9 Little-known Herbs
Grow these delicious culinary plants in your flower bed, container garden or windowsill.
For those who like to cook and garden, growing herbs offers abundant choices. Handy in perennial or kitchen gardens, herbs can thrive in a range of light, soil and water conditions. Try some lesser-known varieties and you might find the perfect complement to your garden (and your cooking).
FOENICULUM VULGARE ‘RUBRUM’, ZONES 7 TO 10
Fennel has a licorice taste that’s a delight in some dishes. Most varieties are green, but this fennel has gorgeous bronze foliage that moves gracefully in the breeze. It’s a tall perennial, reaching 3 to 4 feet, with yellow flower clusters that give way to delicious seeds. Fennel prefers full sun and moderate watering. Harvest seeds when they’re ripe to prevent self-sowing.
Why we love it: The leafy parts are delicious chopped fine into green or pasta salads, and especially with tomatoes. Seeds are awesome in Italian sauces and homemade sausage, and with baked vegetables like potatoes and squash.
ALLIUM TUBEROSUM, ZONES 4 TO 9
A lovely border herb, garlic chives are perennial and very hardy. They grow in sun or shade and prefer moderate watering, but tolerate drought or excessive moisture. They reach 10 to 24 inches, with clusters of white star-shaped flowers.
Why we love it: Garlic chives taste slightly stronger than ordinary chives but are not as pungent as garlic. Chop stalks into salsa or omelets or use them as a garnish on soups and noodle dishes. Sprinkle the flowers on a green salad for some zip without overwhelming it.
RUMEX SANGUINEUS VAR. SANGUINEUS, ZONES 4 TO 9
This shade-loving sorrel has vivid green leaves with red veins and stems. The perennial reaches 18 to 24 inches and appreciates a bit of extra water, although it will tolerate moderate watering conditions.
Why we love it: The lemony flavor of red-veined sorrel is wonderful in salads and casseroles or chopped into rice and served with salmon. Or make a wilted salad with equal amounts of spinach and red-veined sorrel, topped with bacon.
MELISSA OFFICINALIS ‘LIME’, ZONES 5 TO 9
Like its cousin lemon balm, lime balm is perennial, and best in a partly shady location with moderate watering. It grows to about 24 inches, with delicate small white flowers. The foliage has the fragrance and taste of mild lime.
Why we love it: Add a generous tablespoon of chopped lime balm to fruit salad or mix it into cream cheese or butter to spread on bagels or pancakes.
Dwarf winter savory
SATUREJA MONTANA ‘NANA’, ZONES 5 TO 9
Dwarf winter savory is a perennial with delicate white flowers and weeping branches. A small herb, growing 10 to 12 inches, this savory grows in sun or shade with moderate watering. Use leaves and flowers in cooking and harvest it throughout the growing season.
Why we love it: All varieties of winter savory go with lamb or beef; they’re often used in hearty stews. Savory has a strong flavor, so use a light hand and adjust the amount to your taste. Try sprinkling it over potatoes fried in a bit of olive oil or butter.
ANETHUM GRAVEOLENS ‘FERNLEAF’, ZONES 6 TO 10
In most places, dill is a self-sowing annual. It grows nicely in sun or part shade and requires moderate watering. Fernleaf dill reaches 15 to 18 inches, making it ideal for containers or small gardens. This variety doesn’t compete well with weeds, so keep the patch tidy.
Why we love it: Dill is one of the most versatile of culinary herbs. The leafy tops, sometimes called dill weed, brighten up deviled eggs and potato, green and pasta salads. A natural companion to potatoes, dill seed is especially good in potato-ham soup and scalloped potatoes. And, of course, dill is a must when making pickles.
POLYGONUM ODORATUM SYN. PERSICARIA ODORATA, ZONES 10 AND 11
This tender perennial grows very nicely as a container or windowsill herb. It prefers indirect light and moderate to high watering. Grow Vietnamese coriander as ground cover or allow it to cascade over edges of containers or garden walls. In cold climates, treat it as an annual or bring indoors for winter. Bright green with a dark marking on each leaf, Vietnamese coriander doesn’t have flowers and stays under 10 inches.
Why we love it: It’s a classic of Asian cuisine, often combined with fish sauce. Use in soup or noodle bowls or add to salads to get a full dose of its unique flavor.
THYMUS SPECIES, ZONES 4 TO 9
Most thymes are perennial, but some variegated and golden varieties are annuals. They grow well in sun and part shade, with low water requirements. They cannot abide soggy roots or root crowns, so plant them in locations that drain well. Some lesser-known varieties include the fragrant Spicy Orange; Elfin, which grows in dense clumps; and Archer’s Gold (above), with beautiful saffron foliage in winter. Upright thymes can reach 10 inches; creeping thymes range from almost flat to 2 to 3 inches high and typically spread as ground cover.
Why we love it: All varieties are edible, but some are easier than others to harvest. Add to meat, most vegetables or grains.
Hot and Spicy oregano
ORIGANUM VULGARE ‘HOT AND SPICY’, ZONES 5 TO 9
Hot and Spicy oregano is a cousin to Greek oregano. It grows to about 12 to 18 inches, with white flowers. Like most perennial oreganos, it prefers sun and low to moderate watering.
Why we love it: Similar to Greek oregano, with a little more bite but not overly hot, this variety perks up pasta sauces and pizzas. It’s also good with green beans and summer squash.