Aromatic plants have now conquered everyone. They are usually found in supermarkets, in seedlings or even shredded and ready to use for the preparation of tasty dishes. In some places in Italy, very lucky, there are those who are used to collect them directly from their own vegetable garden, for a totally green experience. The city’s vegetable gardens are very widespread, green oases immersed in the daily chaos where you can recover a slow modus vivendi without neglecting the ancient and genuine flavours of km0.
A Passion for Aromatic Herbs
If you are also interested in creating a small garden of plants right on your balcony, know that it only takes a few steps to grow aromatic plants and enjoy their scents, flavors and benefits, being in many cases also medicinal plants beneficial to the body. The Romans, Egyptians and Greeks were great connoisseurs in this sense: do not forget that botanical herbaria have an ancient history and contain indications for the processing and preparation of precious ointments and herbal teas, still in vogue today. The De Materia Medica was the first important book on pharmacological botany (the work of Dioscorides, who worked at the time of Nero) and is still used today as an example in the field of phytotherapy.
Generally, an aromatic plant requires sunshine, large pots to ensure that the roots can develop without obstacles and watering only when the soil is dry to the touch: in this case you will promote a proper accumulation of those precious essential oils in the leaves. You will understand well that on very hot days it is necessary to move the aromatic plant in the shade, remember instead to mulch the surface of the ground with bark or straw or to cover with a cloth the plant during the coldest winters.
Here is a list of names of the most common medicinal and aromatic plants.
How many times have you used basil to flavour your Mediterranean sauce or to prepare the famous Ligurian pesto? Well, know that basil was used in ancient Rome as a mouthwash, as an ointment to ward off insects and from soldiers as propitiatory food being food sacred to Mars.
You can grow what in botany is known as Ocimum Basilicum easily at home, but know that it is an annual herbaceous plant that does not exceed the rigors of winter. However, it is still easy to get a lush basil, even at a short time of the year. It is a plant that prefers temperate climates and does not stand the cold, but not even the sultry: ensure at least 6-8 hours of light per day and water it only when the soil is dry.
Rosemary, the “incense plant”.
Rosemary is a plant typical of Mediterranean countries: it belongs to the Lamiaceae family and has a woody stem from which thin leathery leaves and blue flowers start. If in nature it can reach up to 3 meters in height (and is in fact also used to create fragrant hedges), in pots its size is smaller. Loving warm and bright places, in winter protect it from the cold by moving it to a more sheltered place.
In addition to keeping mosquitoes away, know that the essential oil of rosemary is a panacea for the skin and hair: and think that the legends describe it as a plant related to the cult of the dead, if you think that the poor Greeks burned it instead of incense or cultivated it on the tombs in memory of the legend of Leucotoe buried alive by his father Laocoonte for having lay with the god Apollo.
It is the ubiquitous herb in most Italian dishes: it is the Petroselinum Sativum, a plant with an erect stem and serrated, flat or curled leaves depending on the variety. In nature it is a perennial species, while the domestic version is biennial and you can easily grow it: get a well-drained soil mixed with peat and a deep pot so that the plant can develop without problems and then place the plant in a mild place and in twilight.
Don’t skimp on consuming the parsley as it is very rich in vitamins, proteins, mineral salts, fibres and carbohydrates: this means that it has digestive, purifying and diuretic properties. Its constant consumption helps, for example, to counteract states of fatigue, to rebalance the endocrine system and to soothe irritation.
Sage, the Plant of Health
You will be aware of the healing properties of this evergreen shrub, also typical of the Mediterranean basin, with its velvety grey-green leaves and small purple flowers. The American Indians used it to treat many diseases and, during the Spanish plague, the jackals spread an ointment of sage, lavender and thyme to plunder the victims of the plague.
If you want to grow it on the balcony, place it in a sunny area but remember to protect it from the winter cold. Then use a sandy and calcareous soil to be kept moist but without causing stagnation of water with excessive watering.
The legends tell of Amaracus, a young man who took his own life for having broken an ampulla full of ointment, addressed to the King of Cyprus: the Gods, moved by his sense of guilt, turned him into oregano.
The Origanum Vulgare is a perennial plant belonging to the Lamiaceae family. It has brown stems, round green leaves and small white flowers veined in purple or pink, from which it is obtained the precious essential oil. Grow it in a well-drained calcareous soil and place it in the sun: for its use in cooking, collect the leaves and dry in the dark, and then store it in hermetically sealed cans that will preserve the unmistakable scent.
The essential oil of oregano is rich in terpinene, thymol and carvacrol, elements that help to free the respiratory tract or to disinfect small lesions: massaging the oil on the skin will also allow you to fight the annoying cellulite.
An infusion of oregano instead has a remarkable relaxing and calming power in case of coughing and redness of the throat or mouth.
The “plant of courage”: thyme
If you want to grow thyme in a pot, get a terracotta pot and grow this small aromatic plant in mixed soil, not too clayey or dry, to be watered as needed, without creating waterlogging. The only fundamental concern that the plant needs is to be placed in a dark place, without too many hours of light.
Thyme has played a certain role in history: in the Middle Ages, for example, a sprig of thyme was placed under the pillow to encourage good dreams. It was also a good omen for the knights who were preparing to face the tournaments and for the inhabitants of the beautiful and inhospitable Scottish Highlands.
In botany it is known as Allium Schoenoprasum and is, due to its strong smell, commonly called “wild garlic”. Chives are one of the most aesthetically pleasing of the aromatic flowerbox plants: they have cylindrical leaves that grow in tufts and their umbrella-like inflorescences range from violet to purple to white. You can grow it in pots on your balcony in an organic and light soil; it is very resistant even to cold and does not necessarily require the sun, but just the half-shade to grow strong and beautiful.
Chives are rich in vitamin A-B-C, phosphorus and potassium: taking them as a decoction will benefit your digestive and cardiac system, promoting the spraying of the heart.
Aloe vera, the “plant of immortality”
By growing aloe vera you will have a true source of well-being. From the leaves of this plant of Mediterranean and North African origin, a gel rich in active ingredients is extracted. The gel has nourishing, purifying, healing and anti-inflammatory properties and, thanks to steroids, gives relief in case of osteoarticular problems. Important are the benefits at the gastroenteric level and in cell regeneration thanks to the presence of acemannan.
Get a sandy and therefore draining soil and position it in the sun: it is a perennial plant, it resists well even at the lowest temperatures, but it is always better that in case of frost you cover the plant and prepare a mulch of the ground. It does not require many waterings as it is enough only 2-3 in a month, but it is recommended to fertilize it with fertilizer rich in potassium sulfate in October.