Indispensable as these plants are, there are other, less common herbs that are well worth growing, too – perfect for bringing exciting and unexpected flavours to dishes and drinks.
Discover 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 tuberosum (garlic chives)
The flat leaves of garlic chives are suitable for use in the same way as ordinary chives, and have a sweet garlic flavour. Additionally, the white flowers can flavour and decorate a salad. These hardy plants reach a height of 40cm. Divide clumps in autumn if they become congested. Also consider Siberian chives, Allium nutans.
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.
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.
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.
Persicaria odorata (Vietnamese coriander)
Persicaria odorata is a tropical perennial that 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. Grow it in full sun in well-drained pots or tubs, which can be brought inside in the winter.
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.
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.
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 marigolds, 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.
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 and pates. Performs best in full sun, in well-drained soil.
(Reputedly) medicinal herbs to grow
- Comfrey (Symphytum) – used externally to relieve sprains, arthritis and inflammation
- Woad (Isatis tinctoria) – historically used to treat external wounds, rashes and sores
- Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) – used in infusions for sore throats
- Angelica (Angelica archangelica) – the roots have been used in remedies for colds and flu
- Myrtle (Myrtus) – the essential oils have antiseptic properties and are used in tonics
- Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) – antiseptic leaves used as a cough reliever
- Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) – used to treat a number of ailments including digestive problems, high blood pressure, convulsions, pain, vomiting, coughs, rheumatism, fevers and exhaustion