Tag Archives: culinary herb

Mexican Mint Marigold

Almost Halloween and my Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida) plants are blooming profusely. The orange flowers are perfect for the season. My plants are not very tall and bushy but I know they can grow to several feet tall and wide. Native to Mexico and Central America, this marigold is a useful herb and a pretty garden plant. The foliage can be used as a tea for treating colds, fevers, intestinal gas, and diarrhea. The foliage also is used in an Aztec hot cocoa drink called chocolatl or xocolatl, along with vanilla, chiles, and ground cacao bean. And the foliage can be used as a tarragon substitute. The leaves have that anise/tarragon flavor, and the plant is much easier to grow than tarragon. The edible flowers can add interest and flavor to meals and garnish desserts. The petals can be sprinkled like confetti on green beans for contrast or a plate of mushroom stuffed appetizers.

This may be hard to find as a plant at the local nursery, but Mexican Mint Marigold is easy to grow from seed. Just make sure you are getting the correct species. I have seen some seed companies sell Tagetes tenuifolia as the Mexican Mint Marigold but that is a different type of marigold. Also, this plant has many common names so make sure you are purchasing Tagetes lucida.

I started mine plants from Botanical Interests seed packets in June. Later in the summer, I transplanted many plants (they germinated easily) to several areas in the garden. It was touch and go when we did not have rain for a long time, but I kept them well watered. They are in full sun and are not particular about soil except that it should be well-drained. These are fall bloomers so do not expect flowers until late September and October. Pollinators, beneficial insects, and butterflies love them.

Unfortunately, these herbaceous plants are tender perennials, hardy to zone 8. I don’t expect them to come back next year in my Zone 7 garden, but I like them so much I will start them again from seed. Next year though I may start them earlier in May after the last frost.

The flowers can be cut for floral arrangements. Recently, I learned how to make small arrangements in carved out pumpkins at my garden club. After growing Mexican Mint Marigold, I can see how these small orange flowers would be perfect for the desktop pumpkins. Try growing this next year, you will be pleasantly surprised!

Salad Burnet: Lovely Medicinal, Culinary, and Decorative Herb

Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) is a medicinal and culinary herb and a beautiful ornamental plant. It is one of those pretty yet useful herbs in the garden. An herbaceous perennial, this relatively small plant grows to about a foot wide and one-half foot tall. It stays green above ground for quite a long time, dies back in the winter, and re-appears in the spring. The plant grows in a clump, in a rosette formation. The small summer flowers are very small on wiry stems — barely noticeable.

As a medicinal herb, salad burnet has astringent qualities and staunches bleeding. As a culinary herb, the young foliage is tastiest so pick from the center of the rosette and use leaves in a green salad, egg salad, herbal vinegar, butter, cheese spread, or as “lettuce” with sandwiches. The foliage can be added to lemonade and is a popular garnish for gin and tonic cocktails. It has a clean green flavor, much like cucumbers.

The foliage has a delicate, lacy appearance which makes it a great garnish. When my daughter and I made a charcuterie board for Thanksgiving, we decorated the board with stems. We also used the green lacy leaves as a contrast to red cranberries and white mashed potatoes.charcuterie board

I have been growing salad burnet for years, but not necessarily the same one. It does self-seed a little, just enough for babies to show up in odd places. I dig them up and put them where I know they will thrive. Over the years, I have learned that salad burnet prefers moist areas, in full or partial sun, depending on the amount of soil moisture. I now have a plant growing next to my cutting celery and lovage, all of which are moisture lovers.

You are not likely to find the plant in local nurseries, but you can purchase seed from online seed companies. Start seed indoors in the spring, under lights, much like starting tomato seeds. You can direct sow in the summer, but my birds always steal my seed before they germinate. Or if you have a friend who has salad burnet growing in the garden, ask for a division in the spring. Try growing salad burnet in your garden or in a container.

Purple Blooming Anise Hyssop

anise hyssop at the National Herb Garden in July

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is blooming now in the summer. A native, herbaceous perennial hardy to zone 4, this plant is short-lived but self-seeds and spreads a bit by rhizomes. In March, the leaves emerge with a purple hue. As the plant grows the leaves become green although there is a golden cultivar. A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), the leaves have scalloped edges and look like catnip leaves. Anise hyssop grows a few feet tall and about one foot wide. In the summer, there are small purple-blue flowers on 4 to 6-inch terminal spikes, creating fuzzy wands. The flowers attract beneficial pollinators, including butterflies and hummingbirds. Because the foliage is so fragrant, deer are not interested.

Anise hyssop is a full sun to part shade plant tolerating a wide range of soils in a well-drained site. The purple-blue flowers provide contrast to orange and yellow flowers and complement purple foliage plants.

purple foliage of anise hyssop in March

Anise hyssop can also be used as a culinary or tea herb. It is harvested for its leaves as well as its flowers. Although the aroma is categorized as anise or licorice, some might say anise with a touch of basil or anise with a touch of tarragon. The most common use of the leaves is tea but you can also add the leaves to lamb or pork dishes, to milk for making ice cream, sugar syrups, and/or sugar syrups for cough drops, cocktails, honey, butter cookies, and sugar to make flavored sugar. The leaves dry well, retaining their taste and fragrance.

Flowers are edible and can be used as a garnish for desserts, added to a salad, or added to a beverage such as ice tea. The flowers also dry well, retaining their color and aroma.

You can find small plants in the nursery in the spring or you can grow anise hyssop from seed. Sow the seed indoors under lights in order to transplant outside after the last frost or sow directly outside in the summer. Anise hyssop can be propagated by root division.

Anise hyssop is a great garden plant — it provides color in the summer, supports pollinators, and can be used for making tea or to add flavor and color to meals.

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

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

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.

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Roselle: A Tropical Herb to Try in the DC Metro Area

flowerThe first time I grew roselle in my Virginia garden, I was full of angst as the summer ended with no flowers in sight. Although I know roselle is a tropical plant, I did not know it is photoperiodic. In other words, roselle is a short-day plant which means that fall’s short days and long nights encourage the flowers to form. However, here in the DC metro area, the October frosts will truncate this tropical plant’s life. That year I only had a few flowers in September and the plant died in October before I could get a good harvest. I have since learned that it is best to grow an early maturing strain in order to get a good harvest. Continue reading

Roselle: An Unusual Culinary Herb

flowerThe first time I grew roselle in my Virginia garden, I was full of angst as the summer ended with no flowers in sight. Although I know roselle is a tropical plant, I did not know it is photoperiodic. In other words, roselle is a short-day plant which means that the fall’s short days and long nights encourage the flowers to form. However, here the October frosts will truncate this tropical plant’s life. That year I only had a few flowers in September and the plant died in October before I could get a good harvest. I have since learned that it is best to grow an early maturing strain in order to get a good harvest. Continue reading

A Fall-Blooming Culinary Herb: Pineapple Sage

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