Category Archives: herbs

New Herbs for 2023 to Grow in Your Garden

Butterfly pea I grew in my garden

For several years in a row, I used to write a new plants article for a magazine’s spring issue. It was fun to flip through seed catalogs, identifying the new plants. But in some ways, it was a challenge. What is “new”? What is “new” to me may not be “new” to other gardeners. What is new for one seed company may not be new for another. The term “new” is very subjective. I would always see a new color of a petunia or zinnia or dahlia but since there were new colors every year, a new color did not seem really new to me. It was just another color of the same plant. Plus, my article reflected what was known when I wrote it – at that point in time. Some companies announce their introductions in December, the year before the new growing season, while others wait until the spring of the current year. So I struggled with “new.” Continue reading

Herbs for the Holiday Festivities


pumpkin pie with sage and mums

When I think of herbs for Christmas, I always think of the Simon and Garfunkel Scarborough Fair song:  “Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.” Sure there other herbs and plenty of spices but these herbs seem to be the most popular during the holidays. The great thing is that these are easy to grow here in the DC mero area. Continue reading

Cutting Celery: A Kitchen Staple in the Garden

cutting celery foliage

Foliage of first year’s growth of cutting celery

Cutting celery is a great culinary herb to have in your garden. Unlike stalk celery from a grocery store, cutting celery is full of flavor, reminiscent of black pepper. Cutting celery (Apium graveolens var. secalinum) looks more like parsley than stalk celery (Apium graveolens var. dulce). This foot-tall, bushy plant has short, hollow stems and green, finely serrated leaves about one-inch wide. Continue reading

Pineapple Sage for You and the Hummingbirds

Currently, my pineapple sage plants (Salvia elegans) are blooming in my garden, their bright scarlet flowers are attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. Members of the salvia or sage family, pineapple sage plants are herbaceous, tender perennial herbs. I have two pineapple sage plants, which I bought last year as tiny babies, and I often use their leaves and flowers in the kitchen. Continue reading

Monarda: Native Herbs with Beautiful Flowers

Lately I have noticed more hummingbirds in my garden. I’d like to say it is because of the Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’ I planted but really, I have so many flowering plants it is hard to say. I purchased ‘Jacob Cline’ because a Mt. Cuba Center report said that out of all the Monarda plants in their trial, this one was visited the most by hummingbirds. Although hummingbirds love large-flowered, red cultivars of Monarda in general, they seem to prefer Jacob Cline because (researchers theorize) the plant is taller than the others, thus easier to find.

Continue reading

The Many Uses of Thai Basil

Although I grow different types of basil in my Virginia garden, last year was the year of Thai basil for me. Thai basil is a variety of sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) but the flavor is spicier and more pungent — like anise and clove combined. I grew a couple of varieties for the culinary and beverage aspects as well as for landscape value.

Thai basil gets its name from its popularity in Thai cuisine, but it is equally popular in Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Laotian cuisines. Thai basil can withstand prolonged cooking heat so the leaves work well with chicken or beef stir fried dishes. Thai basil also is used in Pad Thai, Vietnamese Pho, spring rolls, curries, and noodle dishes. Continue reading

Angelica: Adding the Angels to the Garden

Angelica archangelica in shade

Last August, a fellow member of the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America had fresh angelica seeds to give away (Angelica archangelica). She warned that the seeds had to be sown immediately–fresh seed is best for successful germination. I quickly sowed several seeds and ended up with 10 plants! I transplanted them in several places in my Virginia garden, some in part shade and some in full sun. They overwintered well here in Zone 7 and emerged in the spring. Today, at the end of July they are all doing well except one that is a little chlorotic (yellow leaves). Continue reading

Garden Staple: Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil

lemon basil flowers

Lemon basil flowering in August

Every summer I grow Mrs. Burns lemon basil, a lemon scented type of sweet basil. Like all basil plants, Mrs. Burns lemon basil prefers warm weather, full sun, and plenty of moisture. I grow mine from seeds in large containers and in the vegetable garden.

Throughout the summer I harvest the leaves and use them fresh in fruit salad; with seafood, chicken, and vegetable dishes; as garnishes for drinks, desserts, and salad; and in syrups and vinegar dressings. My family particularly likes using the fresh leaves for tilapia and other white fish fillets. We layer a bunch of leaves and stems on aluminum foil on a broiler pan, then layer the fish fillets on top, drizzled with butter and chopped scallions or bread crumbs, and broil. The leaves turn black, which is fine because you can throw them away before you serve the dish but the fish is infused with a unique smoked lemon flavor.

We also like to make a simple syrup with the leaves. Bring one cup of sugar, one cup of water and about one cup of loosely packed leaves to a boil in a saucepan, smashing the leaves against the side of the saucepan with a spoon. Then reduce the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. After straining and removing the leaves, let the syrup cool and pour in a glass jar. We like to drizzle the sweet lemon liquid over fresh fruit, cold lemonade, or ice tea.

lemon basil plants

Lemon basil plants in containers

Mrs. Burns lemon basil is an heirloom cultivar of a sweet basil and yes, there really was a Mrs. Burns. Mother to Barney Burns who co-founded Native Seed Search, Mrs. Burns and son moved to Carlsbad, NM, in 1951. Mrs. Burns received the seed from Mrs. Clifton, a local gardener who had been growing it since the 1920.  Because they noted that this particular variety had a great lemon flavor, they saved the seed each year to preserve the trait. In time, other learned of this fabulous plant and shared the seed so now one can often purchase this through various seed catalogs as well as Native Seed Search.

In addition to its culinary uses, Mrs. Burns lemon basil can be cut for floral arrangements. I always like to add an herb to my cut flowers that I bring indoors. If left to flower, the small flowers attract pollinators and beneficial insects. I deliberately do not harvest some of my plants to have a stand of tall flower stalks with whorls of small flowers by August. In September, yellow finches flock around the plants for the seeds. In October, before the first frost, I cut the stalks and put them in a large paper bag. Later, while watching PBS Masterpiece, I pull the stalks out of the bag and extract the seeds to plant next year in May. It’s a full circle but then so is gardening.

Fennel Finds its Place in the Garden

fennel in the summer with caterpillar in right corner

I grow fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, in my Virginia garden for many reasons. First of all, it is easy to grow from seed. In the garden, the plants can be showstoppers at five feet tall but sometimes they bend from the weight to weave among the perennials and shrubs. Their tubular stems mingle with the pumpkin vines on the ground or rest on top of the chrysanthemum shrubs while their green, fern-like foliage peak through the zinnias.

Throughout the summer, I can harvest the foliage for use in the kitchen. The leaves have an anise flavor and are good for flavoring fish and chicken dishes and root vegetables. Snips of the foliage can be sprinkled on salads, soup, eggs, and tuna salad sandwiches. Continue reading

Dill: Easy, Versatile Herb to Grow

dill flower headsDill (Anethum graveolens) is easy to grow from seed. I just throw a few seed in a large plastic container on my deck in late March. I don’t worry about frost or cold nights but I do make sure the top of the soil is moist until I see the leaves come through the soil and then I water a little less often. Here in Virginia, we seem to have plenty of rain or snow in March so the seeds do not dry out. Now, when the garden soil is warmer, I will gently lift the seedlings out with a trowel and plant in the garden bed in full sun.

Continue reading