Does one ever have a complete herb garden? In trying to locate someone not sold out of epazote seeds, I stumbled onto some interesting plants that are totally new to me. A couple of them are currently hot ticket flavors among trendsetting chefs. So, perhaps your herb garden is due for an update too.
Indigenous to the eastern US and Canada, pollinators adore this woods-and-meadow perennial. Sometimes called wild basil, this member of the mint family has a long history of use. Native Americans used flowers and buds to season meats. The leaves were important for healing infusions and as hunting and fishing aids.
While adding a pleasant, minty flavor to your herb tea, the tannins offer your natural medicine collection an astringent preparation. The volatile oils repel moths in sachets and add a fresh aroma to potpourri. Hairy, hoary, Virginia, thin leaf… the right one for your herb garden is native to your climate.
This sweet edible and medicinal plant deserves a spot in your herb garden. Whether listed as Aztec Sweet Herb or Dolce Buttons, the leaves are incredibly sweet. Like Stevia, but without the aftertaste. Add the leaves to fruit salad, or a unique flavor for cheeses and desserts. A container candidate north of zone 9. The dried leaves will always be sweeter than fresh cuttings.
Used by the Aztecs and in 1800s America to treat coughs, asthma, bronchitis, and sinus congestion. Recent research finds it antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic.
Currently a rage among gourmet chefs, you’ll probably want to try adding this to the herb garden. In Asia, they dry this plant’s vegetation and crush it to make a vegetable salt. The plant accumulates natural salts from the soil. The leaves and stems are a popular Asian snack often used as salad greens. Even the flowers are edible. Use them fresh as a garnish, as a stand-alone salad green or in a mix. You can cook it like spinach too.
In addition to the usual nutritional value in greens, this plant offers enriched potassium, magnesium and calcium levels. It’s also high in inositols, beta-carotene, vitamin K that are good for your blood, skin, and energy level – among other benefits.
Note: It’s not safe to eat all plants referred to as “ice plant” or “ice plant.” There are over 40 different Mesembryanthemums, and some contain hallucinogenic compounds.
You’ve heard that they eat chrysanthemums in the Orient, right? Not any old mums, mind you, but this edible variety. While the young shoots and stems of the plant are an Asian green, and the flower petals go into salads, it’s also medicinal. So, yes, this annual is dual purpose herb garden plant.
Aromatic flowers appear from July to September. The leaves of this large plant have expectorant and stomachic qualities. Succession planting gives you a whole season of fresh chop suey greens for the kitchen.
This herb garden plant is as beautiful as it is useful. Naturalized in many North American locations, the native tribes enjoyed young shoots and leaves as a spring vegetable treat and peeled roots in fall. They also used cut stems to draw the infection out of cuts and boils. After the leaves mature they’re tough, but make great tea leaves.
The flowers are gorgeous, and candidates for ornamental use. Also known as small-flowered willowherb, it is still used in herbal healing and commercial personal care or cosmeceutical products. You can even make thread from the fibers of this plant! Its desirable qualities list is lengthy.
Melissa Officinalis Lime’
A distinctively different flavor than the popular herb garden lemon balm plant. Like its sister culinary cultivar, the lime balm contains eugenol, tannins, and terpenes found valuable in traditional medicine.
Besides using it in the kitchen and herbal healing, the citrusy-smelling natural plant oils make a natural insect repellent when rubbed on the skin and clothing. A herb with soothing benefits.
A native perennial in Mexico, this herb garden plant answers to many names. Mexican Mint, yerba anise, winter tarragon… Whatever you choose to call yours, it has culinary and medicinal uses. Winter hardy to 5°F, you can container grow it further north and overwinter indoors.
Not a true replacement for French tarragon, but it works in a pinch. Use it with meats and vegetables, even desserts. Burning dried plants repels insects, not surprising given it is a marigold. Used medicinally since the Aztecs, it’s still popular today for chasing colic, stomach-aches, nausea, and evil spirits away.
This little-known Italian culinary herb has only recently been discovered by chefs beyond Mediterranean regions. Some confusion seems to exist over the actual nomenclature. Some say it’s the same as Silene vulgaris, a North American weed. Yet, the flowers of those pale in comparison. However, traditional foods around Crete and La Mancha use S. Vulgaris.
This delicately flavored herb loves poor soil, which may explain why some US gardeners say it’s bland. Perhaps regular or rich garden soil does away with what the Italians love about it. (Or someone sold them S. Vulgaris!)Eat young tender shoots like salad or in fast-cooking eggs. Older leaves go into pasta dishes or risotto and are also boiled or sauteed with garlic.
It’s easy to grow, but give it pitiful soil! A mild tarragon-arugula-chickory blend flavor that can’t be all that bland if chefs find it interesting.
Here’s an interesting addition to the herb garden, an edible root Rapunzel’s mother craved as the Grimm Brother’s tale begins. While all Campanulas are safe to eat, this one known as Rapunzel plant has young shoots prepared like asparagus, leaves used like spinach or in a salad for a boost of vitamin C. Then there’s the root, eaten young like a radish, or peeled and boiled when mature like turnips.
So, why is it classed as a herb? It has medicinal properties as a natural astringent for healing wounds or lesions internal or dermal. It is also of value to diabetics, because the root contains no starch. A biennial native to Europe and the UK.
Images courtesy of Yummifruitbat, Mid Atlantic Hikes, Lisa Bonassin, standingwave, Hoppin John, Gradina Hobby, Patchwork Jungle, Appalachee Hills, Terrior Seeds, and Strictly Medicinal Seeds (respectively).