where its root crown is well above the wet. Creeping rosemary is an outstanding waterfall of oil-rich foliage for any elevated location.
    The Mediterranean origins of most culinary herbs limit their cold-hardiness. They are also sensitive to moisture in humid summer climates where soils are poorly drained. In the wild, they are found on sun-drenched slopes and other elevated places where the root crown remains high and dry under overly wet, cool conditions.
    Page 2 of 2 - If Mom is going to plant her herbal gift plants into her garden, give them in nursery pots. If she wants them indoors or on the patio, you can transplant them into a simple red clay pot that helps prevent overwatering with its porous sides. Sweeten the offering by having the kids each paint a pot with their own choice of decorations.
    The beauty of herbal gifts is not the plant or the pot. The gift is Dad taking the kids out to shop for herbs while Mom has time to herself. At home, his efforts to do it all on the sly will make every Mother's Day priceless.
    Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at mogilmer@yahoo.com or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.
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