Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Exotic Herbs for 2017 - Herb of the Week

I always encourage folks to grow at least one herb that is new to them.  Something you have not tried before, something that is a bit harder to locate and might require on-line ordering or a special inquiry at your local nursery or a trip to a plant sale or nursery out of your local area.  I think it is important to explore plants and herbs and this is a great way.  You do not have to be the one how know every herb or grows them all, but try one new something that is out of the ordinary.

Here are some suggestions:

Pineapple Mint (Mentha suaveolens 'Variegata') - this is a mint we will have available at the Garden Club of Villa Park Plant sale on May 11 & 12, 2017.  I love it as a focal point plant because it has variegated leaves that are random in nature.  Some are green and white, others white and green, still others only white or only green, sometimes all on the same stem. It smells and taste minty with a hint of sweet pineapple.  It is great tossed into a fruit salad or made into a fuit dip.  I think the best thing about it is, the plant is not always winter hardy.  It may not make it though a Midwest winter so you do not have to worry about it taking over the garden.  It has a somewhat less than upright habit which makes it very attractive in a container kind of falling out the sides.  For more info on this plant check out the previous blog post - Herb of the Week Pineapple Mint.

Variegated Lemon Balm

Variegated Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis 'Aurea') - You will have to search for this one, it is not easy to locate, but do not be afraid to ask for it at your nursery because it is is hardy and will grow in part shade it is often int he landscaping section with the catnip.  This is also a mint and like its cousin Lemon balm can grow well and spread.  You can use it anywhere typical Lemon Balm is used in cooking and tea and has all the same soothing and relaxing properties.  I love the color of the leaves more yellow and green than white and green, as it makes a great contract in an otherwise overly green herb garden.  it is also lovely planted among white items like Dusty Miller Artemesia and snowy catnips.

Lemon Grass is another great plant that is often overlooked in the Midwest.  It is an annual here (native to Zone 9,) so you must dig it up and bring it in to over-winter or do what I do and harvest it at the end of the season at ground level and hang dry it.  The grass fronds are lime green to bluish green and can get 3 to 5 feet tall in a single growing season. I like to plant them in groups of three, but the other two plants can be other grasses like a zebra grass or a red grass for contrast.  The lemon grass has a wonderful lemon scent, especially when cut.  It needs full sun and rich well-drained soil with ample moisture.  I planted mine last year in the rain garden and it soaked up the extra moisture and grew thicker more fragrant leaves as a result.  It can be used in cooking and tea.  The citrus-lemon flavor is great in broths and stir fry and the tea is light and lemony and a wonderful after-dinner tea to aid digestion. There was an Herb of the Week post on lemon grass in 2010

I've made suggestions like this in the past for exotic herbs to try, so here are a few of my past suggestions you can check out too:

Exotic herbs to try  (from 2013)

Exotic Mint Varieties (from 2016)

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