5 Unique and Easy-to-Grow Herbs
By Barbara Pleasant, Gardening Editor
If your green thumb feels itchy but you are short on time and space for gardening, why not try growing a few uncommon yet rewarding herbs? Here are five special herbs to grow in containers or smallish beds—all with great potential to brighten many summer days.
If you can grow basil, you can grow stevia, because both share a liking for warm summer weather. Called “sweet leaf” in its native Peru, stevia holds promise for treating chronic Lyme Disease. Research is still preliminary, with no studies yet involving people, but anyone can enjoy nutritious herbal teas sweetened with fresh, homegrown stevia.
Stevia seeds are weak germinators, so it’s best to start with purchased plants. Plant one stevia plant in a 6-inch-wide pot, or two or three in a larger planter. Pinch back the tops when the plants are about 8 inches tall to encourage branching. When making summer herb teas, add one or two crushed stevia leaves per quart to sweeten.
Any sunny spot will make a great home for vigorous catnip, or you can grow it in a container or add it to a hanging basket. This mint cousin is a favorite herb of most felines, and you can include catnip in calming teas for people as well. Surplus stems are easy to dry.
In late summer, blooming catnip plants attract a huge range of small insects, including hoverflies and other beneficial species that stop in for sips of nectar.
A potted aloe plant is always ready to give up a juicy leaf to heal minor burns like magic, and aloe soothes scrapes and rashes too. Easy to grow outdoors in summer and indoors in winter, aloes also make offsets, or pups, that can be cut away, potted up, and shared with friends. Should you have extra aloe leaves after a potting session, store them in the freezer. When you want aloe gel for a facial or foot soak, thawed leaves willingly give up their juices.
Even the smallest gardens have room for a pot of marjoram. Related to oregano but much more tender with a spicy hint of mint, chopped marjoram brings the vibrant freshness of summer to salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes. The petite plants benefit from being pinched as needed in the kitchen, and marjoram loves growing in pots.
Bushy borage is a great back-of-the-bed herb grown mostly for its edible blue flowers, which are also beloved by bumblebees. A source for essential fatty acids and vitamins A and C, borage is one of the few herbs that can be grown from seeds sown directly in the garden. Young borage leaves are edible, with faint cucumber flavor; but because of their hairy texture, they are best prepared puréed in a pesto or salad dressing.
[Pic of Pleasant]
Award-winning garden writer Barbara Pleasant loves growing herbs in her organic garden in Floyd, VA. Her newest book is Homegrown Pantry: A Gardener’s Guide to Selecting the Best Varieties & Planting the Perfect Amounts for What You Want to Eat Year-Round.