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Unusual Culinary Herbs

I love herbs and have many familiar culinary ones in my garden: sage, chives, thyme, mint and more. I'd like to branch out, so to speak, and add some more unusual ones this year. Any suggestions?

Consider beginning with new varieties of what you already grow. Nowadays, some very interesting herbs offer new tastes and eye appeal in the garden. The good thing about adding more varieties is that you have already established proper growing conditions for these herbs so they will thrive beside the ones you already have.

For example, mint: Grow chocolate, apple, or ginger mint in addition to the peppermint or spearmint you likely already have. Also look for variegated varieties, so the leaves are green and yellow or green and white, bringing more visual interest to a grouping in a pot. A fresh leaf or two added to a chilled herb tea adds extra flavor and refreshment, not to mention curiosity to spark a conversation.

Basil plants offer similar options with lemon, cinnamon and anise flavors. Or try the large-leafed Thai basil to add authenticity to Thai dishes. I can never resist the beautiful, dark maroon/burgundy hues of Dark Opal and the lovely, frilly Purple Ruffles.

Check out the growth habit of herbs you are considering so you are not surprised when your Greek basil turns into its natural shrub rather than small tender plant you are used to.

As for other useful and interesting culinary herbs, here are a few to try that will do well in Utah.

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is a gorgeous perennial that blooms with blue bottlebrush shaped flowering heads. The leaves have an anise/mint taste and are pleasingly aromatic. It should not be confused with hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), a bitter herb mentioned in the Bible; a tea of this herb was cruelly put to Christ's lips as he died on the cross.

Lemon verbena (Lippia triphylla) is a lovely plant that can grow to 6 ft., but mine is usually 3 ft. by summer's end. The leaves, which should be picked as the plant begins to flower, have the most refreshing, sweet, lemony scent and flavor. It is wonderful chopped fresh in salads and its essential oil brightens moods. It is often used to scent soaps and perfumes. Its rich lemon flavor holds up well when baked in a scone recipe.

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is a large, bold perennial from the carrot family. I call it bold because it is the first herb (after my bloodroot) that begins to show itself in earliest spring and is knee-high before the chives start to perk up after winter. It grows to 8 ft. high, and it's huge with hollow stems and attractive, shiny, toothed leaves. Celery's watery taste can't compare to the strong celerylike flavor lovage offers. The stems cut as straws add flavor to cool tomato drinks, and the young leaves are a welcome addition to dips and salads. The leaves get bitter as they mature and the plant goes to seed, so cutting and drying them early in the season is best. I use lovage frequently in the winter in hearty soups and stews.

Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) is the prettiest plant. I often say it looks like a "green bride" with its mound of delicate, finely toothed leaves that drape gracefully and stay green all winter. It has a strong, cucumber flavor that, when used fresh, brightens any dip or salad or sauce for salmon.

Sorrel is a wonderful addition to an herb garden, but because it comes from a very large family of sorrels, it can be a confusing process to obtain the culinary ones that you can make delicious use of. You will most frequently find lemon or garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa) in the nurseries. It has a tart, crisp, lemony flavor and can be useful used fresh. Its leaves are about six inches long; the plant grows in a leafy mound. True French sorrel (Rumex scutatus), however, is a smaller, more delicate plant and so is its flavor. If you want the real French sorrel, be sure to acquire this one for that special Vichyssoise recipe.

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is an herb with many uses because its mild anise-like taste enhances the flavor of other herbs. It likes to have a bed all its own, where it can self-seed. It is best used fresh. Its light flavor lends itself well to white fish, eggs, cream sauces and soups. It is always advisable to add herbs like chervil at the very end of cooking time so the dish retains its subtle flavor.

Finally, get a bay tree. It is a beautiful plant and does well in a pot that you can bring indoors in the winter. Just pluck a fresh leaf to add to tomato sauces and soups for flavor, and to potpourris for fragrance.


Merry Harrison, RH(AHG) is a clinical herbalist, teacher, author and wildcrafter.
For class schedule and to ask questions: www.millcreekherbs.com




Reprinted with permission: Catalyst Magazine


Other articles for the garden...

Grow Your Own Herbs  •   Growing herbs From Seed  •   Acquiring Medicinal/Culinary Herbs  •   The Garden You Didn't Plant
Exotic Garden Herbs  •   Harvesting Your Herbs  •   Mint  •   Repelling Pests  •   Fall Gardening Tips
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