It’s time to widen your herb growing adventure with a few of the lesser known herbs. We all start with our favorites or perhaps a popular combo of herbs: the basil, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. What of the ones that flavor a particular cuisine or have pretty edible flowers? It’s time to add to the repertoire with four additional herbs for a kitchen garden that I especially like: Borage, Cilantro, Lemon Balm, Hyssop.
Borage is Beautiful
Borage is easy and beautiful, even if it is usually used in simple ways like adding a cucumber freshness to summer drinks or as an edible flower in salads. The plant is a pollinator attraction par excellence. Super simple to grow.
I love the Gentian blue flowers that hang in heavy clusters. They are always busy with bees on a plant that has coarse leaves in a grayish green.
Commonly called “bee bush” and “bee bread”, its monikers should give an indication of how helpful this plant is for attracting pollinators to the garden. Place near your strawberry plants for a traditional companion planting.
Traditional and Historical Uses for Borage
Besides salads, freeze the flowers in ice cubes, candy them for decorating desserts, and even flavor jelly with them. Medieval writings advise mixing with honey for soothing a sore throat. It was considered a calming ingredient for various ailments which provided a sense of well being. (1)
Borago Officinalis Is Easy to Grow
Sow seeds 2 inches in depth in situ. Don’t disturb the tap root. Not frost hardy, but may reseed the following year.
Another plant that is so easy to grow from seed, it is now far more well known than it used to be, thanks to Mexican cuisine. It grows best in cooler weather.
Looking so much like parsley that it could easily be mistaken, but the flavor is quite unique. People either love it or hate it!
This might be due to the fact that some people have a gene that causes them to experience the flavor of Cilantro as “soapy” or unpleasant. So if you hate it, your taste buds are wired differently than someone who insists that it is delightful.
In cooking, add just before serving for best quality of the flavor. Use in soups, salads, and salsas.
Cilantro’s Seedy Side
Cilantro has been well known for centuries as another spice: Coriander. The two sources come from the same plant, but have different flavors due to coming frown separate plant parts. Cilantro is the fresh leafy addition to foods that lends a citrusy flavor. Coriander comes from the seeds which give a warm, spicy taste.
Coriandrum Sativum Grown in my Garden
Easily comes up from seed, planted early in the season or from purchased plants. If you let them go to seed, you may well have a crop the following years, like Dill plants. It is a cool season crop and cool weather finishes it, but it will refresh in the early fall if it hasn’t completely gone to seed.
This is another pollinator friendly herb, a well-behaved member of the mint family. I like it in the garden for its long, if sporadic bloom of bright blue flowers. Semi-woody, as a perennial it should be pruned and grown like lavender. For me it is a bit rangy, but iI love the late fall spots of color.
How To Use Herbal Hyssop
It can be used for both culinary and medicinal purposes, but with a warning. Not recommended for children, it may have adverse effects in some people. Used since ancient times, most people found benefit from a brewed tea called a tisaneinfusion made from plant parts. It is considered helpful for digestive and intestinal problems. Additionally, hyssop may be used for aromatherapy. Add its oil into massage oils to reduce pain and help heal scars, as well.
Once it was included in soups and stews with its strong rosemary like flavor, but today it is known as an ingredient of the liqueur Chartreuse (along with over 100 other herbs and spices). While considered safe for most people in the amounts commonly found in foods and in medicinal amounts, it is unsafe for children or people prone to seizures.
Growing Hyssopus officinalis, Herb for a Kitchen Garden
However you plan to use it, this is an attractive garden plant that will add beauty to your herb garden.
Native to the Mediterranean, like many herbs, it loves sun, and hates overly wet conditions. It might survive, but not look happy given less ideal conditions. I like to start with plants, but it can be grown from seeds.
- Full sun
- Well-drained soil
- Cold hardy
- Likes alkaline soils
If planting seeds sow 1/4 inch deep, germination takes place in 14 to 21 days.
In history, Melissa officinalis is linked to the honey bee. A premier bee plant, it is also useful as a healthful drink for humans. Lemon mint flavor, health benefits, pretty green leaves, and easy-to-grow are all characteristics that call for more gardeners to find a place to grow it.
Whenever the smell of lemon is present, the effect is one of feeling uplifted, and that is one of the reported effects of Lemon Balm.
Growing Melissa officinalis
- Prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil
- Full Sun to part sun
- Good choice for alkaline soils
- Lemon balm seeds germinate between 12 and 21 days
- Hardy in Zones 4a to 9b (with caveat that the northern zones require protection and excellent soil drainage)
Can be grown in pots, and indoors.
Growing These Herbs for a Kitchen garden
Just a few notes to summarize these four lesser known herbs.
- Melissa officinalis is in the mint family and may be vigorous in your garden. I personally have had no trouble with its spread, but you might keep that in mind if the soil is a moist loamy sand. Hyssop is a polite grower, but can be a bit rangy if not in full sun. Cilantro can look and act weedy in vegetable gardens where the soil (and seeds) are tilled up each year. Borage also reseeds when happy. It can be a floppy looking plant, but that is fine for informal spaces.
Of these four, Cilantro and Lemon Balm are likely to be the most useful, if not the most beautiful of the group. I think each one brings a characteristic of its own to the garden and would be especially welcome in plans for kitchen or herb gardens.