"A weed is a weed until its virtue is known. Then it's an herb," proclaimed Margaret Reed of Beaver Falls, Pa., as she displayed a collection of shawls and wall hangings she had made with help from her three mohair goats and vegetable dyes extracted from plants in her herb garden.

Speaking to a group of 50 yesterday at a picnic luncheon and preview of the new two-acre National Herb Garden at the National Arboretum, Reed said her goats -- Annabelle, Charlie Brown and Snoopy -- are "very proud to let me use their things. Sometimes they ask me, 'Well, what color are we going to be today?'"

It was a moment of glory for oregano, marjoram and dill, as well as the Herb Society of America, which had begun lobbying for the garden in 1965.

"I've noticed a revival in the whole general area of organic agriculture and the natural system of checks and balances and controls which have been put on this earth," said Agriculture Secretary Robert Bergland following the picnic, which was held on the arboretum lawn despite 'No Picnicking' signs.

Small green flecks floated over the zucchini soup and the tomatoes stuffed with green peas and mint, and though the pate de campagne provencale, served on paper plates depicting a cluster of herbs.

Afterward, Bergland, Berb Society members and food editors from across the country toured the garden, the new home of 7,000 herb plants, many of which are now merely sprouts. Naked redwood trestles make up the know garden where soon the plants will grow into interwoven chains and make their way up the wood. For now, tiny clematis sprigs have been tied to strings hanging from the trestles as a little encouragement.

The garden also houses a historic rose collection and 10 specialty gardens with their own themes, where straight rows of the bushy herb clumps have been planted.

Beautiful they are not. Yet function is what's important here, particularly in the Industrial and Medicinal herb gardens.

"There are so many different angles to herbs, so many ways to approach them," said the garden's curator, Holly Shimizu. "There's something for everyone, plants are so important in our lives."

Herb Society board member Mary Cartwright of Nashville was in town for the opening and escorted members of Joan Mondale's office through the gardens while passing along information such as the fact that planting marigolds near your tomatoes will keep the nematodes away from the roots, and that aspirin is a derivative of the willow tree.

As the group meandered pas the Medicinal garden, Cartwright pointed to the winter savory and explained that it is known as the "bean herb. If beans don't agree with you, you put a little in and it's supposed to help."