Dear PoPville – People Steal Herbs?

by Prince Of Petworth July 20, 2011 at 10:30 am 53 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user caroline.angelo

“Dear PoPville,

Last night a window box of basil and cilantro plants were stolen out of our front yard in Petworth (Rock Creek Church Rd). Have you heard of this happening before to your other readers? Any tips on catching the crooks or avoiding this trouble in the future? Is there a rash of herb thieves on the loose? We’re going to install a motion sensor light, even though we had a bright light on in the front. Very strange they would want to steal them- don’t you think?”

As crazy as it sounds this happens every year in many neighborhoods. It seems arbitrary about where and what is stolen – herbs, flowers, chairs, packages etc. It even happens in Cleveland Park, there has been an epic discussion about a flower thief, last we heard:

As I was walking towards the State Department this morning, I was surprised to see a rather dirty, short man get off a bus (the L1) with a tremendous bouquet of hydrangeas. I am pretty sure that he is the same flower thief that others have seen. The flowers he was carrying were beautiful but looked like they came from a garden — the stems were not even and the blooms didn’t look commercially-grown and perfect.

Aside from a motion light – any other tips on how to deter herb (and other) thieves?

  • Sherlock Homes

    I only plant poison ivy or oak now. Sure my cooking tastes horrible, but no one steals my plants.

  • me

    Even my neighbors take mine. I’ve come out to see them taking 3/4 of a pot’s worth of herbs, saying they didn’t think I’d mind. I told them I did, yet they continue to do it. I keep mine outside because my cats would eat them all up if I had them inside. Whatever….. this is such a minor problem in comparison to people being shot and assaulted in the neighborhood that I really don’t care anymore.

    • la boca

      Wow. That’s some serious rationalization. Thought about moving?

    • me

      My favorite was a couple of days ago- leaves on my plants are completely yucky due to the weather and I haven’t been working on the upkeep. Said neighbor caught me outside and mentioned how she was disappointed that I hadn’t taken care of the plants because she had wanted to make a certain dish for dinner the other night and it wasn’t complete because she couldn’t use the herbs. I wanted to smack her.

      • anon_

        ha! this made me laugh. I can’t believe people. Not only is she stealing your shit, but she’s complaining about it.

      • textdoc

        :( That neighbor sounds mind-bogglingly rude/clueless.

    • Bongo

      How about getting some testosterone and standing your ground and protecting your stuff.

      • me

        I’m a girl, so I don’t need any testosterone… but thanks. It’s just some basil and shit. Just thought it was funny to share the story of how entitled my neighbor thinks she is. What am I gonna do, anyways, sit on my front step and guard a couple of pots of herbs with my MPD-approved pepper spray? Come on.

        • Anonymous

          +1 “just some basil and shit”

  • pop-up owner

    I’ve had massive pots with elephant ears heisted. I’ve had many flowering plants pulled or cut from my yard… generally around mother’s day.

    It’s a fact of life that there are some that just won’t respect a darn thing in this city.

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, I think this is a cost of doing business, metaphorically speaking, when you live in the city. PoP’s got it right: flowers, holiday yard decorations, etc. all walk off in this town (personally, I’ve experienced all my in-ground perennials being clipped and gave up on any fall pumpkins or outside Xmas decor when, for three years running, all of it got stolen). Probably, the best — and unfortunate — answer is you shouldn’t have anything outside your home to which thieves can have ready access that isn’t bolted down, no matter how low you think the risk of theft is. If it can be stolen, it probably will be stolen eventually. Either care less about it or don’t have it out front. File under “why we can’t have nice things.”

    • Anonymous

      BTW, the motion detector light is unlikely to matter. This stuff happens in broad daylight, too.

      • shayne

        The local detectives say that it almost always happens in broad daylight. People that actually work are at work during the day, and losers that steal things are not.

    • BCinDC

      Someone stole my flag a couple of years ago. Took the bloody flag pole with them too, thieving bastids. I couldn’t understand why someone would steal the Union Jack, but then my husband said perhaps they thought it was a Confederate flag. Stupid, thieving bastids.

  • CAS

    We started growing pumpkins in pots in our front yard in Shaw and 3 of the pots were stolen sometime mid-day last Saturday. I know it is a bit peculiar to be growing them, but it is even more peculiar that someone took them.

    I hope they get big product out of them this fall at least.

  • 2nd amendmernt!

    this wouldn’t happen if we all had huge arsenals!!!

    • anonimouse

      That is different from “huge arses-n-all” isn’t it?

  • Herb


  • Eckingtonite

    Plant something that’s very pretty but can cause horrible reactions, like foxglove. Then, when the flowers/pots vanish (as they will), you can just smile when you think of someone covered in hives and slowly dying in a nearby alley, with your beautiful stolen plants as their funeral shroud.

    • andy

      Wouldn’t they have to eat the foxglove?

      • Eckingtonite

        Well, for some people, just handling it is enough to cause a reaction. However, to be sure, you could coat the outside of the planter with arsenic and cyanide.

        I also find it helpful to plant peanuts around the border of the yard, as it keeps away the children who have those allergies.

        • Emmaleigh504

          brilliant ideas!

  • Claude Phillipe

    on the MPD listserves folks have been posting a lot recently about plants stolen off of front porches – esp. in north petworth. seems like hanging ferns are a big target. the watering containers around our new little treebox trees were stolen the other week. and then the 5-gallon water jug that i drilled holes in the bottom to use as a make-shift drip irrigater got stolen the following week.

    agree with pp, if you leave it outside, no matter how worthless it may seem, it will eventually be stolen. i just hope that the loser who stole the 5-gallon waterjug took it home, filled it with water and flooded their damn kitchen with it.

  • andy

    Wait, how about this similar stumper?

    What if you see your neighbor’s plant, no longer flowering, full of seeds and hanging out into the street?

    Can you in good conscience shake the seeds into a baggie, take them away and plant them in your own garden for the next year?

    • Anonymous

      I say yes, taking a few seeds is ok.

  • erin

    We learned the hard way not to put out hanging baskets until after Mothers Day.

  • DF

    Hmm. A neighbor of ours has a huge amount of basil growing and I always think of taking a couple stalks. Haven’t done it yet. Also looking at how much produce is coming in at Harriet Tubman. Tomatoes are looking goooooood.

    • er

      A thought: introduce yourself, then ask about the basil. Bake them a pie in return for their generosity. Welcome to being neighbors.

      • Anonymous

        Agreed! I have herbs in my front yard and I actually voluntarily give them away to my neighbors… Sometimes we talk to each other, also.

      • herewegoagain

        One of my neighbors who I speak to the most offered me – right after I moved in – free use of her plentiful herb garden. It’s a great way to make friends.

    • DF

      Update on Harriet Tubman. Just walked by and all the tomato plants are nearly dead. Does anyone water them???

  • Steve

    I bet they were cyclists

    • Eckingtonite


      • andy

        Put it on a T-shirt and sell it at Big Bear

  • MichelleRD

    I’m still laughing about the thief making his getaway on the bus. This is a crying shame though. It’s a lot of money, time and sweat someone’s walking off with.

  • Anonymous

    This is enlightening. I didn’t think there was any overlap between people who steal shit and people who use fresh herbs.

  • Hoodrat

    ah, color me unsurprised. a lot of people put herbs out with the expectation that people will take a spring of mint or rosemary or thyme or lavendar here and there. mint spreads like a weed anyway; it can be good to have someone to help you cut it back. i did the same, but someone just picked the entirety of my two baby mint and 1 baby verbena plant a couple of weeks ago. all of it. i can see how someone rationalizes taking a sprig or two. but really, all of it?

    • Dave

      +1 on this being the normal way that large herb bushes should be treated and used in the community. If you have a giant rosemary, lavender, mint, thyme, or sage bush, I am going to take a clipping every now and again. Things like basil (and shit, ha!) are more fickle and can be used in larger quantities, so those should get let alone.

      Whenever I live in a place that offers space for gardening in the front, this is what I plant, outside of hostas and grasses. If you want a giant rose garden, move to Spring Valley.

  • Fonzy

    Why don’t you call the seasoning crime-solving duo: McCormick and Schmick

    • BCinDC

      hehehe, that’s funny Fonzy! Made me laugh out loud.

  • anon

    I have a pretty good selection of herbs and tomatoes in Shaw but everything is behind a high, unlocked fence. I’ve been growing for a few years now and haven’t had any thefts (of plants anyway, snow shovels and buckets of salt are another story). I tend to put the plants I care more about closer to the house, figuring if somebody is going to steal something they’re slightly less likely to walk up my steps.

  • Johnson

    Hell, you could take a dump on your porch, and some degenerate asshole would steal it! Welcome to DC, where if it isn’t bolted down or booby-trapped, it’s fair game.

    • Anonymous

      I guess I’ve been lucky– I live on a street that gets a lot of foot traffic and haven’t had anything stolen. The big pieces of patio funiture are chained to the gate but the cushions/pillows, coffee table, and various potted plants are not bolted down.

  • t

    There is a homeless Latino man who raids people’s gardens in Dupont/Adams Morgan. He is known to many of us as we have been the victims or witness to his crimes. He sells his stolen goods to feed his drug and alcohol problem. One of my neighbors, who caught him in the act of stealing some small shrubs, ran after the culprit, tackled him and handcuffed him to a nearby dumpster and called the police. When the police arrived my neighbor was told he should not have handcuffed the thief because he could press charges against him. The police told us he is habitual offender but never receives a long sentence for his crimes. He returns whenever he is released from jail. I have given up and no longer plant anything of value in my front yard.

    • MichelleRD

      Okay, where and to whom does he sell stolen herbs? Does it happen in the same quick hand-off fashion that dealers on my corner use for weed commerce?

    • AC

      Wait, your neighbor handcuffed him to a dumpster and then called the police? What were the handcuffs for if he’s not a policeman? How much do you know about this neighbor?

  • textdoc

    The only ideas I can think of for avoiding herb theft are:

    – Have the window box in a window that’s too high up to be reached from outside, or
    – Have them in planters in your backyard, if your backyard has a high fence.

    Depressing (but unsurprising) to learn about the thefts of hanging baskets, etc.

  • I’m guessing they were stealing the window box and the plants came along for the ride. If they wanted the herbs, it would’ve been much easier just to pull them up.

    A few years back, someone stole a plastic nursery pot filled with dirt and my compost container.

    I’ve chained my window boxes to my porch railing – not entirely theft proof but a good deterrent.

  • The times I’ve tried having pots of herbs, plants, etc., outside, they’ve disappeared within hours.

    Usually I find the pot smashed in the street around the corner.

    I wish they were just taking the herbs to cook up a nice meal.

  • C.L.

    Where can I find fresh cilantro? Any particular grocery store that sells it? I tried Whole Foods at 14&P with no luck.

    • Anonymous

      harris teeter carries it.

      the shoppers on route 1 has the best and cheapest selection within the beltway though.

      i’ve gotten it at whole foods, i’m surprised they didn’t have it when you looked.

    • Steve

      Best World, its about 60 cents for a bunch

  • v

    act like you are a mad scientist – add signs to pots – experimental herbacide – TOXIC!!


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