The fragrant mint family dominates the herb world
It is astounding that so many of our most popular and valuable herbs including what I would consider the majority of the finest culinary herbs are in the mint family.Skip to next paragraph
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They include basil, thyme, lavender, lemon balm, oregano, sweet marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory, summer savory, anise hyssop, and germander.
Some surprising members of the mint family aren't considered herbs at all: ajuga (the ground cover known as carpet bugleweed), bee balm, coleus, lamium (another ground cover), obedient plant (Physotegia virginiana), and salvia.
Although these plants are tolerant of a wide range of environmental factors, for best results grow them in full sun. The soil should be well-draining and of average fertility, with a slightly alkaline pH. Seeds of some mint family herbs may be slow to germinate, but they all grow easily from stem or root cuttings.
Lavender. The history and lore of lavender has been entwined with mankind for thousands of years. Invading Roman soldiers probably brought lavender to the British Isles. It soon became associated with soaps, laundry washing, baths, perfumes, sachets, and potpourris, thus making life cleaner and definitely more fragrant.
Lavender also is useful in the kitchen try it in vinegars, fruit, salads, and poultry dishes.
English lavender and its many varieties are most commonly grown in our American gardens. French, or saw-toothed, lavender is OK for USDA hardiness Zone 8 or so, but it's worth growing as a container plant in colder regions. Another tender lavender is the purple-flowered Spanish lavender.
Lemon balm. This herb was used by ancient Greeks and Romans and today is valued as a tea, garnish, perfume, and as a seasoning for veal and poultry. The botanical name for lemon balm is Melissa officinalis, which is appropriate for an herb that attracts bees (melissa means honeybee in Greek).
Mostly, lemon balm is grown for its refreshing fragrance. But it's also decorative in the garden. There are types with attractive variegated leaves and all kinds have white, pale yellow, or rose flowers toward the end of summer.
Lemon balm may flop over as it gets tall; pruning it regularly will encourage bushiness.
Basil. A classic herb, basil is essential in the kitchen. Gardeners of ancient Greece and Rome believed that basil would thrive only if the gardener cursed and shouted when he was sowing basil seeds which gives a whole new meaning to the advice that you talk to your plants!
Basils range in height from dwarf to more than 3 feet. Since they're frost-sensitive, basils are most often grown as annuals. They come in several leaf colors (purple is popular at the moment) and a number of growth habits. Many are attractive enough to use as ornamentals in flower beds as well as in herb gardens.
Basil seeds sprout quickly in warm, sunny locations with rich, moist soil. Pinch off basil flower buds and one or more pairs of leaves regularly, both for use in salads and pestos and to make the plants bushier. Basil and tomatoes are a particularly tasty combination.
Oregano. Many gardeners grow oregano, expecting it to smell and taste like the commercial "oregano" used to flavor pizza and spaghetti sauces. In truth, commercial "oregano" consists of a variety of plants, including oregano, sweet marjoram, pennyroyal, and spearmint. Consider oregano a flavor rather than a specific plant. The herb that smells and tastes most like the pizza or spaghetti "oregano" is sweet marjoram.
Sweet marjoram. A tender perennial throughout much of the United States, it has stronger flavor and fragrance if grown in fertile soil (unlike most herbs, which are grown in average to slightly poor soil conditions). In medieval times, marjoram's fragrance was said to revive person's spirits; therefore this herb came to symbolize both happiness and protection.
Pinch it back to encourage bushiness, then enjoy cooking with the clippings. The small leaves are a valuable seasoning to many dishes from meats to soups to stuffings.