Most gardeners – and cooks – are familiar with the common culinary herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, cilantro, dill, and parsley, but may not grow or use the more uncommon herbs. Here are five less well-known herbs that you may want to add to your garden. Some are grown for medicinal uses and others for the kitchen.
Are you familiar with these uncommon herbs?
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
Comfrey is a striking perennial herb to include in the garden. It is a big, bold leafy plant, growing four to five foot feet tall. It has large rough leaves and small hanging bunches of pink or blue bell flowers. Originally comfrey was grown as a valuable herbal in medicinal gardens. The common names boneset, knitbone and bruise wort indicate its use in poultices for sprains, swellings and bruises.
Comfrey is unsafe for anyone when taken by mouth. It contains alkaloid chemicals that can cause liver damage, lung damage, and cancer. Handle the plant with gloves, as the chemicals in comfrey can pass through the skin.
With deep roots that draw minerals from the soil, comfrey is rich in potassium, nitrogen and phosphate. The composted leaves make a good fertilizer. Simply soak a one part comfrey leaves to three parts water, let sit for a week and strain the rich tea. Use it as you would any liquid fertilizer for your tomatoes, cucumbers, squash or root crops.
In fall, as the flowers die down, cut the plant completely back and chop it up. Add it to your compost where it will add a rich store of essential minerals.
Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
This tall perennial herb often reaches to six feet in height. The leaves look a little like lettuce but have a robust taste, similar to celery. Lovage is easy to grow, and an attractive addition at the back of the herb garden.
Use lovage to flavour your soup, salad, or poultry stuffing. The dark green spicy leaves add flavour to any savoury dish. Use it sparingly at first, until you are used to its strength and flavor. The newest fresh leaves chopped into green or potato salads, or mixed with sour cream onto baked potatoes.
Because of the sheer size of this fully grown plant, there is no way you can use all the fresh leaves. To dry lovage, tie cuttings in small bunches and hang them upside down in a dark, well ventilated room. Store the dried leaves in a glass jar.
Let some of the flowers go to seed. Use the dried seeds like celery seed.
Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum)
This allium has recently become popular in western markets and cuisine, although garlic chives have always been used in the East.
If you’re a garlic lover, these chives add a subtle taste of garlic to your cooking. Use both the leaves and the bud-topped flower stalks to add a bit of flavor to a dish. In the garden, they are good companion plants, driving off many pests that don’t care for the garlic scent.
Make sure you snip away the faded flower heads before they drop seeds or you’ll have a job rooting out thousands of seedlings the next year. You can grow this uncommon herb in containers.
Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor)
This herb is pretty enough to edge a flowerbed with its low rosettes of lacy blue-green foliage.
In Europe, the leaves are used along with chervil, chives, parsley, sorrel and yogurt or cream cheese to make a green sauce that is traditionally used with boiled eggs or potatoes. Burnet leaves have a subtle cucumber flavor, just a bit tart and spicy. Add the youngest leaves to salads. Older leaves are not used, as the delicate flavor is lost as they age.
Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
Angelica was once thought by 17th century herbalists to have the ability to ward off evil spirits, spells, and witchcraft – hence its name. Herbalists used it for digestive ailments, and the root is an ingredient in liqueurs. The whole plant has a unique scent and is used in making some perfumes.
Make a spring tea with fresh angelica leaves. Use the stems in stewed fruits since the stalks have a sweet flavor. The hollow stems are jellied or candied and are either eaten alone or used to decorate desserts. Fresh angelica stems, cut in short pieces, and added to rhubarb will counteract its tartness and reduce the necessary sugar.
A decorative herb, you can grow this tall plant just for its big cartwheels of yellow-green flowers, which appear in its second year. Bees love the flowers. Angelica is a biennial, and will easily seed itself as it ripens in the second year.
So there you have it – five uncommon herbs to consider adding to your herb garden next year.
Are you already growing them?
Are there others you grow that I haven’t included?
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