Herb Circle

"How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckon'd but with herbs and flowers!"
-- Andrew Marvell, "The Garden"


Click for a diagram of the Herb Circle, Potager, and Tropical Vegetable Area.


I planned the lines of this garden, the Tropical Edibles Area and the Potager several years ago and have never yet thought of a design I like better.  The Herb Circle was finished first about six years ago.  In the beginning, I intended to edge these beds with bricks from the garden center.  But at a local nursery, I spotted a pallet of Old Chicago brick left over from a landscaping job.  The owner priced them per piece but estimated how many were on the pallet for an overall figure.  His guess was a little short and the price was about 3/5 that for new bricks, which were not nearly as attractive, so I really made out well.  We used the extras to create a small pad under the hose in the side yard for a work spot that wouldn't get muddy and Holding Area in some shade for new plants.  The brick is weathered and of a light color with some yellow in it.  Some have remnants of mortar on them.  This is lovely stuff if you can find it.  I fitted pieces like those of a puzzle to make an edging for each bed.  The lawn man was thrilled, since he had to use an edger before that and the grass always grew into the beds.  Once the bricks are in place, it's relatively easy to keep grass out during a weekly visual check with one's bare hands. 

It is good to separate leafy herbs that need richer, moister soil (e.g. Mints, Basil, Parsley, Cilantro, Garlic Chives) from those that should be kept drier and have a stronger flavor in lean soil (e.g. Culinary Sage, Rosemary, Scented Geraniums, Thyme, Lavender).  Also some of the first group can tolerate a bit of shade, while the others should be in full sun.  The back area of the Herb Circle, near the Arbor, gets a touch of shade, so I add amendments and plant leafy herbs there, along with some piquant salad greens like Arugula and Peppergrass.  The front of the Herb Circle is amended less often and gets more sun, so I plant accordingly. 

I like to keep some perennial herbs that do well in the cool season but can't take our summers in containers.  Some die in the relentless sun, but most are lost because of excessive moisture.  We can't do anything about humidity, but we can at least get the plants out of the rain.  I put the pots on my back porch, which has a large overhang that doesn't quite cover the entire patio.  Here, they get good sunlight but are shielded from rain and I water infrequently.  If the herb is sensitive to the harsh sun, I pull it back almost to the house so no direct sun hits it.  This has brought several herbs that would not have survived (along with African Violets and Gloxinias) through a few seasons, and I didn't have to take them out of the ground.  This method works well for Mediterranean herbs like Thyme, Culinary Sage, and Lavender, South African ones like Scented Geraniums, and more tender ones like Lemon Verbena.  Also the porch is screened in, which protects against some critters.  Another trick, used by the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service at their herb garden in St. Petersburg, is to hide a clear panel of fiberglass under a trellis over a bed of such herbs to keep the rain off them and block the strongest sun.

Drip irrigation is helpful to avoid wetting leaves and incurring fungal diseases or those that result from water splashing on the ground and up onto leaves.  In general, except for the Mediterranean herbs which are prone to rot, herbs appreciate mulch and compost.  Some gardeners use unwashed dog hair from a grooming salon for new plants - this adds nitrogen and will repel pests like rabbits.  Manure is a good fertilizer.  It is best not to use pesticides or insecticides, as you will be eating these plants.  In fall, a spray of iron will benefit those plants with yellowing leaves.  Chemical fertilizers repel beneficial organisms like earthworms, so going organic will produce a more balanced ecosystem. 

I love using herbs for teas, as seasonings, and for their fragrance in baths, etc.  For example, a bunch of freshly picked and bruised herbs can be tied in cheesecloth and hung under the faucet to scent a bath, or stuffed into a reusable pouch made from a washcloth and used as a bath mitt, or stuffed in the toe of an old stocking and tossed in the dryer to scent 4 or 5 loads of laundry.  You can also use them cosmetically, as in making a hair rinse compatible with your hair color.  Some are useful for dyeing fabric, too, though I don't use them for this purpose myself.  The possibilities are endless and there are scads of books on the subject.  I urge you to get one and start enjoying herbs - they are among the very most rewarding plants one can grow!

Note:  I grow herbs for their ornamental, culinary, and historical value, as well as for their fragrance.  I will sometimes note a popular medicinal use for an herb listed below, but this is for cultural interest, not a recommendation. Be careful when using any herb as medicine - read all you can, talk to a knowledgeable doctor and make sure there will be no interactions with any drugs you are taking.  Remember that dosages of home-grown herbs cannot be standardized because levels of active ingredients will fluctuate in the same plants due to time of year, amount of water or sun or food the plant gets, etc.  Extracts found in pills are often stronger and are sometimes standardized, so making one's own herbal tea is not as reliable.  Also, drinking a lot of any herbal tea, even a mild one, can have unpleasant physical effects, so rotate the ones you drink and don't make it a practice to drink a lot of them.  Many herbs that make a good tea are also enjoyable as facial steams, either alone or in combination.  Experiment with the fragrances you like, but stay away from the strongest scents, as essential oil content may be high enough to irritate skin. 

Herbs that have done well for me:

Allspice (Pimenta dioica) -- Spice tree which will get to 30' high in the ground. It is columnar in habit, though, so it doesn't take up much width. Still, if you don't have this kind of space, try growing it as a standard in a large container. Keep root-pruning and repotting in a larger pot as the plant grows - crowding will eventually cause a potted tree to decline, but it will live many useful years this way if well cared for. Potted specimens may have trouble with rust during the cool season, but should quickly recover in spring. Sometimes an Allspice tree in Florida will bloom, then bear small berries, which are dried and ground for the spice one buys in the store. Berries are formed more often in a slightly cooler climate, but they are not necessary to use the plant. The long, leathery leaves, fresh or dried, can be used for tea or to flavor a dish, much like Bay. Remember to remove the actual leaves before serving. The flavor is complex, like a mixture of Cloves, Pepper and Cinnamon. I like to pluck a leaf and use it as a bookmark or just carry it with me. Folding it briefly to create a new crack refreshes the scent, even if it is dry.  A very rewarding plant. 

Aloe vera -- A succulent herb, this thrives in the sandy soil of the Succulent Beds, as would other varieties of aloe.  It has a bitter juice and flesh, both of which are eaten for health reasons and the juice is used externally for soothing sunburn and healing cuts and scratches.  The flowers are orange and the spiky foliage has white markings on it, almost like long freckles.  Many cultivars of Aloe are collected for their pretty flowers and architectural forms. 

Anise (Pimpinella anisum) -- Cool-season annual with white flowers. The entire plant can be eaten raw.Seeds are used to give baked goods and drinks a Licorice flavor. Easy from seed and looks a little like Celery. Needs rich soil. Pick young leaves as needed, but do not strip the plant.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) -- Annual.  Several types can be found at garden centers and supermarkets during the cool season, but the best variety can be grown from seeds, which is easily done.  Available in Anise, Lemon, Lime, Cinnamon, Mexican (with purple calyxes and stems and a cinnamon scent), Thai (popular in Oriental dishes), Holy (not so good for eating), purple-leaved, large-leaved, and dwarf types, among others.  When buying plants, be sure to get young ones that have not yet flowered.  Once basil sets seed, it will die.  Harvest often to delay this process, and plant every few weeks to ensure you will always have plants.  Try not to let any branch get past 4 pairs of leaves.  You can harvest the entire plant every three weeks by cutting it down to 2 pairs of leaves.  Hard to keep once heat hits.  Plant in sun in rich, moist soil but give some shade as summer comes on.  Flowers are edible and taste less strong than leaves - good in salads.   Different basils are best used in different ways: Spice-scented types are best used to flavor sweet dishes and desserts and they hold up better when cooked than do other basils (infuse leaves in sugar syrup for poached fruit or a base for ice cream, sorbet or baked custard); Sweet basil is the best for pesto (purples make awful-colored pesto); purples are good fresh over vegetables, for clear jellies, and for vinegars; lemon types are better fresh or in marinades or for hot tea; Anise, Cinnamon, and Lemon Thai types are good in Thai dishes and fresh in lentil or bean salads; Cinnamon is good in black teas or to flavor sugar; Lettuce Leaf is good for wrapping goat cheese appetizers and replacing chicken in sandwiches.  Among individual cultivars, 'Sweet Dani' has the best lemon flavor, 'Aussie Sweetie' is non-flowering and needs no pinching, 'Rubin' is the best purple, 'Mrs. Burns' is the strongest-growing lemon type, and 'Minette' is a mild-flavored 6-8" fine-textured dwarf variety.  'Spicy Globe' and other small basils make decorative little balls in the garden, which are good for edging, and the leaves rarely need cutting any smaller when using them in recipes.  You can store fresh basil like cut flowers on the counter for up to 2 weeks.  Or try preserving it in vinegar (how about Raspberry or Strawberry vinegar with a special twist?) Pesto (a basil paste) can be spooned into ice cube trays, frozen, popped out, and stored in a freezer bag until you want to use it.

Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) -- Another spice tree best grown in a large container, since it can reach 30 feet tall. It will last longer in a pot than the other spice trees talked about here and makes a very attractive standard. Whole leaves, fresh or dried, are used as a seasoning, especially in sauces, stews and court bouillon - be sure to remove before serving the dish, as the leaf spine can be dangerous. As with Allspice, a potted specimen may have trouble with rust during the cool season, but will grow new glossy leaves once the weather warms up.

Bay Rum -- The aftershave spice. This is another tree with large glossy leaves and an amazing scent. Makes a good bookmark, like Allspice, and can be used for simmering potpourri or dried. Just don't cook with it - the scent is too much like perfume or medicine for that. It can be kept for some years in a container as well.

Bergamot, Lemon (Monarda citriodora) -- Cool season annual.  Bergamot is what gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive flavor.  The Lemon variety has a hint of citrus and the edible flowers are a light lavender color.  Easy from seed.

Borage (Bee Bread, Star Flower, Borago officinalis) -- Cool season annual. Lovely plant with large, fuzzy leaves and sprays of pretty 1" blue edible flowers at about 2' (there is a rare white-flowering variety as well, but at this point it is hard to find).  Beautiful in arrangements.  Leaves and flowers taste refreshingly like cucumber.  Flowers are great in salads and drinks and used as a garnish, and they have a tiny drop of nectar at their center for a sweet surprise.  Sow seeds in sun or part sun in moderately poor soil.  Grows fast and tends to sprawl. Does not transplant well past a few inches tall. Will reseed in the garden.

Caraway -- Grows much like Anise.  The seeds are used in baked goods, most popularly in rye bread.  An easy annual.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) -- I had a plant but did not take good enough care of it.  It should be grown like Ginger but the dried seed capsules are what is used for aroma and flavor.  After 6 years or so, greenish violet and white flowers appear near the ground and are pollinated by bees, later yielding oblong, ribbed seed capsules.  The 2' leaves smell like the spice.  The plant grows 5-10 feet tall, re-growing each year from the rhizome.  There are several false cardamoms with similar flavor in the Alpinia family (A. garangaA. zerumbetA. malacensis), whose leaves are used more often than their seeds in southeast Asian dishes.  They have spectacular flowers and aromatic foliage. 

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) -- Cool season annual.  Cats love this, but it makes a good tea for humans, too.  I give my cats a small sprig each, no more than once a week.  Any more often and they can build up a resistance and the euphoric effect may fail. 

Celery Leaf -- This light green herb looks a lot like a large flat-leaf parsley except for the color.  It tastes like Celery and is a short-lived perennial.  I got mine at Jane's Herbs and Things and planted it in partial shade.

Centranthemum (Manaos Beauty, Pineapple Thistle, Pineapple Weed,Centrantherum punctatum, was C. intermedium) -- Perennial with Pineapple-scented foliage and 1 1/2" blue button flowers which attract butterflies.  Likes rich soil and can take some shade.  Reseeds prolifically.  The leaves are softer and easier to eat than those of Pineapple Sage. 

Chamomile, German (Matricaria recutita) -- Cool season annual.  Pretty little plant with small white daisy flowers which are Apple-scented and used in tea. Warning: Do not ingest Chamomile if you are allergic to Ragweed or suffer from hay fever!  You may be allergic to Chamomile as well. 

Chervil (Beaked Parsley, French Parsley, Anthriscus cerefolium) -- Hardy biennial grown as a cool season annual.  Small clumps of deeply grooved stems with delicate, shiny, light green leaves to 20" high.  The flavor is similar to Anise and Parsley, and the umbels of white flowers resemble those of its better known relatives.  Leaves and stems good in egg dishes, salads and vinegars.  Often used in French cuisine.

Chives (Allium schoenpprasum) -- Cool season annual. Onion Chives taste like onions and form fairly small, grassy clumps.  They do not last as well asGarlic Chives, which are slightly larger and may live a few years.  Neither variety will flower in Zone 10, but they will in Zone 9 and cooler.  Onion Chives have pretty pink flowers, while those of Garlic Chives are a less showy white.  All are tasty in salads.  Planting seed is the most economical.  It is a little slow to germinate.  Harvest by snipping with scissors close to the bottom; the entire plant can be cut back to 3" during cool weather to encourage tender new growth.  You can multiply your chives by separating and replanting clumps.  These plants make lovely edgings.  Cooking destroys the flavor, so snip them into hot dishes at the end of cooking.  Use as a flavorful garnish on soups, omelets and fresh cheeses.  Chives do not dry well but can be frozen. 

Cilantro / Coriander (Chinese Parsley, Coriandrum sativum) -- Cool season annual. Grow like Parsley, which it vaguely resembles. Hard to keep once heat hits. Try sowing thickly in a shady spot and allowing it to self-seed in a patch - leave it alone to come up again when the weather cools. Vietnamese Coriander (Rau RamPolygonum odoratum) looks completely different, with 6" long serrated leaves. Either one makes a 1' mound. Leaves, called Cilantro, are popular in Oriental and Mexican cuisine. Cooking destroys the flavor, so add just before serving a hot dish. Cilantro does not dry well, but can be blended with a little oil and frozen. Bolts quickly, but seeds (called Coriander) taste spicy/citrusy and are often used in curries, sausages, pickling blends, and baked goods.  They have also been chewed after meals as a digestive aid in many cultures. Immature green seeds combine the characteristics of both Cilantro and Coriander, a good reason to grow your own. Because it forms a long taproot, this herb does not transplant well, so plant seeds where you want it to grow. 

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) -- A spice tree best grown in a large container unless you have space for a 30' columnar tree. Pencil-size branches can be cut and their inner bark dried as a spice. Requires 100" of rain a year (we get around 55", so keep the plant well-watered) and in commercial production is allowed to grow 5 years before harvest. Inner bark of top branches is stripped and let dry into curled sticks, while pieces of older bark from the tree's base are used for the more flavorful pulverized Cinnamon. Even before the plant is large enough to produce usable bark, it can be enjoyed in the garden, as it is attractive, with modestly pendulous leaves. The leaves do not carry the cinnamon scent, but stems and petioles do, so you can experience it by pulling a leaf and scratching the leaf stem (petiole). Try using Cinnamon in a lamb stew with cumin, or in Mexican food with cocoa powder and cumin.

Dill (Anethum graveolens) -- Cool season annual.  Plants can usually be bought at garden centers but seed is more economical.  Likes rich soil and can take some shade, especially as summer nears.  Plant every few weeks and harvest often.  If you want to preserve it, try snipping into butter, mashing and then freezing.  It won't be as good as fresh, but still better than the lifeless shadow found dry in the grocery store.  Allow to bolt if you want to save seeds for seasoning or planting next year.  Flower heads look a bit like those of Queen Anne's Lace, though the plant is smaller and the flowers are yellow.  Flowers are great in arrangements.  This is also a larval plant for Swallowtail Butterflies, so don't be alarmed to see 3" yellow caterpillars with black stripes and lime green spots on your plants.  They have never done significant damage, and the butterflies are beautiful floating through the garden a few weeks later! 

Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides) -- Annual.  A Mexican herb used mainly for seasoning beans, but the mild taste makes it very versatile.  Try it in salads or sprinkled over any dish for an extra dash of flavor.  I bought a plant, which did well for a couple of months before bolting.  This is the first year I have grown it, but it certainly won't be the last.  I would grow a few from seed in the future, maybe a month apart, for a longer harvest. 

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) -- Short-lived perennial.  I have kept these as long as three years - the Pinellas County garden has a fennel hedge.  Looks a lot like Dill but is taller (up to 4') and can take leaner soil and full sun.  Stalks can be used like Celery and stuffed with herb cheeses or spreads.  It does not dry well, but can be frozen.  Plants will flower, giving you seeds for seasoning or planting next year.  Flower heads look like those of Dill and are likewise lovely in arrangements or left in the garden.  I have had trouble with aphids getting into the flowers, so check "seeds" carefully before harvesting them!  Foliage and seeds flavor cucumber pickles, preserved olives and fish dishes.  Fennel seed is used by herbalists for internal cleansing, detoxification and purification, to stimulate metabolism and kidney function, and facilitate bile, urinary and stool secretion.  A mild tea is easy to make.  There is also a vegetable variety commonly called Florence Fennel (F.v. var. azoricum) which forms a large bulb above ground and is sliced raw in salads or cooked several ways - look for recipes in Italian cookbooks.  I grow that one in the Potager -- it does beautifully here and holds well in the garden while you wait to harvest it.  Fennel is another larval plant for Swallowtail Butterflies (see Dill, above). 

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) -- Annual with ferny leaves and yellow flowers.  Used as tea for migraines (see note above). 

Ginger, Culinary (Zingiber officinale) -- One would think this would grow well in the ground here, but it's actually better in a container.  Plant plump, very fresh roots from the grocery store in good soil and place in partial shade.  Long, fragrant leaves will grow from them.  Give the plant at least three months to get established, then dig up the clump, cut off the amount of root needed, and replant the rest.  Commercially grown Ginger is often heavily sprayed with pesticides, so growing your own is a good idea, preferably starting with an organically grown root from a health food market.  Ginger benefits the stomach, promotes digestive function and aids the heart and circulation.  It is a component in over 50% of traditional herbal remedies and is supposed to be as effective as Dramamine for combating nausea.  To make your own tea, add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root to 8 ounces of boiling water, cover and steep for 15 minutes.  Strain and add honey (cinnamon is optional).  Ginger is also featured in Oriental cooking and is especially good in vegetable dishes in combination with garlic.  You can also place freshly ground or sliced ginger root in a jar and cover with sherry, then keep it in the refrigerator. Stokes Tropicals has a few varieties of edible ginger. 

Gotu Kola (Centosella asiatica) -- Perennial.  Heart-shaped leaves on a plant that looks much like a large violet.  My friend in town gave me a clump - he has a large planter of it on his front porch, where it gets partial shade and is very lush.  His original plant came from Richter's Herbs.

Lavender (Lavandula spp.) -- Perennial grown as a cool season annual.  Fragrant foliage can be used in cooking or dried for sachets, though it is stronger than the flowers.  Not likely to flower here.  Treat like other Mediterranean herbs as described above.  'Lady' is supposed to flower the first year from seed, but I haven't tried it. 

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) -- The most lemony of all herbs and easily grown from seed.  Give it rich loam in part shade and it will last all season.  Makes a light, refreshing tea that is not strongly flavored at all.  Also good fresh in fruit salads and for baking.  It loses its flavor when dried, but not its perfume, so can be added to potpourri.  There is also a Lime Balm, but it is harder to find.  I have read about a Vietnamese Balm (Escholtzia ciliata), which is lemon-scented as well. 

Lemon Grass,Ginger Grass, andCitronella Grass (Cymbopogon spp.) -- These will make a large clump that looks like a 2-3' ornamental grass.  Citronella Grass (C. nardus) likes a bit more water than Lemon Grass and is supposed to repel mosquitoes.  Lemon Grass (C. citratus) is more useful, in my opinion, as one can cook with it or use it for a pleasant tea.  It is often featured in Oriental cooking and there is an East Indian variety with thinner leaves and an even more intense flavor.  Ginger Grass (C. martini) is used similarly but not so easy to find.

Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) -- Perennial.  Can be grown as a standard and is best kept in a container as described above, perhaps even brought into the house in summer if you have a sunny spot there.  Makes a fine tea and has a really nice, refreshing lemon scent with a hint of something else - not straight lemon.  Highly recommended if you can just get it to live through the summer! 

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) -- Cool season annual.  Plant seeds or divisions in light shade in rich soil.  The young leaves, stalks and seeds taste like Celery.  Large stalks can be blanched and used in place of celery.  Seeds and stems can be candied and the roots sliced 1/2" thick and dried for cooking. 

Marjoram (Origanum majoricum or O. majorana) -- Cool season annual here, though it is actually a tender perennial.  Culinary herb with small leaves.  May form small pink or white flowers - harvest flowering tops for flavoring preserves and jams.  Fairly tender - will die in the heat of summer.  Sow seeds.  You may try to keep it over summer in the manner of other Mediterranean herbs. 

Mints (Mentha spp.) -- Apple Mint has a very light taste and slightly fuzzy leaves. Chocolate Mint is a variation of Peppermint with purple stems and some say a hint of chocolate flavor - use like Peppermint. Doublemint tastes like a combination of Peppermint and Spearmint. Orange Mint (Mentha aquatica 'Citrata') tastes and smells like Bergamot, so it makes a fine Earl Grey teaPeppermint(Mentha x piperita) makes a great tea and is good for flavoring ice cream. There are plain and variegated forms of Pineapple Mint, which is very similar to Apple Mint.  I use the variegated form so I can tell them apart. Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is good in tea in combination with Peppermint, but not so great alone.  It makes great jelly for lamb and a nice garnish for desserts and mint juleps and is popular in Middle Eastern cuisine.  I obtained all these locally, but more varieties are available by mail order.  Mint tea, especially that made from Peppermint, is supposed to help settle the stomach.  It is also a diuretic.  Also available, but harder to find, are CandyCorsicanLavender (Mentha x piperita 'Lavender')Lemon (try 'Hillary's Sweet Lemon'), andLime Mint.  Plant all mints in sun or part shade in rich, moist soil.  Often they will last a few years.  It is a good idea to give them their own bed to run in or plant in buried containers with the bottoms cut out to keep them from becoming too invasive.  If you have a problem with different types cross-pollinating, or if the plants are reseeding prolifically, cut off the flowers.  Mints are reputed to draw earthworms - another good reason to plant them in your garden.

Moujean Tea (Pineapple Verbena, Nashia inaguensis) -- Shrub with tiny fragrant leaves and small white flowers.  Likes full sun.  Used for tea.  I just got one and am keeping it on the back patio.

Oregano, Cuban (Spanish Thyme, Tropical Oregano, Plectranthus amboinicus, was Coleus amboinicus) -- Perennial.  There are plain and cream-variegated forms of this Coleus relative, which tastes like a strong combination of Oregano and Thyme.  The occasional flowers are blue or purple and look like those of coleus.  Leaves are large and succulent, actually crunchy.  Very ornamental and tasty.  Use fresh or dry to store if needed.  This plant will live a few years in rich soil in the sun and is very easy to root in water or sand. 

Oregano, Greek or Italian (Origanum vulgare) -- Perennial.  Forms a low, creeping, dark green mat of fragrant leaves.  This is the classic oregano.  Plant in leaner soil in sun.  Also looks good spilling from a raised area.  One of the longer-lived herbs - mine is about 7 years old. 

Oregano, Mexican (Poliomintha longiflora) -- Perennial.  This small subshrub does fine in full sun for a friend of mine who lives in the same town and has given me a young plant.  It is supposed to get bright pink tubular flowers in summer, but I haven't asked him about that - my plant is only a few inches tall at the moment, but its tiny oval leaves have a lovely scent and flavor. 

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) -- Biennial usually grown as an annual.  Hard to keep once heat hits, but will probably last longer than Basil.  Let some bolt if you want to save seed.  Plant in rich, moist soil but give some shade as summer comes on.  Easy to find at garden centers in frilly or flat-leaved (Italian) forms, but it's much more economical to start from seed if you plan to use a lot of it.  Seeds can be hard to germinate (some pour boiling water over just-planted rows, but it can still take two weeks), so I pre-sprout them.  Wet a paper towel and wring it out so it is evenly damp.  Sprinkle a few seeds over it, widely spaced, roll the paper towel so the seeds are inside and place in a Ziploc bag.  Lay the bag on top of the refrigerator (for a little bottom heat) and check every other day.  As soon as seeds develop a tiny white "tail," remove and plant 1/4" deep in seedling pots, being careful not to damage the fragile roots.  If a root is stuck in the paper towel, cut the whole section of towel and plant it.  Plant every few weeks and harvest often. 'Bravour' is a very ornamental variety with yellowish, green and red curly foliage.  Another larval plant for Swallowtail Butterflies (see Dill, above).  Parsley has as much iron as red meat, is rich in folic acid, potassium, calcium and Vitamins A and C.  It also helps the body absorb Vitamin C.  Use as a garnish, and in salads, sandwiches, sauces and tabouli. Warning: Pregnant women should eat no more than 1/2 ounce of parsley a day, as more can stimulate uterine contractions.

Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) -- Cool season annual. This delightful little plant is easy to grow from seed and forms small clumps of tiny leaves which are very fragrant and smell like Peppermint.  It can be rubbed on the skin to repel fleas, gnats and mosquitoes.  Great between stepping stones in a shady path.  If it flags in the heat, put some in a pot in shade over the summer.  Good in potpourri.  Warning: None of the pennyroyal-scented mints should be eaten.  They contain an oil that is toxic in very small amounts - this includes common pennyroyal (M. pulegium), Hart's pennyroyal (M. cervina), Japanese corn mint (M. canadensis), and Corsican mint (M. requienii).

Poppy, Bread (Opium Poppy, Papaver somniferum) -- Poppy flowers of all kinds are beautiful but not edible. However, the seeds of P. somniferum are quite tasty and have been used in baked goods for millennia. Sow seeds in succession from as soon as the weather cools, right through January. The flowering time for individual plants will be brief, but after that there will be the attractive seed heads. Leave the flowers in place if you want seeds; cut the flowers for arrangements when the buds first split and show the color of the petals. Dip the ends of cut flowers in boiling water or sear them before conditioning. Dried seed heads are also pretty in arrangements and many people grow poppies for this use. When seeds are ready for harvest, they rattle in the seed head. Be careful not to lose them, as the head is like a salt shaker, designed, after all, to disperse the seeds nearby. You can also select seeds from the best plants, or those with desired colors, to come up with your own strain. Tie a bit of colored yarn to the stems of the best flowers so you remember which to gather seed from for next year. Most seeds are blue-black, though there are white ones from India, which are essentially the same. Whole seeds go rancid quickly, so for periods longer than a month, store them in your refrigerator or freezer in a tightly closed container. Poppies need space in full sun. At times, I have had a disappointing yield because of crowding and too much shade from taller plants or because the weather did not cooperate, but the flowers are so beautiful, the effort and space are well worth it. These flowers catch the light like nothing else. No wonder they inspired the impressionists!  Note: The sap of the immature seedpods of this plant is the source of opium, which makes the legalities of growing it somewhat sticky. This also prevents some companies from carrying the seeds, while others blithely sell them with no problem. The fact is, you need acres of opium poppies and the right altitude and climate to produce the drug, and that is simply not possible in Florida - the climate and altitude are completely wrong, the harvest very uncertain, and most home growers do not have that kind of space. If you have trouble finding the seed, try looking for'Hens and Chicks' Poppy, grown for flower arrangements, or those labeled Breadseed Poppy - these are all P. somniferum, but the link to the drug is not advertised, and the full botanical name may not be given. Do not try planting the seeds from your spice rack - these have been heat-treated specifically so they will not grow. Though the sap is used to produce the drug, there are minute amounts of the active ingredient in the seeds. Because of this, do avoid eating poppy seeds before taking a drug test, as this substance will be detected and you will be suspected of being a heroin user - not a good thing. Also eat only the seeds - all other parts of the plant are considered poisonous.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) -- Perennial Mediterranean herb that needs excellent drainage.  If planted in sandy loam in full sun, it can reach quite a size and live several years.  Planting in a raised berm can increase its chances for survival.  Has a strong, resinous flavor and scent and tiny, edible flowers which are usually blue, but sometimes pink.  Good in meat and fish dishes, and to accent goat cheese.  Unlike most herbs, Rosemary is stronger fresh than dried, so bear this fact in mind when using in recipes which call for the dried herb.  Prostrate forms do best in a container or spilling over the edge of a raised area.  Named cultivars can be found in mail order catalogs but you can usually get standard upright and prostrate plants locally.  Rosemary should be pruned lightly and often - it doesn't like its old wood cut into.  Cuttings can be rooted in vermiculite or sharp sand during the cool season.  It also makes fine topiary - use an upright one for a standard or - if you're adventurous - a prostrate form for a Brontosaurus!

Rue (Ruta graveolens) -- Annual.  Bitter herb with ornamental blue-green leaflets.  A small plant best propagated by cuttings and grown in some shade.  It repels insects and is sometimes used in dog's beds to keep fleas away.  But cats hate it, so don't use it for their bedding.  Also, scattering a few crushed leaves around some plants may keep cats from bothering them. Warning:  Rue should never be ingested.  Take care when handling, since the plant can cause contact dermatitis.  It is not always easy to find, but I got mine at Jane's Herbs and Things.

Sage, Culinary (Salvia officinalis) -- This strongly flavored Mediterranean herb does well in full sun during the cool season, but might best be kept in a pot for protecting through the summer.  It can't take the rain and excessive humidity but may survive if kept under an overhang and watered very sparingly.  Purple-leaved and variegated forms are especially ornamental.  Flowers are edible.

Sage, Pineapple (Salvia elegans or S. rutilans) -- Annual.  Dainty looking Salvia with edible red flowers (check for ants first!) and Pineapple-scented foliage.  Plant in full sun in average soil, moving to more shade as summer nears.  It roots easily from cuttings.  There are other types of fruity sages as well - Blackcurrant Sage (S. neurepia) has blackcurrant-scented leaves; Fruit-Scented Sage (S. dorisiana) reportedly has the best fruity flavor (similar to peaches), large leaves, and magenta flowers; Honeydew Melon Sage has similar flowers to those of Pineapple Sage but flowers more continuously.  The leaves of all fruity sages can be chopped and sprinkled over salad or fruit salad or placed in a baking pan before filling with cake batter and baking so the scent flavors the cake (discard the ugly brown cooked leaves before serving), or used to flavor ice cream.

Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor) -- Annual.  It is easiest to buy plants, which look similar to very deep green parsley.  Plant it in full or part sun in fall, moving to more shade for summer.  Young leaves taste like Cucumber.  Loses flavor when dried, so use it fresh.  Harvest entire top about three inches from the base and let it re-grow.

Savory (Satureja spp.) -- There are several types of savory. Summer savory (S. hortensis) ia a cool season annual.  Start from plants or seeds and use with beans and vegetables or to flavor goat cheese.  This fast grower will not last long, so keep sowing.Winter savory (S. montana) is a short-lived perennial that will last a little longer in our hot climate.  Start from cuttings or seeds and grow in light, sandy soil where it can receive morning sun and afternoon shade.  The peppery flavor is stronger than that of Summer Savory and is good with the same foods.  Also, it can be cooked along with cole crops to reduce their odor.  Both combine well with Thyme and Oregano. Lemon savory (S. biflora) is a tender perennial rambler - no information on how it would do here, but sounds like it's worth a try. Costa Rican Mint Bush (S. viminea) is a tender shrubby perennial to 4' with mint-scented foliage, which also sounds promising. 

Scented Geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) -- Perennial; needs excellent drainage, best planted in pots in full sun.  One year, the lawn man broke a large pot which contained a Citronella-scented geranium (Pelargonium citrosum 'Vanieenii').  I turned the pot to prop the broken side against others and left it.  The plant did very well, even through the summer, and bloomed at about 4 feet tall.  But I prefer to put the pots on the porch as described above.  These are available in a wide range of interesting flavors and scents through mail order companies, especially Logee's and Richter's.  They are very easy to root in damp vermiculite - a little Rootone or willow tea may help. Try the edible flowers as a garnish, flavor your cooking with appropriately-scented varieties, scent sugar by placing some leaves in it for a few weeks, or use dry leaves in potpourri.  You can also flavor a pound cake by placing a few leaves in the bottom of the pan before adding the batter.  Turn the baked cake out and remove the spent leaves, which will have infused their scent throughout the cake.

Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) -- Perennial.  This ornamental allium is usually grown for show, but its leaves can be used like Garlic Chives and the pretty purple spring flowers are edible.  Not surprisingly, they taste like Garlic, so be sure to add them to savory, not sweet, dishes!  I have seen a cream-variegated form called 'Silver Lace' growing in California and heard of it in Texas, but not here as of yet.

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) -- Cool season annual.  Start from seeds or divisions and plant in shade in rich soil.  This lemony herb can be grown as a cut and come again crop.  It makes a lovely soup. French sorrel is hard to find, but is worth the trouble, since its flavor is more refined. It is also a very pretty plant, smaller than its coarser cousin, with nearly heart-shaped 1 1/2" to 2" leaves.

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) -- A new one for me, but so far quite pleasing.  The leaves taste like sugar, in my opinion, better than Sweet Aztec and easier to eat as they are softer.  It likes moist sandy soil.  The tiny white flowers should be pinched off to prevent their stealing sweetness from the leaves.  Stevia will keep its sweet flavor when heated, which also makes it superior to Sweet Aztec (and many other sweet herbs), which is only sweet when fresh.  Health food stores carry powdered leaves, which can be used in baking.  Stevia is much sweeter than sugar, so recipes have to be adjusted when substituting it; less Stevia (instead of sugar) also means less bulk, so dry ingredients have to be increased.  Especially helpful for diabetics, this herb has been used safely in other countries for years, and has probably been kept from being used as a food additive in the United States by the FDA in response to pressure from the chemical sweetener industry.

Stinging Nettle (Cnidoscolus stimulosa,Urtica and Laportea spp.) -- Stinging Nettles have fine hairs covering their stems, leafstalks and undersides of leaves which cause a stinging sensation when touched.  It is an unforgettable experience - I once pulled a small "weed" and my hand tingled for 24 hours!  Now knowing what it was, I looked around for more. Unfortunately, it was the only one and I finally resorted to ordering seeds of Urtica dioica to restore nettles to my garden. Young shoots and leaves are edible - boiling destroys the stinging element.  Use gloves when harvesting. Easy from seed planted in part sun. Nettles are also used in herbal medicine.

Sweet Aztec (Phyla scaberrima) -- Mat of small, tough foliage with a sweet taste, though more like Nutra-sweet than sugar.  See comments on Stevia, above. 

Sweet Annie (Artemesia annua) -- This plant isn't much to look at - it is small and green, not lovely and striking like its decorative silver cousins. But what it lacks in ornamental value is made up for by its sweet scent, which it retains when dry. Sweet Annie is easy to grow from seed and not long-lived. It is grown for potpourri and for a scented element in dried arrangements. Because the leaves are not large or fleshy, it is very easy to dry. In fact, if you leave it in the garden for long, the plant will dry in the ground without much ill effect.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) -- Perennial.  Grow this dark green, fern-like herb in full sun in lean soil to keep it from becoming invasive.  The leaf texture coupled with yellow button flowers makes it ornamental and the foliage is supposed to repel pests like ants.  This plant is also reputed to draw earthworms, which are great for your garden.  I have read that it is alleopathic (poisonous to plants growing near it) but this has not been my experience.  Warning: This herb is poisonous - do not eat it!

Tarragon, Mexican (Winter TarragonMexican Mint Marigold,Tagetes lucida) -- Perennial.  Pretty little Licorice-flavored plant with cheerful 1" single yellow Marigold flowers.  Use both leaves and blooms.  The taste is very strong, so use sparingly!  Loses flavor in cooking, so add to hot dishes just before serving.  Plant in full sun in good soil.  Can be started from seed. 

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) -- Classic Mediterranean cooking herb.  Grow in pot or raised berm in sandy loam in the cool season, moving to a dry spot when summer comes.  Flavor is best just as the flowers open, but we may not see flowers here, so harvest anytime you like to flavor game, marinades, pickling brine, ragouts and court bouillon.  There are Lemon (Thymus x citriodorus)Lime,Silver and variegated types as well as the usual green, plus more exotic flavors like Caraway and Orange Balsam.  All are delicious and highly recommended.  My Lemon Thyme, with its yellow variegation, looks great planted in a tangerine-painted pot.  Likewise, Silver Thyme stands out in a magenta-painted one.  Both are from Jane's Herbs and Things.  Of course, there are a lot of ornamental thymes (e.g. Thymus praecox varieties) as well, but these have limited value here because they do not last the summer well and cannot be relied upon to flower in our climate.

Tilo (Justicia pectoralis var. stenophylla) -- This climbing or trailing herb is said to grow well here in the ground and will root at the leaf nodes as it spreads into a pretty groundcover.  It is also recommended for hanging baskets and living wreaths.  It has lanceolate leaves that are yellowish in full sun but dark green in shade, and attractive, tiny purple, pink or white flowers.  It has few problems with pests and disease and tolerates our summers just fine.  Cubans use it as a pectoral and sedative tea.  In other countries to relieve leg pain and stomach distress, as an expectorant, a digestive, an external bandage, for cough, chest cold, flu, various chest complaints, colic, fever and vomiting.  I got mine at Jane's Herbs and Things.

Yarrow (Achillea spp.) -- Perennial.  I found a non-flowering form labeled "Yarrow for tea" at a local farm stand.  It grows 6" clumps of ferny foliage, which are indeed good for a mild tea, and also for facial steams.  It spreads from the base, but is not really invasive.  Very ornamental.

Others to try (Most of these can be observed growing in the herb garden at Mount's Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach.): 

Artemesia (Artemesia spp.) -- Shrubs with finely cut silver foliage and pungent scent.  Need excellent drainage and like dry weather, so try planting in a raised berm if possible. ECHO lists 'Powis Castle' as one of the best artemesias for our area, since it does better with the humidity than most.  They also offer it at their nursery.  Another promising cultivar is'Huntington'. Not edible!

Comphrey (Symphytum peregrinum) -- Large, fuzzy leaves used as poultices.  In the Borage family.  Very ornamental.  Leaves are also a good source of potassium in compost or just placed in the hole when planting Roses, etc.  Warning: Do not ingest.  It was used in herbal remedies in the past, but this is no longer recommended. 

Giap Ca (Houttuynia cordata) -- Vietnamese herb with variegated heart-shaped leaves which are used to flavor fish and chicken.

Hoja Santa (Piper auratum) -- Can reach 10 feet tall.  Large heart-shaped leaves can be wrapped around tamales for steaming or used to season fish and moles.  Possibly the same as Hoja del Pescado growing in Mount's herb garden.

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) -- Annual member of the mint family.  Often used to make throat-soothing lozenges. 

Kava Kava (Root Beer Leaf, Piper methysticum) -- Perennial herb.  Dried roots are used for relaxation and for a ceremonial sedative drink called Kava.  Forms an 8" mound with heart-shaped foliage.

Marigold, Nematocidal (Tagetes minuta) -- Easy annual.  Grow these as a crop in empty beds to keep down nematodes and weeds and repel mosquitoes.  Till them under at the end of their growing season for maximum nematocidal benefit. Leaves can be used to flavor meat, soups and vegetables.  They will self-seed.

Mitsuba (Japanese Parsley) -- Annual.  Self-sows and keeps rabbits happy and distracted if you have them in your garden.

Perilla (Shiso, Beefsteak Plant, Perilla frutescens) -- Annual herb most often used in Oriental cooking.  Looks like a dark purple basil or shiny coleus - very ornamental.  Some gardeners grow it in flower beds just for its color.  It can be grown as an annual hedge 4-5' tall - it will die down, but re-seeds.

Poliomentha -- Bush mint, not the same as Mexican Oregano listed above.  The unusual fragrance is a bit resinous - probably not good to eat. 

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)  -- Small annual with pretty little pink flowers that have raspberry-clove fragrance.  Deadhead the first blooming to encourage a second.  Plant in sun or partial shade.  The soapy sap from leaves and roots can be used for a very mild washing solution - roots have the highest saponin content.  This is still used by some fancy laundries for fragile items.  It is also used for skin problems, such as acne and psoriasis, and to soothe poison ivy rash.  The root is poisonous and should not be taken internally or grown near fishponds, but can be used externally. 

Star Anise (Illicium verum) -- Shrub with maroon flowers.  The star-shaped seedheads are dried and used in Oriental cooking.  It is a major component of Chinese Five-Spice Powder.  Also good in potpourri or floating in one's tea.  Florida Star Anise grows well here - there are two specimen shrubs flanking the entrance to the herb gardens at Mount's.

Tarragon, French (Artemesia dranunculus var. sativa) -- Try in a pot protected through the summer from rain and direct sun.  The penetrating anise flavor is good with thin asparagus spears, salads, vinegars and mustards.  This is the classic Tarragon and has a much more refined flavor than Mexican TarragonMust be bought as a plant and propagated from cuttings, not seeds.  The from-seed variety, often calledRussian Tarragon, is inferior and not really worth the effort. 

Yerba Buena -- Mexican herb.

Exotic, new (to me) herbs I want to try:

Caper Bush (Caper BerryCapparis spinosa) -- Small shrub with white flowers, which have a vanilla-like scent.  True capers are the pickled, unopened flower buds of this pant.  These used to be a major crop in Provence and are still prominent in Mediterranean cuisine.  The French use them along with anchovies and black olives in savory pastes called tapenades.  I'm not sure how well they would grow here, but the plant can be started from seeds and if it will form buds the same year, we could at least get a crop in the cool season.  The plant likes well-drained soil and a dry climate, which could cause it to die in our summers.

Clove (Syzygium aromaticum or Eugenia aromatica) -- Spice bush. 

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) -- Annual with pungent seeds. This spice practically defines Mexican cooking but is also an important ingredient in North African, Middle Eastern, and Indian spice mixes. It is especially good with simply prepared vegetables.

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) -- Root.  Must be grown in a container and protected from excessive heat. 

Mace / Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) -- Spice tree which grows to 25' and, after flowering, produces a brown kernel (Nutmeg) surrounded by a red aril (Mace).  Both can be used in desserts or as a complex favoring with lamb or chicken, or with spinach or ricotta cheese, as the Italians use it.

Patchouli (Pogostemon heyneanus orP. cablin) -- Used in perfume. Logee's has it.  I got one this year but haven't had it long enough to comment on it yet, except that it has unremarkable dark green herby-looking leaves and an exotic spicy-woody scent.  I have read it does best in full or part sun.

Pepper, Spice (Black Pepper, Piper nigrum) -- Source of the Black Pepper commonly found in every kitchen today.  But such was not always the case!  This plant has such a history that it would be exciting to grow it just because you can.  It's not easy, but I intend to try. Seed must be very fresh.  White pepper is really the same spice, but with the seed coat removed, which refines the taste somewhat.  Pink and green peppercorns are immature seeds. Paprika is actually a powdered hot pepper, a Capsiucum like vegetable peppers and the perennial hot pepper in the Tropical Edibles Area.

Tea (Camellia sinensis) -- The shrub classic tea is made from.  I know this is grown commercially in mountainous regions in Asia, like coffee is grown in South America, but coffee can be grown here, and I grow ornamental Camellia shrubs in my yard, so I think it's worth a try, especially considering the amount of tea we drink at our house!

Vetiver (Khus-Khus, Vetivera zizanioides) -- Perennial grass used in perfume. 

Yerba Maté (Maté, Ilex paraguariensis) -- Large herb grown in Paraguay and drunk in South American countries (especially Argentina) the way many people drink coffee.  It contains about 2% caffeine; by comparison, Coffee(Coffea arabica) has 1 to 2% caffeine, and Guaranà(Paullinia cupana), which is the base of a popular South American soda, contains up to 7%.  In Paraguay, people drink Maté communally from a single wooden cup with a separate straw-like device that has a straining bowl like a closed, perforated spoon on the bottom.  This is because they cook it on the stove and pour it in the cup without straining it - the ground herb at the bottom is a bit like mud.  Sometimes milk and sugar are cooked on the stove to caramelize first, then the herb is dumped into the pot.  Has an interesting bitter taste, with a slightly sweet fragrance like that of tea.  You can also buy a blend of Maté flavored with Mint.

Note:  In addition to herb flowers that can be eaten, many ornamental Edible Flowers are also grown here and in the Potager and in other areas.  I have decided to dedicate another page to these.  Since it's not up yet, here is a sample picture:


Apricot parrot tulips


On the center Arbor:

Honeysuckle, Japanese (Hall's Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica) -- Perennial.  A friend gave me moist cuttings from her mother's Tennessee garden in a plastic bag.  By the time she drove to Florida, they had already rooted.  The vines stayed small until the third year, then took off.  I keep it in check by growing it in leaner soil and clipping a few times a year.  It grows to 4'h on one side of the Arbor, opposite the Grape vine, but I have seen it swamping a large arch over a driveway, so be careful where you site it.  Also, keep in mind that it can become seriously invasive if allowed to escape to wild areas.  The flowers are sweet-smelling and edible and one can sip nectar from them as well.  They start out white but are most fragrant once they have aged to yellow.  Dark blue berries sometimes appear after the flowers - they are ornamental but should not be eaten, though Wayside Gardens offers a new variety with edible berries in their catalog, which I must try!  Apparentlt, a male and female plant are required to produce the berries, but my ornamental Japanese type fruits every year all by itself.  Maybe there is another one nearby? Giant Burmese Honeysuckle (Lonicera hildebrandiana) is popular in southern California and Florida - it is another climber with 6" fragrant white flowers that age to gold. 

Chayote vines, Muscadine Grapes, and two types of Strawberries are also grown here - they are described in the Tropical Edibles area.

The potted tree on the left is a Bay Laurel; the one on the right is an Allspice.  These pictures were taken before the potager beds were put in. The vine climbing the left post is Japanese Honeysuckle.



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