Raise your hand if you’ve gone shopping for herbs, determined to try some new varieties, but wind up coming home with the same old basil, thyme, and parsley? Don’t worry; I’ve done it, too. You arrive at the garden center, full of anticipation and excitement, and then when you see all the labels of herbs you’ve never heard of, you start to doubt yourself . “I don’t know how to use those,” you muse, “I should just stick with what I know.”
Stop right there! Remember, there was a time when you didn’t know how to grow zinnias, so don’t let a lack of information deter you. Just check out this list of new-to-you herbs and step outside your comfortable herbal box!
Lemon basil. I know, it’s still a basil, but it’s a lemon basil, and anything lemon is good in my book. If you’ve grown regular basil, the growing requirements are the same — full to part sun (depending upon where you live), regular watering, and occasional fertilizing. Plant them the same time you would your tomatoes, and be prepared for an onslaught of lemony goodness. Use it in lemonade, iced tea, cocktails, salads, and fish, egg, and cheese dishes.
Borage. I admit, I used to avoid growing borage because of the name. It sounded like a cleanser to me. But all the years spent avoiding it were such a waste of time, because this self-seeding annual herb has so many culinary and medicinal uses. And when I learned that borage was the original herb used to garnish a Pimm’s Cup cocktail, I was convinced. This plant grows up to 2’ tall and 12” wide, and prefers a sunny location. The cucumber-flavored leaves are best enjoyed fresh right after harvesting, and are delicious in salads and as drink garnishes. The blue flowers are also edible — toss them into a salad as well!
Culantro. You read that right; it’s not a typo. I didn’t mean to write “cilantro,” although this annual herb has a very similar (but stronger) taste. Best grown in the cooler spring months, culantro’s flower stalk must be cut off when it appears to allow you to continue harvesting. Plant it in a more shaded, moist spot with rich soil. Use it just as you would cilantro for an added kick in any Latin American, Asian, or Caribbean recipe.
Sorrel. This is a perennial herb that you almost need to grow if you want to eat it at all, as it must be consumed right after harvesting (probably why you won’t see it at the grocery store). The leaves have an intense tart lemon flavor that tends towards bitterness as the plant ages. Plant it in full sun to part shade after danger of frost in the spring. The small leaves are best enjoyed raw, while larger leaves require cooking. Use it in purees, sauces, oils, and incorporated into salads.
Chervil. This biennial herb has a delicate, pleasant anise flavor. It prefers cool shade with regular watering, but it’s a prolific self-seeder so be sure to remove some flowerheads to control this. Add it to salads, and in potato, egg, or fish recipes — but toss it in at the end of cooking right before you serve up to best enjoy the flavor. Also referred to as French parsley, chervil is commonly used in creating the classic Béarnaise sauce.