Herbal Eye Candy

Although herbs are mostly grown for practical reasons such as for culinary, medicinal and cosmetic uses, there are herbal plants with such attractive attributes that you don’t really have the heart to chow or chop them up!

Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’

The purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurescens) has been used for ages to treat colds, sores, earache, bladder infections and many other ailments. Tinctures and creams containing echinacea compounds are nowadays widely available in chemists and health shops. But it’s the hybrid ‘Cheyenne Spirit’, with its coneflowers in a multitude of cream and sunset shades, that you should plant in your sensory herb patch to please your soul.

To grow

  • It’s a deciduous perennial and is frost tolerant.
  • Plant in full sun in sandy, well-composted soil.
  • Coneflowers are at their best from midsummer to early autumn and are excellent for cutting.

Uses: Sprinkle the flower petals over summer salads and in your bath water, as echinaceas are kind to the skin. If not, just leave them alone and enjoy the flowers in the garden.

Vietnamese Coriander

Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata) is a frost-tolerant perennial that has sharply pointed leaves with interesting black markings that resemble tattoos. It has a distinctive coriander flavour but with a hot, biting, peppery aftertaste.

To grow

  • Plant in full sun, in well-drained, composted soil.
  • Being a spreading herb, it can also be grown in pots and hanging baskets mixed with other hot herbs such as chillies.
  • Keep on trimming it to prevent the older stems from becoming woody.

Uses: In cooking, it combines well with garlic, ginger and lemongrass in Oriental dishes. For looking, just enjoy the pretty leaves!

Dark Basil

Recent years have brought us many sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) cultivars with gorgeous foliage colours, and ‘Dark Opal’ is definitely the most dramatic one to plant. This summer annual has deep purple leaves and pink flowers and grows between 20 – 60cm high. It’s perfect for pot culture, or in a mixed border.

To grow

  • A position in morning sun is perfect.
  • Well-drained but moist soil is needed, so make sure to water the plants regularly.
  • Keep on harvesting leaves and replace old plants regularly to ensure a continuous harvest.

Uses: The leaves add great colour and zest to salads and vegetables

Aromatic Artemisia

Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) has very soft-textured and aromatic grey-green leaves that romantically reflect silver in the moonlight. This is a perfect plant to use as a protective low hedge around veggies, as the whole plant deters insects and because it loves to be pruned very regularly. Another interesting trait is that the roots and leaves contain a natural yellow plant dye for textiles.

To grow

  • Plant in well-composted soil.
  • Plant in full sun.
  • Water twice a week.

Uses: Southernwood stems used to be sewn into the hems of the robes of priests, barons and judges to protect the precious velvet and embroidered silks from insect damage. Sprinkle southernwood leaves and talc powder behind books, cupboards and under shelving paper to deter fishmoths. The silvery stems and soft leaves add a special touch to bouquets and tussie-mussies.

Bronze Fennel

Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Rubrum’ or ‘Purpureum’) is a stunning dark maroon, almost black, variety of ordinary fennel. The dark feathery leaves are particularly decorative in a mixed border and can reach a height of 1m. Large umbels of yellow flowers that last well in a vase are another reason to plant it.

To grow

  • Plant in full sun and well-drained, compost-rich soil.
  • Water twice a week.
  • Fennel is a perennial that will die down in cold areas but will soon sprout anew after winter.

Uses: Fennel has a pleasant, anise taste and is widely used in fish, pasta, cheese and poultry dishes. Flowers and leaves are also steeped in boiling water and used to detoxify the body, to aid digestion, or as a slimming herb.

No blues with borage

Borage would probably not win first prize in a floral beauty competition, as it has a scruffy and hairy appearance from a distance. But every single sky-blue flower on this annual herb is a thing of beauty, and extremely photogenic to boot! According to folklore, borage is said to have given ancient travellers ‘courage, joy, and gladness’ – maybe due to the fortifying wine they made from it!

To grow

  • Plant in full sun in very well composted soil.
  • It grows close to 60cm wide, so allow ample space between individual plants.
  • Harvest the fresh leaves and flowers frequently, and cut old flowering stems off to lay around, as these plants seed themselves freely.

Uses: Borage poultices are regularly used for skin ailments, and a honey-sweetened tea containing fresh leaves is good for bladder and kidney ailments. Culinary wise, it’s used for its subtle cucumber-like flavour, and great bragging rights can be earned by adding the exquisite flowers to salads and cocktails.

Globe Artichokes

Find young globe artichoke plants in pots in the herbs section of nurseries to plant in mixed borders. This large, gourmet, perennial vegetable should be used all over the garden, as it is an elegant feature plant with stunning silvery foliage, further enhanced with a very ornamental crop of edible flowers in their second and third year.

To grow

  • Globe artichokes are short-lived perennials that will have to be replaced every three years.
  • They need space to grow as the plant can in optimum conditions reach a size of up to 1,8m high and nearly as wide.
  • Plant in full sun in well-composted soil that drains very well.
  • Water regularly and deeply (especially when setting flowers), and feed in spring with a balanced fertiliser.
  • To keep them free of aphids, plant tansy and pyrethrum daisies nearby to encourage ladybirds to do pest control.

Uses: The artichoke flower is first prize as a delicacy of gourmet cooks and diners, but the effective part is the plant’s bitter leaves, which contain an anti-oxidant that protects the liver against infection and stimulates it to get rid of toxins. If some flowers are left on the plant to mature it will encourage a very bee-friendly environment.

The Gardener