When we started growing herbs, we did pretty much what other gardeners do and we planted our favorite culinary herbs. Then we added some medicinal herbs and we discovered, as many do, that there is a lot of crossover to other areas – first aid, beneficial insects, teas, health, and home. Many of our customers have inspired us to explore not only the uses of herbs, but new and different herb plants. We now have a collection of what we consider somewhat atypical herbs that we hope will be of interest to our customers, too.
Here are some herbs that are new (or relatively new) to us that you may find of interest. They can be grown in our zone (USDA Zone 8b) and many are perennials. Some of them are a different variety of a more common herb.
They have many of the uses we are familiar with when it comes to herbs. Some of them are also colorful and fun just to have in the landscape. We plan to have plants available this spring for plant sales along with the more common herbs.
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12 to 18 inches tall
It is succulent looking but grows best in part-shade areas like porches, patios, or courtyards that receive a few hours of morning light. It does well in a well-drained container. It is drought-tolerant but water does still need to be watered occasionally. Because it comes from Mexico and Central America, it would not do well outdoors in the winter. In many places it is grown as a houseplant.
It is not a true oregano in the family Origanum, but has a scent characteristic of the true oreganos (stronger and with a hint of camphor). However, its taste is quite spicy so use less sparingly than typical Mediterranean Oregano. Our Cuban Oregano is in a container where it spent the summer outdoors with many of its container friends getting some shade from a Cascara tree. For the winter it came into the unheated greenhouse, again with many of its container friends.
Sadly, even the greenhouse wasn’t warm enough for the plant – it ended up turning an awful brown when outside temperatures dipped down into the 20’s. We are now nursing the few tiny green cuttings we could salvage from the mother plant. Fingers crossed we can get the plant going again. Send good green plant vibes our way!
12 to 24 inches tall with some trailing
In USDA hardiness zones 7-10, it is best grown as an annual. Start from seed indoors and keep out of freezing temperatures. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Combines the flavor of sweet marjoram, thyme, and oregano but a little more intense.
Not to be confused with Za'atar, an herbal blend of several ingredients that is a common condiment in the Middle East, which may include Zaatar marjoram. This name confusion is not unusual with herbs or plants in general, especially when using common names. Our research has shown that this herb has many different common names.
Harvest the stems when they reach at least 4–6 inches tall. They can be used fresh in many Mediterranean dishes, or you could combine with a few other herbs in oil and toss with cucumbers and tomatoes for a tasty summer salad. It dries nicely for preservation, and would freeze in oil or water for herbal ice cubes to use throughout the winter.
Our Zaatar marjoram is growing in a container and just like the Cuban oregano, lived outdoors in the summer and is now in the unheated greenhouse. However, it has consistently done well in the greenhouse despite cold temperatures - unlike the Cuban oregano!
Thymus vulgaris x orange balsam
6 to 12 inches
As with most thymes, it tolerates drought and poor soils of somewhat low fertility but prefers dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun. Dislikes moist to wet soils where it tends to rot.
It is a bushy, woody-based evergreen that is a deviation of Thymus vulgaris, or English Thyme. These low growing plants are excellent in borders, rock gardens, and along walkways. They are not fast growers, so harvest judiciously - and consider having more than one plant if you find you really love the scent & taste.
The small orange-scented leaves are used in teas, meat dishes and vegetables. It has whorls of tiny, tubular, pale pink flowers that are attractive to bees and other beneficial insects. Currently our Orange balsam thyme is in a container, but we hope to find it a more permanent spot in the herb garden next summer.
Annual or perennial (depending on gardening zone)
18 to 24 inches
In hardiness zone 8, (that’s most of us in the low areas of Clark County) the plant is usually nipped by frost, but may grow back in spring if you have a protected area or a warmer microclimate. In hardiness zones 9-11 it grows as a perennial. In other zones it is grown as an annual, which is what we do.
Prefers full sun and although drought tolerant, grows best with regular watering (like many herbs!). The shiny, medium-green leaves can be used as a tarragon substitute, and its small, golden-yellow flowers are edible, imparting a spicy flavor with a hint of anise.
Also known as Mexican Mint Marigold - like the marjoram featured above, it too has many, many names. As with all flowering herbs, it attracts beneficial insects and pollinators. We start seeds in pots in the unheated greenhouse sometime in March then transplant the seedlings to the garden in May.
This is a spreading, ground-hugging plant with petite, round leaves that emit a powerful, minty aroma when bruised. It spreads by narrow stems that take root as they grow, so makes an excellent ground cover or filling in around stepping stones or pavers, but not sturdy enough for heavy foot traffic.
We had to hunt about at local nurseries a bit for this one. We were looking for low growing herbs for our new rock garden in front of the farm house. We struck herb gold on the final and third herb nursery - locating it among the other low growing perennials marketed for stepables & to grow between pavers.
The leaves can be used to flavor hot and cold drinks, ice cream, and baked goods. Corsican mint doesn’t tolerate drought, which means the soil should be kept consistently moist but not soggy. The Corsican mint we are growing is in the new rock garden in the front of the house where we hope it will fill in around the rocks.
Kentucky Colonel Mint
18 to 24 inches
A typical spearmint type that likes sun to partial shade and moist soil. It has huge leaves - which drew us in and made us put it into our garden cart at the nursery. The scent is strong with a hint of spice (like many a good spearmint!).
The large leaves are perfect for crushing fresh for summer drinks like lemonade and fruity drinks before or after dinner. Or making a concentrated tea for summer iced teas. It is good in tea, jellies, and for other culinary purposes like syrups. You could easily sugar these leaves to decorate baked goods.
Kentucky Colonel is in a big container alongside the other specialty mints, to help keep it contained and from spreading all over the garden. Partial shade and regular water seems to keep it happy.
Mentha x piperita f.citrata 'Lime'
12 to 16 inches
A typical mint, prefers sun but will tolerate partial shade and of course will spread. Has a nice lime scent and flavor. Small purple spike flowers detract harmful insects such as aphids, fleas and ants, while attracting bees and other beneficial insects.
Can be used in pesto or mint sauce, summer drinks and teas, salads and chicken. We were informed by a customer that it is the favored herb to use for mojitos.
The lime mint in our mint collection, resides with the other specialty mints in a large container next to her friends, along the west side of our small hoop house, under the shade of our neighbors huge pine tree. As a hardy perennial it stays outdoors all year, and seems to thrive just fine.
Nepeta cataria ssp. Citriodora
18 to 24 inches
Prefers full sun but will deal with partial shade and is not fussy about the soil type, provided it is well drained. It has the same appearance and very similar flowers to catnip which bloom from early summer until the frost knocks it down for the winter, but it will come back year after year. However, it has a very different aroma from regular catnip, hence the lemon subtitle. It is reported to be deer and rabbit proof, to repel ants and mosquitoes and cats don't seem to like it much. Would be a good addition to herbal teas.
Our lemon catnip grows under the Cascara tree in partial shade along with quite a few other herbs in a pot. We haven't yet found a good permanent home for it - maybe this year. It seems pretty content in its pot for now - if nothing else, we'll give it an upgrade with a bigger pot this year.
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