While herbs are some of the most popular and widely available plants at the garden center, there is a collection of herbs that are more difficult to source. Most garden centers don’t carry them, and to purchase them, you’ll have to go through a trusted online source in most cases. Don’t blame the garden center — they only stock what they know they can easily sell, so if you really want a particular herb, it’s definitely worth asking them to carry it. In the meantime, one wonders, what are these rare herbs that you should know about?
Note: Some medicinal herbs counteract the effects of prescribed medications. Always check with your health care professional before using any herbal product.
Top 8 Rare & Medicinal Herbs
1. Ashwagandha: (Withaniasomnifera) Also known as “Indian gensing,” ashwagandha is popular with herbalists for use as both a sedative, an anti-inflammatory aid, and an aphrodisiac. It’s a woody shrub that grows up to 36” tall and wide with small chartreuse flowers, and prefers full sun and consistent water. Grow it as an annual for its roots and leaves.
2. Brahmi: (Bacopa monnieri) This herbaceous groundcover loves lots of moisture, and can even thrive in a water garden. It’s been used for centuries as an anti-anxiety, stress reliever, and pain reliever (specifically, stomach distress). It has lovely white blooms from summer to fall, grows 6” high and wide, and thrives in Hardiness Zones 8-11.
3. Epazote: (Chenopodium ambrosioides) Popular in both Mexican and Caribbean bean dishes, epazote contains properties believed to reduce gas associated with ingesting said bean dishes. No wonder it’s popular. It grows 4’ T x 3’ W, with green leaves and pale green flowers, and requiring full sun and well-drained soil. Treat this one as an annual unless you live in a very mild climate.
4. Feverfew: (Tanacetum parthenium) This 24”-36” T aromatic herb has small yellow and white flowers with a strong citrus scent. It’s been used for ages as, no surprise here, a fever and headache reducer. The medicinal parts of the plant are its flowers and leaves. Grow it in full sun to part shade and well-drained soil in Hardiness Zones 4-9.
5. Holy Basil: (Ocimum tenuiflorum) Also known as tulsi, this medicinal herb has long been revered in India as not only a sacred plant, but one that treats a wealth of ailments including colds, flu, respiratory infections, and aches and pains. With green or red leaves and pink flowers, it grows up to 18” tall in full sun and well-drained soil. Treat it as an annual.
6. Marshmallow: (Althaea officinalis) You gotta love an herb with the name of one of my favorite snack foods! With gray green leaves and small pink flowers, marshmallow (or marsh mallow) is an easy-to-grow plant used for centuries to treat inflammation and irritation. It grows up to 6’ tall in full to part sun, and in moist and well-drained soil. Hardiness Zones 3-9.
7. Mullein: (Verbascum thapsus) This rare herb is one you may have heard of, but probably never see next to the thyme and basil at the garden center. Growing to 6’ tall with yellow flowers, the leaves of this plant are thought to address lung issues, coughs, and laryngitis. It loves full sun to part sun conditions, and is not too picky about soil as long as it’s well-drained. Hardiness Zones 4-10.
8. Indian Tobacco: (Nicotiana rustica) Growing up to 5’ tall with yellow flowers, Indian tobacco has yellow flowers and flourishes in full to part sun. In smaller doses, it’s considered a stimulant, but in larger doses, the effect is opposite, acting as a nerve depressant. Use with caution! Overdosing can lead to severe depression. Annual outside of Zones 7-10.
5 Other Note-Worthy Herbs
Sorrel: If you already have sorrel in your garden, you know that it also grows in the heat, producing a very strong flavor. At the end of the warm season, cut all the foliage back (great for the compost pile) and wait for new foliage to grow. During cool months, sorrel develops a more lemony flavor and is great in salads, soups, and sauces. Sorrel is also filled many health benefits, and is said to be good for kidney health, reduce the risk of heart disease, improve eyesight and optimize the body’s immune system. Studies have even revealed that sorrel could kill certain types of cancer cells.
Parsley: Parsley tends to thrive better in the cooler temperatures. It’s high in Vitamin C, iron, and chlorophyll, and is a great food for the swallowtail butterfly larvae. Use it as a garnish or throw a handful into your smoothie or green drink. Parsley may improve blood sugar levels, and is a great source of Vitamin K, which can support your bone and heart health.
Chervil: Chervil has a licorice flavor, grows well in cooler weather, and will even set seed — so look for it to pop up again next year when the mercury dips! Chervil is a great balance for egg dishes, so if you have chickens try experimenting with it this winter. Known for it’s antioxidant effects, chervil may play a role in treating diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.
Cilantro: Wherever you pulled up basil is where you should plant cilantro. It will start to bloom as the days get warmer, but if you keep harvesting the flowers off, you can extend the harvest. Add it to your meals to get an extra boost of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E!
Chamomile: Known for it’s soothing effects, chamomile is said to help with you sleep, ease anxiety, and help upset stomachs. This herb will really thrive in the winter, and as it starts to put out flowers in early spring, you can harvest those for teas, tinctures, and bath additives. Like chervil, it can set seed to produce more chamomile plants in your herb garden.