10 unusual herbs to grow

Many of us grow herbs such as rosemary, chives and parsley for their ornamental as well as culinary value. Indispensible as these plants are, there are other, less common herbs that are well worth growing, too.

We spoke to several herb growers at Gardeners’ World Live 2012, and chose 10 unusual herb varieties for green-fingered gastronomes. Find out more, below.


Allium cepa Proliferum Group (tree onion)

Tree onions look bizarre, having a cluster of ‘bulblets’ at the top of their stems, which can grow as tall as 1.5m. Use the bulblets for cooking in the same way as ordinary culinary onions, and use the young plants as spring onions. Tree onions are best grown in full sun.

Allium nutans (Siberian chives)

The flat leaves of this member of the onion family are suitable for use in the same way as ordinary chives, and have a buttery onion flavour. Additionally, the mauve flowers can flavour and decorate a salad. These hardy plants reach a height of 40cm. Divide clumps in autumn if they become congested.

Borago pygmaea (pygmy borage)

This low-growing, perennial borage bears attractive, small blue flowers from June, through to October. Very hardy, it grows well in ‘problem’ areas, like dry shady spots. Freeze the flowers in ice cubes or add them to a jug of Pimms.

Lablab purpureus (hyacinth bean)

This beautiful climber bears pods of black beans with a white stripe down the side. These must be boiled for a long time before eating, to remove poisonous compounds. The leaves can be used in the kitchen in place of vine leaves. Lablab is less hardy than runner beans, so don’t plant it out until all risk of frost has passed.

Lippia dulcis (Aztec sweet herb)

This perennial is covered in white, edible flowers in summer. Best grown in rich, moist soils, it forms a sprawling ground cover when positioned in a protected, partially shaded or sunny position. Lippia dulcis tastes of sweet camphor oil, and can be used as a natural sweetener, or to spice up a fruit salad.

Mentha x gracilis ‘Variegata’ (ginger mint)

The yellow markings on the bright green leaves of this mint make it an attractive addition to the herb garden. Take care to plant it in a submerged pot, so that its rhizomes won’t run riot all over the plot. Unusually, this mint has a slight ginger flavour.

Persicaria odorata (Vietnamese coriander)

This tropical perennial can be identified by the dark ‘v’ marking on its leaves. These have a hot spicy flavour, making it a tasty addition to stir fries and curries, and dishes containing pork and pineapple. Grow it in full sun in well-drained pots or tubs, which can be brought inside in the winter.

Rumex scutatus (French sorrel)

French sorrel or oseille ronde, is less acid in flavour than common sorrel (Rumex acetosa), having a distinct tang of apple and lemon. This hardy perennial prefers a sunny spot, where it will grow to 30cm in height. Use the young leaves in mixed leaf salads, and bring the plant indoors for winter use.

Satureja montana (winter savory)

Winter savour is a hardy perennial, that grows into a small, shrubby clump. Small white flowers appear in late summer. After this, trim it up to a tighter shape. The leaves and tips can be used fresh or dried, to add a spicy flavour to herb mixes, stuffings, pulses, pates and meat dishes. Performs best in full sun, in well-drained soil.

Tagetes lucida (Mexican tarragon)

This Central and South American shrubby marigold has been used as a culinary and medicinal herb for centuries. It’s taller and more substantial than herbaceous marigiolds, reaching 80cm in height. Grow it to use as a bright-flowered substitute for Russian or French tarragon, and protect it from severe frosts in winter with fleece.

Many thanks to the following herb growers, for information on the plants in this feature:

Highdown Nursery

Hooksgreen Herbs

Pennard Plants


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