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Herb Garden

About the Dubuque Aboretum Herb Garden

Our Formal Herb Garden is divided into four quadrants:

  • Herb-Garden-500x333Tea

  • Culinary

  • Aromatic

  • Medicinal

Surrounding its central fountain is a circular raised bed filled with catmint and parsley. The ground level “eyes” — which extend north and south of the fountain — feature edible flowers.

Enjoy this virtual, descriptive tour. Then visit our Formal Herb Garden in person. If you happen to be walking through the garden while we’re working, please ask for a tour. We love to talk about our plants!


Dedicated to herbs that can be used to make an herbal infusion, it’s more correctly called a tisane. Herbal teas are not new, Peter-Rabbitbut have been brewed for thousands of years:

As early as 410 B.C. Plato wrote about the brewing and uses of herbal infusions. Our own Native Americans brewed herbal teas and, following the Boston Tea Party, patriotic ladies turned to blends made of mint, lemon balm, rosemary, sage and bee balm to slake colonists’ thirst. You’ll find examples of all of these plants in our garden plus chamomile (Peter Rabbit’s Tea), hibiscus, thyme, lemon verbena, and anise hyssop.

Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some chamomile tea: One tablespoonful to be taken at bedtime.
—Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Three favorite teas are:

chamomile, a soothing bedtime drink
chocolate mint, delicious hot or cold, and
lemon verbena, which tastes and smells just wonderful.

Many of our garden visitors think the herbs have to be dried before tea can be made. You can, of course, dry and blend several tea herbs to make a mixture for winter tea brewing, but to get full pleasure from your tea garden try a pot brewed from fresh leaves.

A recipe for tea with fresh leaves:

Pluck a handful of mint or lemon verbena, rinse the leaves with cool water, bruise them slightly, and place them in a warm teapot. Add water which has just come to a boil and allow to steep for a few minutes. Pour and enjoy. If you have a sweet tooth, add honey, stevia, or sugar. Discard the leaves and store leftover tea in the refrigerator. It will be lovely as iced tea later in the day.


The culinary garden features those herbs which add so much flavor, texture, and color to our meals. What would spring be without fresh chives on cottage cheese or a baked potato? Summer without fresh basil chopped on homegrown tomatoes? And fall without fresh sage to stuff the turkey? Fresh herbs improve the taste of our meals and often make them more healthy. Some of the less traditional culinary herbs we grow include: lovage, fennel, summer savory, chervil and French tarragon. Cinnamon, Thai, lemon, purple ruffles, and sweet basil add color and a wonderful scent to the garden. If you love to cook (or eat), stop by this quadrant for inspiration.


In the aromatic — or scented — garden, we find plants grown just for their fragrance. While many of them are sweet-scented (such as, lavender, rose, and the scented geraniums) others give off an aroma that is designed to deter. For example, Southern Wood, which has a strong lemony scent, is one of the herbs used in natural moth bags and was routinely used in ancient courtrooms to ward off prison fever.

Remember the mention of strewing herbs in your high school literature class? During the Middle Ages, it was common practice to place sweet-smelling herbs under mattresses and on floors. One of the most popular, reputedly a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, Meadowsweet grows in the back corner of this quadrant. Nearby grows another ancient plant, tansy. Medieval people believed tansy slowed down spoilage and deterred flies so they wrapped their meat in the leaves. It is also reputed to deter many other insects and even mice. Stop by the scented garden to see these bits of history.


Plants that have been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of diseases are found in the medicinal garden …

Comfrey, used to treat wounds and bruises
Echinacea (cone flower), used to bolster the immune system
St. John’s Wort, used as an antidepressant
Garlic, a strong germ killer
Foxglove, used as a heart stimulant

… are all ancient medicinal plants.

One caveat to remember about medicinal plants: MANY ARE POISONOUS and are best admired for their historical significance and left in the garden! That said, it is great fun to read historical fiction and mysteries and find mention of these interesting plants. So … if you are reading something by Susan Wittig Albert or Diane Gabaldon, come out and take a look at the herbs they mention.


It’s great fun to amaze your friends by garnishing your luncheon or dinner plates with edible, herbal flowers: calendula, nasturtium, dianthus (clove pink), lavender and day lilies are a treat for the eye and the palate. The “eyes” on either side of the fountain provide wonderful examples of these tasty delicacies.

[ Description provided by Fran Hedeman | Herb Society of Dubuque. ]

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