Online herb gardening resource launched by University of Illinois

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(NaturalNews) The University of Illinois Extension program has launched two new online services for Midwest gardeners: a website with advice on herb gardening and a mobile app with information on ornamental grasses.

Grow your own herbs

The new website is an expanded and updated version of an older Extension site. It offers detailed information on 31 separate culinary herbs, with each page offering a description of the herb and advice on growing, harvesting and using it, along with information on popular varieties. Some entries also include information specific to growing the herb indoors.

The herbs included on the site are basil, bay laurel, borage, caraway, catnip, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, epazote, fennel, garlic, English lavender, lemon grass, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lovage, sweet marjoram, mints, nasturtium, parsley, Greek oregano, rosemary, culinary sage, salad burnet, summer savory, winter savory, scented geranium, French sorrel, French tarragon and thyme.

"In addition, the site contains information on how to harvest herbs for top quality and includes a variety of ways to dry or freeze them," said Extension specialist Jane Scherer. "A bonus to the site is a link to a few tested recipes to help you start using fresh herbs in cooking."

The harvesting section includes information on how to freeze herbs or dry them using bags, trays, heat, home dehydrators, ovens and even microwaves.

The site also has suggestions on how to design your herb garden and some advice on caring for herbs in general.

The grasses app, available for Android, contains advice for Midwestern gardeners interested in ornamental grasses. It covers basic information about both warm- and cool-season grasses and includes a directory of 21 different species -- with photos, descriptions and growing information -- that can thrive in the Midwest. Like the herbs site, the grasses app also includes generalized planting and care instructions for ornamental grasses. Unlike the site, the app includes YouTube videos helpful for ornamental grass gardeners and allows users to create albums with photos of their own grasses or of grasses they are thinking of growing.

"We're trying to get this information put into the hands of folks in a format that they are comfortable and familiar with, and have access to," said Extension horticulturalist Greg Stack, who compiled the information for both the app and the herbs site.

Herbs for cooking and healing

Although the grasses covered by the app are strictly ornamental, Scherer noted that herbs can have a wide variety of uses.

"A gardener may wish to choose herb plants that have culinary value, aromatic value and medicinal value," the herbs website states. "And in addition to these traditional qualities, many herbs also offer a great deal of ornamental value to the garden as well."

Indeed, herbs are popular among gardeners for all of these reasons. Although fresh herbs can be expensive in stores and are highly perishable, an actual plant is often low-maintenance and takes up very little space in a garden. Having a living plant allows gardeners to have access to as much fresh herbs as they need for a significant part of the year, without worrying about the excess going bad.

In addition, many herbs are renowned for their medicinal benefits. Studies have shown that some herbs can boost the immune system, directly attack disease-causing agents, and fight inflammation, oxidative damage and even cancer. You can learn more about the health benefits of herbs at HerbReference.com.

To visit the herb gardeing site, go to Urbanext.Illinois.edu. The grasses app is available at Web.Extension.Illinois.edu and will soon be available at the iTunes store, as well.

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