Culinary Herbs Information



Smyrnium olusatrum (Umbelliferae) B

A somewhat unfashionable pot herb that grows wild in southern and western coastal areas of the British Isles, but in cultivation is a hefty, handsome plant, particularly in spring before most other herbs are ready for use. (In America, the name alexanders sometimes refers to the indigenous wild angelica, a far taller and more elegant plant.)

Alexanders, black lovage, black pot herb — call it what you will — gives a good celery/parsley flavour to soups and stews. Alternatively, the young leaves can be shredded and included in coleslaws. The white-green flowers are fragrant, the leaves large, smooth, shining and deeply divided, becoming rather tough to eat later in the season. But, for early summer interest in the garden, the great burgeoning shoots are lush and pale, the stout furrowed stems quickly reaching 0.91.2 m (3-4 ft). An ancient pot herb, replaced by celery for the modern palate.

CULTIVATION Seed may be saved and sown, but it is available from specialist seedsmen. Sow mid- to late- summer in an open position, to produce appetizing leaves the following spring. It is from the black 'twin' seed that the plant takes its name of black pot herb, the seed being used to flavour stews.



Angelica archangelica (Umbelliferae) B

An imposing and dramatic plant which, given good growing conditions, attains 2 m (6V2 ft) in height, with large green-white mophead flowers held aloft. A good plant for the back of a border (especially when protected from rough winds) because the stout green ribbed stems stand up for themselves and hold the glossy green leaves about them like flounces.

Strictly speaking, angelica is a biennial plant, forming a good clump of foliage the first summer and dramatic flowers the second, dying after the seed has set. But by cutting back the growth in autumn (fall) and preventing the flower heads from seeding, the plant can be maintained as a short-lived perennial.

Angelica is cultivated mainly for its green stems which can be candied and used in confectionery. A chunk or two cut at flowering time makes a good addition to stewed fruit, or it can be used in jam-making as a substitute, especially for rhubarb. However, every part of angelica is useful. The dried root (when infused) makes a stimulating tonic reputed to encourage a dislike for alcohol. The ground roots are used for sachets, and an oil derived from the root is used in liqueurs. The juniper-flavoured seed can be substituted for real juniper berries in the making of gin. Leaves are edible as a vegetable when cooked and served with butter, offering a spinach-like flavour. In the past angelica was recommended for a wide range of ailments, and legend tells us that in medieval times an angel 'visited' a monk, directing him to use this plant to alleviate the sufferings of victims of a plague — hence the specific name archangelica.

CULTIVATION Angelica seed loses its viability so it is important to sow the seed when fresh. If this cannot be done, store it in a fridge or ice box throughout the winter, and then sow in the spring in tiny pinches, thinning out all but the best plants once germination has taken place. The seedlings do not transplant well, but it is worth trying when they are very small. Plant out at least 90 cms (3 ft) apart to allow the plants to develop uninhibited. A good rich loam ensures the most marvellous of all herb garden plants, otherwise growth will be restricted and poor in colour. Angelica dislikes hot, humid climates and appreciates a spot in gardens where it can be in the shade for some part of every day.


Ocymum basilicum (Labiatae) A

An ancient plant from the Pacific Islands which reached England via Asia and Europe in the sixteenth century, and was taken by early settlers to America.

A tender herb, several types of which are in cultivation. The large leaved, common or sweet basil, Ocymum basilicum, is the plant to choose for the kitchen with its strong, spicy, clove-like aroma. Dwarf or bush basil, O. mimimum, is hardier but has a weaker flavour.

Sweet basil bears tiny, white, purple-tinged flowers in midsummer and juicy aromatic leaves. It reaches 50 cms (IV2 ft) in height. 'Dark Opal' has a gingery aroma, and when used shredded in salads adds a decorative air and exotic flavour. 'Dark Opal' was developed in 1962 at the University of Connecticut, and represents something of a breakthrough in herb cultivation, because, almost exclusively, herbs have escaped the attentions of the hybridist. Moreover, it was awarded the All-America medal by the seedsmen.

CULTIVATION In zones with a cold winter, sow basil in early to mid-spring in boxes or in frames, or later out of doors when all danger of frost has passed. The best results are obtained by starting off the seedlings with protection and maintaining a high temperature until they can be hardened off and planted out safely.

In warmer zones, sow directly into the beds, and thin out to about 20 cms (8 ins) apart, or transplant. Basil seedlings transplant easily. A plant can be potted up and kept indoors to maintain a fresh supply of leaves until late autumn, or it can be grown indoors where the plant will get at least five hours of sunshine each day. It is a good patio or window-box plant, and a happy inhabitant of a sunbaked yard.


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Laurus nobilis (Lauraceae) P

Bay, or sweet bay (the latter name being preferred in America) is a highly esteemed inhabitant of the herb garden. In classical times heroes and poets were adorned with garlands of bay leaves. The Latin name of the plant is honoured to this day in the title Poet Laureate.

Of Mediterranean origin, the bay is an evergreen tree.. It is usually grown as a bush, and it hates cold winds. For this reason alone it has come to be cultivated habitually in large containers, its branches trimmed to some formal shape. It decorates porches, yards and balconies, and can be moved into shelter if necessary in the winter.

In warmer districts it is a good plant to grow as the surrounding hedge to the herb garden. The height and shape of the hedge, or of individual bushes, can be controlled by clipping or pruning. Bright green smooth oval leaves, punctuated by lovely fluffy-faced beige-yellow flowers at midsummer, make the bay easy to identify. (It is vital not to confuse it with cherry laurel — Prunus lauroceracus — which produces prussic acid.

In the kitchen a crushed leaf of bay added to prepared meats, stuffings, casseroles and chowders is almost traditional, and it is one of the vital ingredients of bouquet garni, the others being parsley and thyme. A few sprigs cut just before the flowers bloom, tied together and hung in a warm, dust-free place will provide dried leaves of bay for culinary flavouring. Bay is one of the very few herbs which is not used fresh as the flavour would be far too pungent.

CULTIVATION Cuttings taken with a heel in early summer (when the new spring growth has hardened a little) and made about 10-15 cms (4-6 ins) long are the most reliable method of propagation. Insert them in pans or pots, potting up separately once the roots are established, and keep them thus for a year or so before planting out. (Layering of established plants in summer is an alternative method of propagation.) Once plants are growing well, an occasional spray with water helps to keep the leaves clean and shining.






Polygonum bistorta (Polygonaceae) P

Snakeroot is another vernacular name for bistort, and it is descriptive of the stout contorted rhizomes which are rich in tannin and for which the plant is well known. Because of its appearance, it is also called snakeweed. The name bistort refers to the twice twisted rhizome which helps to make the plant such good ground-cover in the decorative herb garden, where it is a handsome plant.

Upstanding, oval, bright green leaves folded at the midribs surround military straight stems bearing sugar pink, occasionally white, flowers in fat spikes up to 50 cms (114 ft) during the summer. It is a native European plant with a long history of medicinal use due to its astringent properties, the black skinned roots being rich in tannic acid.

In northern England bistort has served the country people as 'Easter Ledges', the leaves forming the main ingredient of Easter or bistort pudding. Combined with the early leaves of nettle, parsley and blackcurrant and mixed w'ith barley and oatmeal and bound with egg and butter, it used to be the main course in an iron-rich nourishing meal. Try young leaves shredded and added to salads.

CULTIVATION Bistort is happy in any good garden soil in either sun or shade, and is a generally undemanding plant. Propagation is by seed or by division at planting time, or in the autumn (fall) from established plants. The form to use in the decorative herb garden is P. b. 'Superbum'.



Borago officinalis (Boraginaceae) A

Believed to have originated in the Aleppo area of Syria, borage is now happily at home as a cultivated plant (and occasionally garden escape) far from its native land. 'Burradge' appears on the seed order, 1631, of John Winthrop Jr, so it was by then considered to be a necessary herb by the settlers. Irrevocably associated with courage and cheerfulness, it is reputed to 'drive away all sadness'. Both leaves and flowers are rich in potassium and calcium, and are therefore a good blood purifier and tonic.

The entire plant is covered in soft, bristle-like hairs, which in dew or moonlight endow the plant with a halo. It is one of the most delightfully decorative plants of the herb border, especially when it stands up straight, but unfortunately most plants have a tendency to loll about! Plant them on a bank or terrace, or even in the top of a wall, so that the swinging inflorescences can be seen from below. On average 60 cms (2 ft) high and having pale- green juicy stems, borage is a branched plant with little sprays of flowers at the end of each branch. The star-like flowers are a deep-blue (with an occasional pink one) and they are never all in flower at the same time. However, there is always something in bloom from midsummer until the autumn (fall) frosts arrive.

The leaves have a cucumber flavour, and once chopped the hairiness disappears. Use them young and fresh as borage does not dry well. The pretty flowers make a delightful decoration to fruit cups, fruit compotes and salads and may be frozen in cubes or crystallized (thereby preserving their strong colour). Older and larger leaves may be boiled and served with butter or a sprinkling of caraway seed, or they can be dipped in batter and served as fritters.

To treat bruises on the body, pulp fresh leaves and bind into position to reduce the swelling and inner bleeding.


CULTIVATION When borage is happy it will self-seed all over the garden, and the seedlings will survive provided that a really severe winter does not follow. It is considered to be a hardy annual in all areas except the very coldest, and seed is sown afresh each spring. Seed can be sown in situ, or even started earlier inboxes, although it is difficult in some areas to transplant unless the seedlings are planted out when very small. Leave 45 cms (IV2 ft) between the plants so that their spreading stems do not become entangled. Borage thrives in a sunny situation and well drained light soil, and will grow in pots or window boxes. A seed or two sown in autumn (fall) in a pot indoors will provide fresh leaves throughout the winter, but need lots of light to thrive.




Carum carvi (Umbelliferae) B

Caraway perpetuates itself in the garden by self-sown seed, ensuring a filmy greenness among the herbs. The leaves are thread-like and bright green; the stems are smooth, reach 60 cms (2 ft) in height and support dainty heads of purple-white flowers in high summer. These are followed by the familiar black, ribbed seeds used to flavour confectionery, cookies, bread and liqueurs (especially Kummel).

A herb of ancient cultivation, legend endows it with the power to prevent lovers and doves from straying. It was thus a popular ingredient of love potions in medieval times and was fed to doves, pigeons and poultry to prevent them from wandering.

To harvest the seed, cut the flower head once the seed is ripe (and before it scatters) and either hang the heads up in a paper bag or folded in a clean cloth. This way the seed can fall naturally when it is fully ripe. Sieve out any pieces of stalk and store in an airtight container. One common practice is to scald the freshly collected seed with boiling water to rid it of insects which can then be dried off in the sun before storing.

CULTIVATION Seedlings do not transplant well, so sow in situ in spring or autumn (fall). Caraway thrives in all but the most humid warm regions, and does best from fall-sown seed because the germination is quicker from fresh seed. Subsequently the little plants need to be thinned so that they are about 15 cms (6 ins) apart, and may be grown in either groups or rows. But, when they are grown for their carrot-like roots it is best to do so in rows and treat them as a vegetable. They will grow in almost any well drained soil but need plenty of sun to produce seed of an acceptable flavour.



(sometimes known as onion chives) are one of the most widely grown herbs. They resemble trim tufts of grass and are thus ideal for use as a path edging for both the kitchen garden and herb garden. As they mature the leaves become circular and hollow, and reach about 30-40 cms (12-15 ins) in length. (Giant chives grow a little taller). Their precise habit makes them excellent material for cultivation in pots for yards and balconies, or in window-boxes where good drainage can be assured.

The flavour is refined and onion-like and is best before the plants flower, or in plants that are prevented from flowering. When chopped as a garnish for cheese and egg dishes, soups, salads, sandwiches and quiches, the grass-like strips are added fresh just prior to serving. Chives are rarely used in cooking as the mild flavour is extinguished.

Chinese chives or garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) form clumps in the same manner as onion chives, the only difference being that the grass-like leaves are flat. The flavour is pleasant and nearer to garlic. They grow up to 60 cms (2ft) tall with upstanding, mauve-pink flower heads all summer. Both flowers and leaves may be incorporated in salads and herb butters.

CULTIVATION Divide established clumps of bulbs every three years in the spring, and transplant clusters from the outer edges of the clumps. Alternatively, chives can he raised afresh from seed. Although they thrive in any good garden loam, they show a marked preference for slightly acid soil and need to be kept moist throughout the growing season. Choose a place where they can enjoy some shade during the day and remove the flower heads to maintain a continuous supply of flavoursome leaves. The foliage dies down in the winter, so cover a plant or two with dry leaves to encourage a few early spikes for their fresh flavour. Alternatively, pot up a clump of bulblets in the autumn (fall) to keep in a porch or on the apartment windowsill for fresh early spikes. In those regions where the summer temperature remains above 32°C (90°F) clumps can be planted out afresh in the autumn (fall) to provide a winter supply of leaves.

In the garden allow1 at least two or three plants to flower for the sheer beauty of the purple-pink bobbed heads. Float these as a garnish in soups — especially consomme — or use them to decorate the cheese board or cold collations.


Coriandrum sativum (Umbelliferae) A

The rounded beige seeds of coriander are best known as a flavouring for pickles and curries in both Europe and America. But in India and the Far East green coriander — or the fresh foliage — accounts for the distinctive curry flavours. This foliage happily is now becoming a market vegetable commodity much more widely available. In Indian cooking the seed is roasted before being ground for use.

A native of southern Europe and the Middle East, coriander used to be a popular herb in England up to Tudor times. The early settlers in America included coriander seed among the beloved items they took to the New World, as did the Spaniards in Mexico.


Today, coriander enjoys a wide popularity. However, among certain groups it still has mythical associations — the Chinese believe it to be endowed with the power of immortality and Jews include it in the bitter herbs prepared for the Feast of Passover. Today its unique flavour is being rediscovered. For the best flavour, seed should be freshly ground before use, when its slightly orange flavour lends itself to inclusion in breads, cookies and pastries.

The entire plant makes a decorative addition to the herb border — it may also be cultivated in pots quite successfully — and will reach a height of 45 cms(lV2 ft). The lower leaves are fan-like (a distinguishing feature), the upper ones filigreed and the tiny flowers in high summer are a pinkish mauve. Before the seed ripens the entire plant can be distinctly odorous, but on maturity the rich aroma develops.

Sprigs can be frozen or preserved in salt and oil; coriander does not dry successfully.

CULTIVATION Coriander grows best in a dry atmosphere — in fact it is difficult to grow in damp or humid areas, and needs a good dry summer at the very least if a reasonable crop is to be obtained. Choose a sunny place and sow seed in situ once all danger of frost has passed. Alternatively, sow into decorative containers and continue to cultivate as a container plant on an apartment balcony, sunny patio or yard. The stems are weak and the plants tend to loll about and appear top heavy, so either add a twiggy stake or give it a companion to lean against!



Anethum graveolens (Umbelliferae) A

A native of the Mediterranean countries and Russia, dill has plumes of finely cut blue green leaves and acid yellow flowers in flattish heads in mid summer. It grows to about 90 cms (3 ft) in height. However, the hollow stalks, when top heavy with flowers, can easily be knocked over by the wind, so it is advisable to try and find a sheltered spot for growing dill. Its reputation as a soothing herb is supported by the fact that both leaves and seeds contain a mild sedative, although the flavours vary considerably. Dill water was a remedy for restive infants 100 years ago and dill is still the sweet-tasting ingredient of the proprietary gripe water.

Its main use in the kitchen is as an addition to pickled cucumbers and gherkins; in America these are known as dill pickles. Dill vinegar is another popular condiment, made by macerating half a cup of dill seed in a quart of malt vinegar for three or four hours, then straining off the liquid and bottling. In central and eastern Europe chopped dill leaves are often used to garnish a dish of boiled potatoes or soured cream sauces, lending them a flavour which is nearer to parsley or anise than the sourness of the dill seed.

For the richest flavour harvest the leaves just before the plant flowers. Small sprigs wrapped in foil and sealed will keep for several weeks in the freezer. Alternatively, chop the leaves, add a little water and freeze in ice cubes.

CULTIVATION Sow seeds in a sunny spot, then thin the seedlings out so that they are about 20 cms (8 ins) apart. They resent being transplanted, and show their displeasure by bolting into flower prematurely. Sow in the spring as soon as the ground is warm, and follow with small sowings at fortnighdy intervals throughout the summer to maintain a good supply of fresh leaves. Where winters are very mild seed can be sown in the autumn (fall) to overwinter and provide a good early crop the following spring, or self-sown seedlings will overwinter. Never sow near to fennel, as the two plants tend to cross and the subsequent seed is not as flavoursome as might be expected. The filmy foliage may be cut about six weeks after sowing and the seed collected when fully ripe.

A superbly graceful and tall plant, fennel is easily recognized by its finely cut foliage which can be harvested and used fresh throughout the summer. It is far too sappy to dry. A mediterranean plant grown and used in northern Europe since Roman times, it was taken to America by the settlers for the digestive qualities of its seeds. They provide an anise-flavoured condiment which allays hunger and were used in Europe to mitigate the effects of Church-imposed fasts. More recently in American Puritan communities, seeds of fennel and dill were taken to church to nibble during long services and were known as 'meetin' seeds'.


Fennel is a traditional seasoning for fat meats like pork and, used with restraint, it makes a good accompaniment to poultry and lamb. It is delicious on herring and other oily fish, or to flavour yoghurt as a salad or vegetable dressing. Sometimes the seed is used to flavour bread.

Collect the seed heads just as they change colour and hang them up in a dry, airy, shaded place where the curved, ridged seed can fall onto paper or cloth beneath to be collected. The thick, glossy main stem reaches some 1.5 m (5 ft) in height with feathery soft, ferny foliage topped by dainty heads of yellow flowers in umbels, which bloom in midsummer. The Romans held fennel in high regard as a panacea for several ailments, and as the bestower of power and safe passage. In the Middle Ages in Europe it was sometimes stuffed into keyholes to stop the passage of evil spirits.

CULTIVATION Fennel is a tall plant suitable for the back of the herb border. Seed should be sown in the late spring. To maintain a continuous supply of fresh leaves throughout the season, sow a few seeds in succession with about a 10-day interval between sowings. It can be grown as an annual, although the established roots make good plants that overwinter easily. Divide such established roots in the autumn after the seed has been harvested.



Humulus lupulus (Cannabinaceae) P

An easily recognized twining plant, hop scrambles up hedges and posts quite naturally in both Europe and America. Known universally as the most important ingredient in the brewing of beers, it is the dangling conelike, green female flowers that are used. (The tiny male flowers are on separate plants.) Having slightly narcotic properties they are habitually used to pack herb pillows which purportedly soothe insomniacs, or, when warmed, help to relieve earache. The papery buds can be eaten, although they should be blanched first to remove the bitterness which is caused by lupulin, which is an oily substance. Hop tea is a generally soothing herbal tea or tonic, considered to aid digestion.

A splendid plant to introduce into a sunny herb garden where there is well-worked soil. The plants grow in a clockwise fashion and should be trained onto a post, trellis or wall, w'here they make an attractive screen. A bine can grow as high as 6 m (20 ft), with its flexible and fibrous stems. A lovely patio or deck plant, the broad vinelike leaves are one of the main attractions of the plant.

Lupulin is one of the most effective vegetable bitters available. Hop bitters can be made by mixing equal quantities of angelica stem and holy thistle with an equivalent weight of hop flow'ers. Many country beers included hops for their bitter flavour.

CULTIVATION Seed is obtainable from specialist seedsmen — or established plants can be divided. It takes about three years before good flowers are produced, and the bines need to be cut back to the ground each autumn (fall). It is not generally necessary to tie the plants; if good support is provided the plant will gradually wrap itself around it.


Lemon balm

Melissa officinalis (Labiatae) P

Lemon balm is a cottage garden plant which is grown for its lemon-scented leaves. It is also cultivated as one of the strewing herbs for its clean pervading fragrance.

It forms a dense round bush about 60-90 cms (2-3 ft) high, and as much across. In warmer climates it can reach 1 m (4 ft) in height. In its best forms the leaves are variegated with clear yellow; all forms dry well and are suitable for inclusion in pot pourri recipes.

In the kitchen, dried crushed leaves can be added to stuffings for poultry and meat; flower tips and young leaves can be floated in wine or fruit cups and may be used as a substitute for lemon juice in jam-making. Balm was the principal ingredient of eau des carmes, distilled by the Carmelite monks in seventeenth-century Paris as the forerunner of eau de cologne.

CULTIVATION Although slow to germinate, seed is otherwise easy to grow, and as it is so fine it hardly needs covering. A quicker method of propagation is to take cuttings in late spring and plant them out once they are established in warm districts, or in the following spring. A moist soil in a sunny spot enhances the essential oil of this plant, ridding it of the slightly musty overtones that develop during dry seasons or on light, dry soils. It is especially good, in both appearance and aroma, in the controlled conditions of containers. Cut back to soil level in the autumn (fall) to encourage young fresh growth and good fragrance.

Lemon balm is happiest in moderately warm regions, where it grows a little more lushly but it does not like great humidity and needs a cold winter to give of its best.



Levisticum officinale (Umbelliferae) P

The lovely healthy green leaves, hollow stems and sulphur yellow flowers of lovage are a lush addition to the herb garden. A vigorous handsome plant, it can reach 90-150 cms (3-5 ft) in height and responds to good cultivation. It dies down each winter.

A native of the Mediterranean it is perhaps one of the less easily recognized herbs today, but it was known in the early monastic gardens as a physic plant and was used as an antiseptic and deodorant for suppurating wounds. As a pot herb lovage's earthy, nutty flavour provides a substitute for celery in casseroles and soups and comes into its own in vegetarian cookery because, unlike celery, the chopped leaves and tubular stems retain their full flavour in cooking.

Ripe seed can be harvested just before it is about to fall by cutting the flower heads and drying them off over clean paper or cloth indoors. The aromatic oblong seeds are easily stored and may be used for flavouring bread and pastries or for sprinkling on boiled rice.

CULTIVATION Lovage is one of the few herbs tolerant to shade; it seems to adapt to both full sun or partial shade with impunity. It will reward good cultural care by lasting for several years, when the root stock becomes stout and woody and can be used as a casserole vegetable after the bitter-tasting skin has been removed.

It will grow in most places where it gets the period of dormancy which is necessary to complete the growth cycle. Sow seed in late summer once it has ripened, either in a pot or in situ, and retain only a few of the best seedlings. One or two lovage plants are sufficient for the needs of most families, but more can be grown for garden decoration. Keep the seedlings watered in both autumn (fall) and spring, and take care that the young lovage plants are not allowed to dry out.



Origanum onites (Labiatae) P

All the marjorams have a warm sweetly pungent aroma. Perhaps that of pot marjoram (O. onites) is somewhat rougher, but nevertheless it is one of the most popularly cultivated herbs, and flourishes in temperate climes. Its flowers are pink and white in high summer, and it forms good clumps of growth up to 60 cms (2 ft) in height.

The three kinds included here are the subject of some confusion, probably because until the 1940s common marjoram (0. vulgare), a red-stemmed perennial which spreads by tiny rhizomes, was called wild marjoram in American cookbooks. Today it is known as oregano. (Further confusion arises because in some countries, notably Mexico and the southern states of America, oregano is the colloquial name for totally unrelated plants with a similar flavour.)

Sweet or knotted marjoram (0. majorana) is a tender plant from north Africa which, in June, has mauve flowers almost hidden in knot-like clusters of leaves in little 'blobs' at the stem tips — hence the name knotted marjoram. It provides by far the best flavour for cooking. Except in hot climates, it is treated as a half hardy annual, producing bushy little plants about 20 cms (8 ins) high. An excellent herb to accompany meat (especially cold prepared meat) and bland vegetables like courgettes and potatoes.

All the marjorams dry well for winter use, and both flowers and leaves ought to be incorporated in potpourri.

CULTIVATION Pot or wild marjoram is simple to raise from seed sown in spring or from summer cuttings or from root division in autumn (fall). On the other hand sweet marjoram needs to be treated as a half hardy annual. All three kinds can be started by sowing indoors or in cold frames early in spring, and are ready to transfer out of doors as soon as the temperature gets up to about 7°C(45°F). In very mild zones they can be treated as hardy.

Origanum dictamnus, dittany of Crete is grown as oregano in America, often as a pot plant and usually only for decoration — although its leaves can be added to salads.




Mentha species (Labiatae) p

Numerous mint species are grown almost everywhere, some wild, some cultivated forms, and all bearing a variety of vernacular and catalogue names which leads, inevitably, to some confusion. A further complication arises because the mints themselves hybridize and can vary in appearance according to environmental factors. But by examination of the essential oils, using chromatography, the identification and relationship of the whole range of mints has been made possible. But, as with all herbs, the country names persist.

Spearmint, the classic ingredient in mint juleps, was recorded as growing in Plymouth, Mass, in the early 1600s by Elder William Brewster. It appears, also, in Josselyn's seed list but is absent from the Winthrop seed order of 1631, for the simple reason that it was available locally and did not need to be imported. Mints have only one purpose in life — to walk about the plot and propagate themselves.


The kitchen garden mints are the most widely grown. Spearmint or garden mint {Mentha spicata, formerly Mentha viridis) used in the traditional English mint sauce to accompany roast lamb, is perhaps the commonest, with narrow pointed leaves, growing anything from 30-90 cms (1-3 ft tall). If left to flower in midsummer, it grows purple spikes, held well above the leaves. Apple mint(M rot undifolia) has large, round, soft, rather downy leaves and, if left to flower, pink spikes growing up to 1 m (3 Vi ft) high. The cream, variegated form with leaves bordered and overlaid with cream and young shoots often entirely cream is M. rotundifolia variegata, and is usually called pineapple mint. It is a good decorative garden plant often retaining its attractive foliage throughout the summer. Ginger mint or scotch mint {M. gentilis) is another decorative leaved plant, especially good in its variegata form when the golden variegation of the rather pointed leaves and its military trimness, often up to 40 cms (IV2 ft) high, add greatly to the herb border. Raripila or pea mint (M. raripila rubra) with dark red stems and dark green rounded leaves with red-purple midribs, provides the most exquisite flavour.

All the foregoing are good culinary mints but the largest plant is Bowles's mint (M. x villosa) and its alopecuroides form is without doubt the connoisseurs' culinary mint. It is a vigorous plant, growing up to 1.5 m (5 ft) high, with broad leaves smeared with pale woolly down. The hairs disappear upon chopping or pounding.

Of the mints used in confectionery and the preparation of pharmaceutical products, peppermint (M.X piperita) is the most widely used. Two varieties, black and white, grow to about 1 m (3 Vi ft), the former with black-purple stems and both produce a sharp clean oil. In the kitchen peppermint can be used to flavour fruit cups, sweets and puddings and to make a tisane from the dried or fresh leaves.



The range of scent and flavour present in mints is a consequence of the barely perceptible variations in composition of the essential oils which can occur within a genus. A whole scale of scent is provided by the same oil; the minute chemical variations between one species and another are themselves affected by time of season, soil and weather — all contributing to the various overtones. Thus we can find mint described as gingery, lemony or peppery. Explore these slight variations in flavour by adding finely chopped mint just before serving to starters such as grapefruit or melon, or to citrus fruit desserts and chocolate mousse.

The smallest leaves of any of our cultivated plants belong to a mint, the Corsican mint (M. requienii). Unlike all other mints, this one seeds itself when it is well grown and provides ground cover. It is slightly peppermint scented, but is not a culinary mint.

The soft leaves of the mint are difficult to dry well — they tend to blacken and soon shatter. Try not to collect too many shoots at any one time unless the whole plant is being sacrificed. All mints can be included in pot pourri, especially the fruit-scented ones. Little sachets of dried leaves can be stored in cupboards and if rubbed occasionally will emit their aroma afresh.

CULTIVATION Mint is propagated by planting pieces of the rooted stem — known in Britain as Irishman's cuttings — about 5 cms (2 ins) deep in moist loamy soil, at almost any time during the growing season. Apple mint, sometimes called dryland mint in America, will tolerate less moist soil; they all like the sunlight. The plants need to be confined to their allotted space and this is best achieved by encircling the area with bricks or tiles, or pushing plastic strips into the ground to prevent their advance.

Container growing is possible provided regular watering can be assured — otherwise the containers need to be sunk into the ground. All mints can be grown indoors (although they tend to become scraggy) except for apple mint which sometimes makes quite a handsome plant.

A productive mint bed in the herb or kitchen garden should be remade and moved every three or four years to reduce the likelihood of mint rust disease.

Crowns of mint plants can be boxed or potted up in winter and taken to a warm greenhouse or conservatory to force succulent fresh shoots which become available within three or four weeks.



Petroselinum crispum (Umbelliferae) B

All forms of parsley are grown as annuals, although strictly speaking they are biennial plants. By removing the flower heads the productive life of the plants can be extended and the quality of the foliage flavour maintained. The most familiar ones are the nicely curled-leaved sort (called French curly-leaved parsley in America) beloved of fishmongers as a garnish. The plain-leaved kind, P. neapolitanum called Italian plain-leaved parsley in America, has a more pronouced flavour and is preferred by some cooks, especially for long slow cooking. Nibble a sprig or two of this iron- and vitamin-rich plant to discover the refreshing flavour. It ought not to be known merely as the universal garnish and ingredient of parsley sauce for it has too fine a flavour. It is an ingredient of bouquet garni, sauce verte and sauce tartare. Parsley tea is a tonic and diuretic.

Hamburg parsley, P. c. 'Tuberosum' is a variety with plain unfrizzed leaves grown for its root which is used as a winter vegetable.

CULTIVATION Originating from the regions around the Black Sea, parsley is best sown in mid to late spring as an edging in the kitchen or herb garden or even to a flower border. Germination can be unbelievably slow, about six to eight weeks is the norm, but to encourage it try soaking the seed overnight and wetting the drill with water trickled from a kettle of boiling water immediately prior to sowing. (Legend has it that parsley seed goes nine times to the devil and back before germinating.) Subsequently thin the little plants with care during showery weather, or remove alternate plants for use until they are left standing about 30 cms (1 ft) apart. In all but the most northerly parts of America parsley can be sown in early spring, or even in the autumn (fall) before the ground freezes. Remove the flower stalks as they form to keep the plant buoyant and the leaves full of flavour.

Grow some in a container and keep it in a porch or on the kitchen window-sill for a fresh supply of leaves during the winter months, as parsley does not dry successfully. Although it will freeze, it loses its pert frilliness and is no longer attractive as a garnish.



Portulaca oleracea (Portulacaceae) B

One of the plants taken as seed from England and other European countries to America by the settlers; the older leaves provided a green vegetable, the stems were pickled as a relish. A rather sprawling succulent annual with tiny yellow flowers and reddish stems which try to stand to a height of 15 cms (6 ins). For salads and sandwiches the sharp clean flavour mixes well with other leaf crops and is useful in coleslaws — the flowers scattered on top to decorate the dish.

A leaf or two held under the tongue is said to allay thirst and Culpeper recommended it as garden purslane, 'so well known that it needeth no description' and said it was a remedy for numerous ailments — all of which suggest it to be soothing and antibiotic.


CULTIVATION Sow seed in late spring when all fear of frost has passed, preferably in a sandy light soil and a sunny position. Thin seedlings out so that they are 10 cms (4 ins) apart, or try it in a window-box where good drainage can be provided. Purslane rewards quickly; leaves can be picked within six weeks of sowing.



Rosmarinus officinalis (Labiatae) P

A very popular shrub with richly resinous evergreen foliage, which needs only to be brushed by the hand to release its fragrance, rosemary is said to be for remembrance. Its wonderful powder blue flowers bloom intermittently very early in mild localities until early summer when they enshroud the entire shrub. In happy circumstances it will rise to 1.6 m (8 ft). Culpeper recommended more than a dozen uses for rosemary and said 'The Flowers and Conserve made of them, are.singular good comfort to the Heart.' Rosemary used to be burned in chambers to freshen the air; included in herbal tobacco; used in body cosmetics for its deodorant properties; included in potpourri-, and used in the treatment of many inner bodily complaints and as an external antiseptic and embrocation.

As a culinary herb its flavour is pronounced, so exercise restraint in its use. Because the leaves are spiky, remove them before serving the dish. It is at its best as a flavouring for lamb or as a marinade ingredient for strong game.

CULTIVATION Take cuttings of the twisted wood of non-flowering shoots in early summer, or layer established branches in summer. Choose a sheltered position and well drained soil in which to plant it so that it can sunbathe. Where winters are cold, grow rosemary in containers that can be taken into shelter. The thick growth tolerates clipping, so it can be controlled.


Salvia officinalis (Labiatae) P

There are several forms of the common or garden sage; all are reasonably hardy and keep their leaves in winter. In America leaves can even be harvested during the winter in the southern states, and we know from physic receipts that it was grown there for medicinal purposes in the seventeenth century.

The broad-leaved kind rarely produces its mauve flowers and is the best plant to use for its culinary purposes because the essential oil is rich. But for herb garden decoration use the purple-leaved or red sage (S. o. purpurea) and a daintier form, painted sage (S, o. tricolor), in which the young leaves are haphazardly splashed with cream, pale green and cherry pink; this is a less hardy plant. The narrow-leaved sage (5. hispanica) and the narrow-leaved golden sage (,S. icterina) are all useful substitutes — the latter the sweetest and best of all for stuffings to accompany delicate meats. The whole range of flavours and aromas can vary even further when plants are cultivated on different soils and it is worth experimenting to find a plant that provides the most acceptable flavour, devoid of bitterness. Move it about the garden or try rooted cuttings elsewhere until the best flavour is produced. Sage tea made from fresh or dried leaves and flavoured with lemon juice has been used in the past in many forms as a headache remedy. Cold sage beer or ale is said to dispel depression.

Lax bushes of Salvia officinalis grow about 40-90 cms (l'.TAft) high and as much across, and ought to be replaced every four years or so, although many serve a useful life for much longer. Harvest sprays and hang them up in bunches to dry any time during the spring and summer. Once dry there is no fear of sage leaves reabsorbing atmospheric moisture, but nevertheless, store in containers.

Sage is supposedly the herb of eternal youth and is used in stuffings, cheeses, kebabs, leek pie and with gammon. Alternately, it can be used as a dentifrice, gargle and mouthwash, and when burnt as a deodoriser for animal and cooking smells.

CULTIVATION Select a sunny corner and alkaline soil for sage is a native of the Mediterranean shores and flourishes best when it is warm. Propagation is from summer cuttings taken with a heel or by layering established branches in spring and autumn (fall). Seed is unreliable and it rarely sets in Britain because sage is reluctant to flower. Where seed is available it is a slow and challenging method of perpetuating the plants. Keep the bushy plants well pruned to encourage young shoots with a strong flavour and because sage has a strong tendency to become leggy and twiggy.

There are several Satureia species all of which have pungent flavoured small leaves and are natives of southern Europe. The two most commonly cultivated are summer savory (S. hortensis) and winter savory (S. montana) and both were known in America by 1631 when John Winthrop Jr purchased seed, because both are mentioned as 'sauory '. Both have been flavouring herbs for centuries, strong enough to mask putrefaction and useful to add to bland tasting pulses, especially broad beans.

Summer savory is an annual plant growing about 30 cms (1 ft) high at the most, with tiny narrow leaves speckled with oil glands, and spattered with dainty pale lilac flowers which bloom intermittently lending a speckled look to the entire group of plants.

Winter savory is an evergreen perennial more commonly grown and perhaps a little more rough and peppery in flavour, but not markedly so if the plant is kept well clipped to ensure a succession of young shoots. Winter savory makes neat lilac flowers about 30-40 cms (1-1 Vi ft) high and has tiny pale lilac flowers if allowed to flower. In places where the winters are mild winter savory makes a pretty little low-growing hedging plant; elsewhere it needs some winter protection during the prolonged frosts.

Use fresh leaves where possible to avoid any staleness. Sprinkle on soups or vegetables (particularly broad beans) to bring out their flavours. In fact both savories provide a good condiment with poultry, eggs or fish. Mix some with cider or wine vinegar intended for vinaigrette.


CULTIVATION Sow summer savory seed in spring in drills, and thin the little plants to about 5 cms (6 ins) apart. Propagated winter savory from cuttings taken in spring may be divided at any time and the same applies to roots. Seed can be tried, but it is annoyingly slow to germinate and does not always produce alert-looking seedlings. Both need their share of sunlight and good drainage, as do all plants that come from the Mediterranean. Winter savory can be grown in boxes or containers and can then be brought indoors for protection during the winter, or even kept indoors where the shoots need to be constantly pinched back to prevent it from becoming leggy and scrawny. It certainly needs good light during the winter when grown in this way.

At first sight the uninitiated might take sea holly for a thistle: it is a spiny plant with rather undulating leaves, each curve ending in a fearsome spine. It is nevertheless a handsome plant and offers a welcome variation among the other herb garden umbellifers.


A native of the shorelines of Europe where the large root can penetrate beyond shingle to water, it is a cultivated form that is grown in gardens. The stems burst from the upper part of the stem — the joint surrounded by spiked leaves powdered with a silver bloom — and produce hard conical flower heads, each frilled like a posy with spiny purplish bracts.

The aromatic roots used to be boiled and roasted to produce a flavour reminiscent of chestnuts, and crystallized as comfits or sweetmeats and called 'eryngo' or 'eryngo root'. Gerard gave elaborate instructions for preparing the roots and claims them to be 'exceeding good to be given to old and aged people that are consumed and withered with age, and who want natural moisture'. Today, eryngo root is added to jams, jellies, compotes, and is also candied as a sweetmeat. The young flowering shoots may be boiled and eaten like asparagus — the prickles disappear in cooking.

An indigenous American eryngo, E. aquaticum, is employed in physic as an expectorant and tonic, and not as a sweetmeat.

CULTIVATION Sea holly is easy to grow in good garden soil in a sunny position, but to provide good strong roots it is necessary to provide sharp drainage so that they are encouraged to grow in search of water. Seed is available from specialist seedsmen. Root cuttings can also be tried for propagation, or the plants can be divided carefully in the spring. Avoid all moisture around the collar of the plants. They grow least happily in very warm humid regions.



Rumex acetosa (Polygonaceae) P treated as A

The sorrel of herb gardens is a superior broad-leaved form of the wild plant native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including Britain and America. Distinguishable by the succulent leaves up to 10 cms (4 ins) in width, the upper ones with downward pointing lobes, it is known also as garden or broad-leaved sorrel and can reach 1 m (3P4 ft) high.

The main culinary attribute is the tangy flavour of the leaves, which is at its most refined just before the spikes of rusty pink flowers appear — so remove the flower buds to maintain a supply of tender leaves. It is useful for tenderizing meat: just wrap it around the steak, or add it pounded to the marinade. Alternatively, use it as a substitute for vine leaves, enfolding risotto mixtures. The French make sorrel soup from both sorts of sorrel.

CULTIVATION Raise new plants each season for the most refined flavour, sowing seed in spring in moist well- nourished soil where there is some shade during the day. Set in drills as for most salad crops; thin the little plants to about 30 cms (1 ft) apart. Prevent bolting by removing flower buds and pick the leaves frequently to maintain a supply of fresh succulent leaves.

Pinch out the flower heads to prevent flowering and seeding, or else be prepared to remove self-sown seedlings before they develop. Once sorrel establishes itself the roots plunge deeply and are difficult to eradicate. In really warm summers, or generally warm regions, sorrel leaves tend'to become bitter. A mulch around the plants will help to keep the soil cooler, but once the season cools down the leaf flavour will improve.


Myrrhis odorata (Umbelliferae) P

Another of the tall-growing umbelliferous plants that inhabit herb gardens, sweet Cicely is distinguishable by the sweet licorice-like aroma of both foliage and seed. A tall feathery plant with lacy soft-textured green leaves flecked with white, and tiny white flowers in late spring which are followed by long ribbed seeds. These talon-like seed heads become quite dramatic when ripe with glossy bronzed seeds.

A truly attractive plant which lives up to its name and reaches about 1 m (3V4 ft) in height. It is one of the first plants in the herb garden to produce new growth in the spring.

The leaves do not dry or freeze, but the seed is strongly aromatic and stores well. Chop the leaves or seeds when green for inclusion in salads or to decorate dessert mousses and ice cream. As a sweetener the leaves are useful in fruit compdtes (especially for a diabetic diet) or with acid flavours like gooseberries or rhubarb. The tasty roots serve as a vegetable, eaten either hot with a bland sauce or cold in salad dressed with vinaigrette.

CULTIVATION The long carrot-like roots love a cool moist soil, and given partial shade the plants will survive for several years. However, it is best to divide them in the autumn (fall) when the top growth dies down. Plant out any self-sown seedlings which may emerge all around the mother plants. Purchased seed should be sown in the autumn (fall).

Sweet Cicely is not suitable for growing in humid areas, because it needs a good dormant period during the winter to produce its root and lush foliage.

An American woodland plant, Osmorrhiza longistylis, known as smoother sweet Cicely, is very similar but has a very slightly larger leaf. The roots used to be nibbled by children for the anise/licorice flavour.


Tarragon/french tarr a g o n

Artemisia dracunculus (Compositae) P

The true French tarragon or estragon is a superior herb, sometimes difficult to grow and reluctant to flower in the damp climates. It seems happiest in warm areas, but is difficult to grow in conditions that are both warm and humid.

With spiky bright green leaves and an upright stature, growing 70 cms (2Vi feet) tall, tarragon produces little underground runners that creep about the garden. It is perhaps the most superior culinary herb, with a blunt flavour that adds a bite and enhances all other flavours.

Tarragon vinegar is made by steeping the fresh herb in wine vinegar for six to eight weeks, shaking the bottle occasionally. Sprigs to be used in this way ought to be picked early in the season when the essential oils are rich. A superb flavour to add to egg dishes, try to use the herb fresh as the flavour becomes stale when dried. It is better to quick-freeze tarragon to capture its wonderful flavour.

Russian tarragon (A. dracunculoides) has an inferior flavour, and is not generally recommended for culinary purposes.

CULTIVATION A plant for the sunniest driest places, tarragon is a lover of warmth and good drainage. The top growth needs to be cut back early in the autumn (fall). In colder parts it needs to be protected in some way to help it through the winter. Dry bracken or leaves or a peat mulch covered with plastic is usually sufficient, but in more extreme conditions apply the mulch after the ground has frozen solid, using dry straw or salt hay.

Try to pot up a young plant to grow indoors and keep through the winter. It will need a place where it gets whatever sunshine is available. Tarragon is not easy to keep in this way, so do not be too disheartened if it decides to go — nothing will persuade it to remain! Propagation is from root division or stem cuttings — seed offered is usually that of Russian tarragon.


Thyme is one of the most important culinary herbs, and is used for its essential oil called thymol, which is a preservative. Garden thyme vulgaris) is the main one grown for culinary purposes, although others offer variations of the true thyme aroma. Among the many decorative sorts are lemon thyme (T. x citriodorus) and caraway thyme (T. herba-barona) and one or two others, which are best used mixed with garden thyme. The nuances of flavour displayed among the thymes are not as varied as those of the mints, but the range is useful in cooking.

Garden thyme forms a cushion like mound of growth; all the other thymes forma carpet-like growth covering the ground. Where the decorative value of a 'flowing' edge is needed, do not plant T. vulgaris, but select one of the others. A little hummock of garden thyme will reach about 30 cms (1 ft) in height and its cultivars are about the same size. The carpet-forming sorts are ground hugging and are no higher than 5-8 cms (2-3 ins).

1 larvest thyme for drying before the plants flower and hang up to dry in a warm shaded place or lie the sprigs on a cloth or paper in a warm place.

Thyme has a powerful aroma and may be successfully dried or frozen. It is an ingredient of bouquet garni and always needs to be used with restraint as its overpowering strength can survive the longest cooking, and can become dominant. However, this lasting quality can be used to advantage in slowly simmered rich game dishes.

Its many uses include terrines, cooked meats and sausages, and as a preservative and flavouring in stews, vegetable broths, cream soups and stuffings. The lemony aroma of lemon thyme is a good accompaniment to fish dishes and makes an interesting addition to tea-breads and some desserts.

CULTIVATION Choose the sunniest part of the garden where the soil is well drained or even dry, and a little limy. Most plants will be either short-lived or need some protection from the cold and dampness in winter. In the drier and svarmer maritime regions where winter temperatures do not fall too low or too quickly, it is always worth trying to keep thyme. It is a good plant for troughs and containers which can be brought indoors during the winter for protection.

Propagation is from seed sown in spring, and the tiny plants put out once they are big enough to handle at about 5 cm (1 in) intervals. Otherwise, take tip cuttings in summer before flowering starts.


Fragaria vesca (Rosaceae) P

A native of light woodland and grassy banks throughout the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, the true wild strawberry provides deliciously sweet deep red fruits at midsummer — that is, if the birds can be kept away from them! In Tudor times English physicians used the wild strawberry as a cleansing tonic, and Culpeper recommends them for external use to clear blemishes and skin burns. They have been used also as a dentifrice. By 1629 the Virginian strawberry, (F. virginiana) had crossed the Atlantic to Britain and Parkinson was writing about it in his Paradisius. Its lusciousness had been discovered by early settlers at Point Comfort, Virginia.

Before that in England the wood strawberry and the long-stemmed or hautbois strawberries were cultivated to adorn tables, both as decoration and as sweetmeats. Water the wild strawberry well at flowering time to enjoy its pretty fruits in fruit salads, compotes or as decoration for cheesecakes or rich cold meats. It is regarded as a weed in many prim gardens, but it can be attractive if left to run about among paving stones and in dry walls, or to edge a path in kitchen or herb gardens.

CULTIVATION One tiny daughter plant is all that is required. Plant it in a sunny spot where the roots can be kept cool by stones of some sort. The real trick is knowing how to restrain its progeny from wandering across the garden.

Specialist seedsmen offer seed, which should be sown in pots or boxes in spring and planted out as tiny plants. But it may also be cultivated in pots or window-boxes where a cool root run can be provided. Replace the mother plant each autumn (fall) for the best results. A lovely plant for children to grow, or for invalids to enjoy planted in a window-box.