Gardening Basics

Trying Unusual Herbs

Scope out these offbeat selections for the herb garden.

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Harvesting Herbs

Herbs are among the easiest of all plants to grow. If you'd like to expand your repertoire, consider growing these oddball herbs:

Toothache plant (Spilanthes oleracea) is aptly named because when you chew the leaves, your mouth goes numb. Valued for its peppery taste, the leaves can be harvested and used in small quantities in salads. What's even more intriguing about this plant is its oddly shaped flowers that resemble miniature eyeballs. It grows 12 to 18 inches tall. Plant it in full sun to partial shade. Typically grown as an annual.

Vick's plant (Plectranthus tomentosa) smells like a cross between menthol and camphor, just like the stuff your mother used to rub on your chest when you had a cold. It has fuzzy leaves and grows to about one foot tall. Plant it in well-draining soil and full sun. Hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 11.

Curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) smells just like curry, although it's not used in cooking. (The curry used in flavoring Indian cuisine is made from a number of different herbs.) One curry plant will fill your house with its distinctive smell. This plant has soft, silver leaves and does best in full sun to partial shade. It grows 12 to 18 inches tall. Hardy in USDA Zones (8)9 to 11.

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) has leaves that are several times sweeter than sugar cane. The leaves can be dried and crushed into a powder and used in place of regular sugar; just don't overdo it. Plant size is 1 to 2 feet tall and wide. It prefers full sun and a moist, well-draining soil. Hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 11.

Rue (Ruta graveolens) offers attractive lacy, blue-green foliage and yellow flowers, but this plant can cause dermatitis. Mature size is 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. Plant it in full sun and a well-draining soil. Drought tolerant. Note: in some areas, this plant can be invasive. Hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 11.

Borage (Borago officinalis) tastes like cucumber, and eating borage is said to give you courage. It does best in full sun. Plant size reaches 2 to 3 feet tall; the flowers are blue and star-shaped. Note: This plant reseeds. Typically grown as an annual.

Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) has a flavor also reminiscent of cucumber. This petite plant reaches only eight to 10 inches tall and about as wide. Plant it in full sun and a well-draining soil. Harvest young leaves for salads. Note: in some areas, this plant can be invasive. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8.

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is a flavorful herbaceous perennial herb. To the untrained eye, lovage looks a lot like flat-leaf parsley, but the flavor is nearly identical to that of celery. It also has yellow, umbellate flowers. It grows 4 feet tall and about half as wide. Plant it in full sun to partial shade and a moist, well-draining soil. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8.

French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) adds a lemony flavor to salads. Plant size is 18 to 24 inches tall and about as wide. Grow it in full sun to partial shade. Note: Sorrel can be weedy. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9.

Gopher purge (Euphorbia lathyrus), also called mole plant, has been shown to deter both moles and gophers, but you'd probably have to plant a lot of them to make any real difference in keeping either furry pest away. It grows about 4 feet tall and does best in full sun. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 10. The milky sap can be caustic to the skin. Note: this plant reseeds.

Winter savory (Satureja montana) resembles thyme in appearance, yet it tastes like a cross between sage and rosemary. It produces small pink flowers. Winter savory grows 6 to 12 inches tall and wide. Winter savory does well in either full sun or partial shade. Hardy in USDA Zones (5)6 to 8.

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