These herbs are some of summer's best bloomers
An herb, by definition, is any plant that has uses beyond being ornamental or edible. Mostly this is as medicine, as flavor in cooking, for pleasing aromas in perfumes or cosmetics, or even in aromatherapy. A plant is also an herb if it repels harmful insects, or attracts butterflies or hummingbirds, or can be used to make dye. And you can pronounce it herb or "erb." Either is correct. Some of my recent columns have included such butterfly lures as pentas, butterfly or milkweed and passionflowers. All are herbs that grow year round here and bloom through the summer. Rose petals are edible if they haven't been sprayed, and are certainly ornamental, but they also are herbs because they are used in perfumes, cosmetics and potpourri. They have been a symbol of love and beauty throughout history.Roses and all the flowers mentioned in today's column need full sun to partial shade in Florida, regular feeding and watering. If you don't want to spray - and I don't - grow some of the antique or heirloom roses. Knockout roses and some - like Belinda's Dream, Louis Philippe and Don Juan - are also very disease resistant. Purple coneflowers, Echinacea angustifolia, are beautiful in the garden and are used in medicines. Native Americans used the roots to help restore general health and as a blood purifier. Recent studies show it activates the immune system and you can get tablets at a health store that fight colds, flu and sore throats. This one is not so easy to grow, at least for me. But I see it thriving in many gardens, so I must be doing something wrong. It needs sun, space, enriched soil and moderate watering. Cousins portulaca and purslane are common bedding plants that will bloom from now until the weather turns cold. They come in shades of pink, yellow and white. All parts are edible and high in Vitamin C. And both are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are said to help reduce cholesterol, the risk of blood clots and heart attacks. Add leaves and flowers to salads and sandwiches or add them to soups, eggs and casseroles. Crushed leaves and stems help soothe burns and insects stings. These are available as bedding plants and at nurseries. Lantana, elderberries, chives, periwinkle, sunflowers, yarrow and hibiscus are other herbs that bloom all summer. Enjoy. v v Today's pick is the aloe, one of the easiest herbs that blooms in flushes throughout the warm months. It has so many uses, I used to take a potful along when we took the kids to a lake cabin for vacation. I've always kept these plants close enough to the house to get to them day or night. The jell in the succulent leaves gives first aid and quickly soothes burns, cuts and scratches, insect bites, and rashes of all kinds in all places, especially for babies. It also can be grown as a house plant, though it may not bloom indoors. v v Now's the time to ... Spread mulch. I'm surprised that people are still raking leaves. I don't believe in raking except maybe to move the leaves from the lawn to around the trees and shrubs, but if people insist on doing it, I keep bringing home the bags and spreading them around my trees, shrubs, perennials and vegetables. The only time mulch can get too deep is if it shades out sprouting seedlings. Around bananas, mulch can be knee high. Don't get it close up around the trunks of citrus trees and be ready to rake it back to the leaf line of the citrus when summer rains come. In the meantime, it keeps down weeds and preserves moisture. v v Upcoming event The Tampa African Violet Society will meet at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Common Ground Christian Church, 4207 N. Boulevard, Tampa. Award-winning grower Nancy Kast will present Meet The Cousins - Gesneriads: A Primer. The free event will include a plant raffle and growing tips. Visitors are always welcome. For additional information, call Jim Boyer at (727) 871-2014 or Ina Menish at (813) 681-1910. Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, author and freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.