Unusual Herbs

Garden Life

From Sarah's garden to yours

If you need to elevate a dish beyond the ordinary then herbs and spices are the best way to do so. However, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the herbs and spices often used become limited to the familiar and readily available. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are so common that a song was once written about them. But they aren’t the only ones that bring something special to a meal, and gardeners have plenty of options to add interest and excitement to what they are cooking.

Chervil -  Anthriscus cerefolium
Also known as French Parsley, chervil is common in French cuisine. As a member of the parsley family, it has a tasty parsley-like flavour but with a hint of anise and can be used anywhere parsley is used. In appearance, it is softer and more elegant than its cousin. It is an annual that can be grown throughout the summer, but it has a tendency to bolt if it gets too hot, which can make it bitter. Succession sowing once a month from spring through to autumn ensures a good supply of young tender leaves. It doesn’t take up much room in the garden, only spreading to 10cm, but can become up to 60cm tall.

Lovage -  Levisticum officinale
With a taste and appearance similar to celery, with a hint of savoury yeast extract flavour, lovage can be used as you would celery. This makes it a versatile herb with the added benefit of having edible roots. Lovage is a perennial that can die back in the cold of winter but may need cutting back at the end of the season. It is a good-sized plant that needs 60cm of space in the garden and can get a metre and a half tall! It can prolifically self-seed so either dead head the flowers or harvest the seeds for use in the kitchen. The young tender leaves are the best to eat and be warned that it may become tough and bitter once it begins to flower.

Saffron - Crocus sativus
Said to be one of the world’s most expensive spices, worth even more than gold, saffron can be grown easily at home. The cost comes from the labour intensive efforts to harvest the lightweight stamens in quantities worth taking to market, which, to a home gardener, isn’t an issue at all. Saffron is an autumn flowering crocus grown from a corm. The corms can be planted throughout the summer months 10cm apart and 15cm deep. The stunning purple flowers appear in the autumn with three bright red desirable stamens. It does prefer a winter chill and dry hot summer so may not be suited to all areas.

Salad Burnet - Sanguisorba minor
This attractive herb has a nutty cucumber flavour with a slightly astringent note that makes it great in dressings, salads, and even as a garnish in a gin and tonic. It is also an attractive plant with fern like leaves in a rosette formation and dark red flowers in the summer so could easily find a place in the garden beyond the herb garden. It is a perennial in the rose family. When grown from seed, it is best to start off indoors and plant into the garden once all risk of frost has gone but it can also be directly sown into the garden. It grows to 20cm wide and 30cm tall and likes a moist yet free draining spot in full sun or partial shade. As a herb, it needs to be well watered or it can become bitter.
Savory - Satureja spp
This herb comes in two common varieties – winter savory (satureja montana) and summer savory (satureja hortensis). Summer savory is an annual and is sweeter and milder than its tangy perennial winter cousin. They both add a lovely rich savoury flavour and can enhance the qualities of vegetables with which they are cooked. Summer savory can be started in the spring and early summer and grows 15cm wide and twice as tall at 30cm. Winter savory has a much stronger flavour and keeps its leaves throughout the winter season making it an attractive addition to an ornamental garden. It does not get as tall as the summer variety with a height of up 20cm.

Sorrel - Rumex acetosa
A perennial with a sharp lemony tang, sorrel is a fantastic herb to liven up salads, dressings, sauces, soups and is great with fish. It has a vibrant green colour and spear-shaped leaves. Keeping the plant in check by regularly cutting it back will ensure a constant supply of tender young leaves. It is related to spinach and weed dock but is much easier to keep under control. It grows easily from seed and can be shared by splitting the plant.

Stevia - Stevia rebaudiana
As a sweetener, Stevia is often found as a sugar replacement in many beverages and food items but it can also be easily grown in the garden. It is much sweeter than ordinary sugar without the calories so it is a beneficial herb to grow. While it is a perennial, it is frost tender so it can be better to treat it as an annual. The seeds need light to germinate so sow them on the surface of the seed raising mix and firm them down so they have good contact but don’t cover them. The greatest ‘pest’ can be kids who like to suck the sweetness from the leaves and will quickly strip a plant of its leaves faster than a locust, so it is best planted in a secret location. It needs about 15 cm of space in the garden and can get up to 30 cm tall.

To lift your life out of the ordinary and humdrum, consider extending your herb garden this season to include some of these herbs and spices for an interesting garden and exciting culinary experience. There is nothing to lose in trying something new in the garden.