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Turner House Kitchen Garden

In the back of the Turner House, there is a small kitchen garden with herbs planted in patterns taken from the Taylor-Wharton factory. And over by the potting shed, we have created a small kitchen garden and are in the process of expanding it.

We plan to expand the Kitchen garden taking down the modern chain link fence and replacing it with a more historic-looking picket, thanks to a generous donation from one of volunteers, Doug Kiovsky. We plan on expanding the garden and adding several more raised beds so that we can have a more extensive collection of Colonial herbs, and have more room to display our collection of antique tools.

Herbs in Colonial America

The colonial woman’s dooryard garden, along with her larger vegetable gardens, were expected to provide many of the foods, flavorings, medicines and chemicals necessary for a largely self-sufficient household with little cash. Plants such as madder and woad were used to dye cloth, southernwood and pennyroyal served as insect repellents, basil and sage improved and sometimes masked the flavors of food. Since most households were isolated from medical care, herbs such as yarrow, angelica, feverfew and valerian were used to treat many common ailments.

Colonial gardeners chose a southern exposure to take advantage of the sun during the short growing season. Beds were typically raised 6-8” above ground level in order to more easily amend the soil, to allow it to heat up more quickly in the spring, and to improve drainage. Colonists used stone, logs and later sawn boards to retain the soil. Colonists did not necessarily segregate herbs from the vegetables.

Instead they usually grouped plants with similar horticultural needs, for example herbs needing replanting every year, planting them in the front of the border, with the perennials in the back.

Tender Perennials and biennials, such as foxglove, fennel and angelica were given room so they could reseed. Since rosemary is not hardy in the North, it was put in a pot and brought inside for the winter.


The medicinal uses described here were those employed by some of the colonists and are not recommended by UFHA. In fact many herbs commonly used in the 17th and 18th centuries have been found to be toxic to the liver and kidneys, while others are actually poisonous.

Dill, Anethum graveolens
Dill is a member of the celery family. Fresh and dried leaves known as "dill weed" were widely used as a flavoring for stews pickles, and gin.  Dill oil was extracted from the leaves, stems and seeds of the plant. The oil from the seeds was distilled and used in the manufacturing of soaps.  A soothing herb, it was used to treat hiccups. In England, dill was used in many traditional medicines for the treatment of  jaundice, headache, boils, lack of appetite, stomach problems, nausea, as well as liver problems. Dill seeds can also be used to prepare herbal tea. The seed is harvested by cutting the flower heads off the stalks when the seed is beginning to ripen. The seed heads are placed upside down in a paper bag and left in a warm, dry place for a week. The seeds then separate from the stems easily for storage in an airtight container.

Lavender Lavadula officinalis
Lavender came to England with the Romans. It was used by the Greeks and Romans for its sweet scent in washing water and  soaps. It was a strewing herb in medieval times. It  was  believed that Lavender could cure over 40 ailments.. A perfume made of the oil was described in the first century as being good for "griefs of ye thorax". Very popular in Victorian days as it was supposed to be an anti-aphrodisiac. It is the one scent which will overcome the smell of mildew if the oil is sprinkled in musty trunks. It was used for making honey yet was also used as an insect repellent.


Rosemary Rosemary officinalis
An oil made from the flowers of Rosemary was applied to restore eyesight and remove spots and scars on the skin. Compresses of the leaves and oils were used for the head and heart to relieve painful joints and muscles, or sinews.” A tender perennial, rosemary was often potted up and kept inside for the winter


Sanguisorba minor Salad burnet
Salad Burnett was brought to the New World with the first English colonists.  It is used as an ingredient in both salads and dressings, having a flavor described as "light cucumber. It was put in wine to which it “yeeldeth a certaine grace in drinking.” Typically, the youngest leaves are used, as they tend to become bitter as they age. Salad burnet has the same medicinal qualities as Sanguisorba officinalis  and was used as a tea to relieve diarrhea and was used to cool the blood, stop bleeding, clear heat, and heal wounds. The root was used to stop bloody dysentery, nosebleeds, and is applied topically to treat burns and insect bites.


Sage Salvia vulgaris
Famous today for flavoring our Thanksgiving turkey, sage had many uses in colonial America. It was not only a culinary favorite (soon gaining popularity with Native Americans) used as a flavoring for pork, sausage and poultry but also an important medicinal herb for a plethora of illnesses.  Colonists fasted on sage with butter and parsley.  It was made into a spring tonic to cleanse the body, it was brewed into ale,  sweetened with honey for tea, and used as a gargle  for sore throats or infected gums. Sage supposedly reduces perspiration and was used for fevers and was given to women to aid in delivery. 

Thyme Thymus vulgaris
Used as a flavoring for soups, stews, meat, cheese and egg dishes, seafood, and vegetables. It was brought from Europe by the earliest settlers.  Sprigs of thyme were placed on lard and butter to keep them from becoming rancid.  Medicinally, it was used to treat toothaches, gout, headaches, nightmares melancholy, spleenic conditions, and flatulence. It was used as an antiseptic. The species of thyme grown by the colonists was an upright, wild variety that survived the cold winters. 


Basil, Ocimum basilicumBasil

Also called St. Josephwort, was grown for commercial use before the American Revolution. Used as a flavoring, particularly in salads and soups, the clove fragrance of basil improved the taste of foods. It was also used as a strewing herb. The leaves were dried for use in snuff to relieve headaches and colds. It was also a custom to place a pot of basil on the windowsill to keep unscreened windows free of flies. “A root of basil held in the hand with a swallow feather was thought to " relieve the pains of a woman in childbirth".

The Herb Society of America “A Dooryard Garden, Using Herbs from the Colonial Period"

by Rhonda Haavisto and Jane O’Sullivan Chadds Ford Historical Society.

Perennial Herbs
and their uses in
Colonial Times

Bee Balm (Monardadidyma)                               
Substitute tea, treated colds, sore throats

Calendula  (Calendulia officinalis)       
Thickener, yellow dye, color butter & cheese    

Caraway  (Carum carvi)                        
Flavoring, tonic for digestive upsets    

Chamomile  (Anthemis nobilis)
Sedative, fever remedy, rinse for blond hair    

Chicory  (Cichorium intybus)

Coffee additive, tonic, diuretic, laxative  

Chives  (Allium schoenoprasum)                          

Dill  (Anethum graveolens)                   


Echinacea  (Echinacea angustifolia)  
“Blood purifier” for rheumatism, strep, stings, bites

Feverfew  (Chrysanthemum parthenium) 
Treating fevers, colic, upset stomach, rheumatism 

Flax  (Linum usitatissimum)                    
Flaxseed oil Fabric fibers, tea, bread

Hens & Chicks  (Sempervivum tectorum)   
Facilitates healing of cuts, burns,small wounds        


Hop vine  (Humulus lupulus)                              Beer preservative, many medical uses   


Horehound  (Marrubium vulgare)      
Treating coughs, flavoring candy  

Horseradish  (Armoracia rusticana)   
Pain reliever, diuretic, condiment   


Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)                           
Cathartic, treat dyspepsia, coughs, colds


Lady’s Bedstraw  (Galium verum)      
Dye, curdling milk for cheese, mattress stuffing


Lady’s Mantle  (Alchemilla vulgaris) 


Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina)                          To facilitate healing of cuts and wounds


Rue (Ruta graveolens)                                             
Broad range of medical uses, judges carried—
“jail fever”


Sage  (Salvia officinalis)                                           
Antiseptic, astringent, flavoring


Soapwort  (Saponaria officinalis)                          Produces cleansing lather


Teasel  (Dipsacus fullonum)                                   
Dried flower heads used as scrubbers to raise
nap on cloth


Thyme  (Thymus vulgaris)                    
Flavoring, tea,  cough medicine


Woad  (Isatistinctoria)                                             
Fermented leaves a source of blue dye


Woodruff, sweet  (Asperula odorata)                 
Flavor wine

Wormwood  (Artemisia absinthium) 
Vermifuge, basis for absinthe


Yarrow  (Achillea millefolium)

Stop bleeding of wounds, many other medical uses.


 Annual and Biennial Herbs

Basil  (Ocimum basilicum)   
Flavoring, strewing, attract bees, repel flies


Foxglove  (Digitalis purpurea)      
Treated coughs, epilepsy, heart disease


Parsley (Petrolinum crispum)                            Flavoring, vitamins, breath freshener

Rosemary  (Rosmarinus officinalis)    
Flavoring, tea, sachets

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