Gardens - Herb Gardening

Five uncommon, easy-care herbs

Add new flavours to your meals with these herbs that are poised to make a comeback

lemon-verbena250.jpgLemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla)
“What does this smell like?” I once asked a young garden visitor, handing over a crushed leaf of lemon verbena. “Suckers” he said without hesitation; and a second later, “yellow suckers.”

Of all the herbal lemons—lemon balm and thyme, lemon geranium, bergamot and mint—none is as sweet and citrusy as lemon verbena. A per­ennial shrub of lilac-sized proportions in its native South America, it’s a herb for one season across Canada, and an ideal container plant. Set a small nursery plant in a deep, wide pot of light soil or container mix. Place in sun, add water and a monthly dose of diluted liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion (4-1-1) or equivalent and this carefree herb should thrive.

My favourite garden tea is a blend of peppermint and lemon verbena. To dry either for winter use, pick leaves singly from their stems and lay them on a clean window screen propped up on a few books in a place with good ventilation; or toss them into a big colander set in an airy place until curled and crisp. Stored whole in a jar in a dark spot, dried leaves retain their aroma for many months.

sorrel250.jpgSorrel (Rumex acetosa)
Garden sorrel, common sorrel, green sauce, patriot’s blood, cuckoo’s sorrow: many names shows that a plant has been cultivated for a long period of time. Depending on how it’s used, sorrel is either a herb or vegetable. Tear one tart leaf into a lettuce salad for an acidic tang, or simmer handfuls for a classic soup. In the garden, sorrel grows itself. Start with a nursery plant or two, and position this hardy perennial in an out-of-the-way corner—it’s not the prettiest plant—in ordinary soil in sun or light shade. For maintenance, throw some compost its way when you think of it.

In the past, sorrel was considered a fine spring tonic, used sparingly as a cleansing herb. This is the time to cut burgeoning young leaves for salad or soup. High in oxalic acid, though, sorrel should not be eaten in great quantities over many days, but most people would find it too sour in any case—sort of like a leafy vinegar.

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