Garden Lifestyle

Celebrate National HerbDay with a Dozen Favorite Perennial Herbs

On this last day of April, we are heading into the merry month of May and spring has finally arrived for real.

  • This thyme is already in full bloom and has been buzzing with honeybees since the tiny flowers appeared. The flowers are a delightful edible bloom, used in small amounts, floating on May Wine, in cookies or cakes, as well as pasta, pizza, and grain salads.
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • Chives, both common and garlic, are essential herbs to the garden and spring recipes. Members of the allium family, they add onion/garlic flavor to any dish.
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • Speaking of onions, these hardy, walking-stick onions do seem to walk in the garden; once you have them, you always will. They are a handsome garden plant and there are always enough to passalong to other gardeners.
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • No herb garden would be complete without sage. This somewhat pungent perennial is a member of the genus Salvia--it is handsome in the garden--and used in savory dishes round the world.
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • Rosemary is a tender perennial and cannot withstand hard, cold freezing temps. If your winters get below freezing, then it is best to grow rosemary in pots, which I have been doing for about 40 years. It is well worth it for both its fragrance and taste.
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • Lemon balm has a lovely lemony aroma and taste. A member of the mint family, it spreads easily so beware as to where you place it. I get about 4 harvests per season from my plants and am happy to have it for tea year round.
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • Sorrel is another lemon-flavored herb, however it is not sweet and mild--this herb has big flavor--it is very tart and can make your mouth pucker. It is considered a spring tonic by the French, delicious in soups, sauces and salads.
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • Horseradish needs space in the garden--it has large leaves and sends down deep roots. The pungent roots should be harvested in late fall, after a frost. After digging the root, be sure to cut off a few pieces and replant for next season.
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • Oregano is an herb that is beloved by many--tomato sauce and pizza would be lost without this savory herb. My personal favorite is Italian oregano (Origanum xmajoricum).
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • Savory is an underused herb in American cuisine. It is savory and pungent and I find a pot of beans lacking if it isn't an ingredient of the bean pot. It perks up any bean from pinto and black to pulses like lentils and especially green beans.
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • There are both annual and perennial arugulas. I love all of them and I really like the perennial one because I do not have to continually sow it every year. I've had a few plants that have been producing for over 15 years!
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • Last, though not least, I include parsley here, even though it is a biennial. When left in the garden after one growing season, it tends to send up a flower stalk the second year and sort of bolts. Essential to many recipes and full of nutrients, I sow both flat-leaved and curly parsley every year.
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger

On this last day of April, we are heading into the merry month of May and spring has finally arrived for real. Gardeners across the country are rejoicing–and I am delighted to see perennial herbs popping up here and there in kitchen gardens–these plants are fairly hardy so most of them make it through the cold of winter. We anxiously await their leafing out and we welcome them every spring, dear old friends that they are. They are here just in time for National HerbDay, which is the first Saturday in May.

Once we plant perennial herbs in our gardens, they will return every year. In fact, in warmer climates they may not even loose their leaves or become dormant in the fall and winter–they are enjoyed year round. In my zone 7 Maryland garden, I usually cut perennial herbs for their final harvest in the early fall to late fall, about six weeks before a hard freeze so that their woody stems have time to heal over. A general rule of thumb is to harvest perennial herbs by cutting them back by about one-third to one-half their size, though it does vary with each type of herb. I often take my oregano or lemon balm back to just above ground level, while I never do that to my rosemary or sage plants.

The twelve herbs pictured are well emerged in the garden now–just took the photos today in the Kitchen Garden at the Ozark Folk Center State Park–in fact I am already harvesting some to flavor spring foods in the kitchen. I have many more herbs than I am listing here, however if you are new to herbs or don’t have a lot of space for growing them, these are good ones to start with. All of them except for horseradish can be grown successfully in containers. Buy healthy plants from a reputable herb grower–and enjoy the experience of rubbing and sniffing the leaves to see which varieties appeal to you most.

For more information on growing the best cultivars for flavor, their unique growing conditions, as well as harvesting info, check out The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs by Susan Belsinger and Arthur Tucker, Timber Press 2016. Or better yet, come on down to the Ozarks next weekend and I’ll sign a book for you! Plus they have a large variety of herbs for sale at the Ozark Folk Center, which are grown from seeds saved from the Heritage Herb Garden and rooted cuttings grown in the greenhouse or hoop houses. What better way to celebrate HerbDay?

The annual Medicinal Herbal Field Trip and Medicinal Herb Workshop held at the OFC in Mountain View, Arkansas is May 4 and 5. The hike is Friday and it is sold out, however the all day seminar is still open on Saturday, May 5, National Herb Day! Check out the lineup of teachers and Cinco de Mayo lunch menu prepared by the Skillet Restaurant. ( I have been participating in this event for over 20 years–and it is always great fun and educational. It is best to reserve in advance to assure a place, though we do take walk-ins. Call 870-269-3851, and PRESS 1.

Find herb festivals in your neighborhood–celebrate National Herb Week, which is usually the week before Mothers’ Day and is kicked off on National HerbDay which is usually the first Saturday in May. Happy Gardening and Happy May!






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