By Jen Munson, Herb Society of America, Northeast District Delegate
“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” – Charles M. Schulz
Like Charlie Brown and Lucy, Valentine’s Day and chocolate are inherently linked. We could easily debate whether it’s chocolate’s aphrodisiac qualities or plain old commercialism that links the two. But who cares. Chocolate (Theobroma cacao) is technically an herb. And, that’s a good thing.
It’s generally accepted that chocolate releases endorphins in our brains which reduce stress and pain as well as provide cardiovascular benefits. Unfortunately the beneficial qualities of chocolate come from the bitter cocoa bean. And so they need a delivery system such as added fats and sugars. That’s where the health benefits are challenged.
Wish you could have chocolate more often? Consider a chocolate-themed herb garden.
Chocolate Mint ( Mentha x piperita f. citrara ‘Chocolate’)– This easy-to-grow perennial survives in nearly all zones, most soil and light conditions. It’s a fun herb to brush against as you’ll be rewarded with a lovely scent of chocolate and peppermint. Like its relatives it can spread prolifically, so you’ll want to grow it in a container or keep it slightly unhappy by growing it in a shady area. I used in as a substitute for chocolate chips in zucchini bread and it makes a lovely tea. The other benefit: it dries easily for chocolate mint tea. The flavor holds up well.
Chocolate-Scented Pelargonium (Pelargonium tomentosum ‘Chocolate Peppermint’) – This is a perennial in zones 10-11 and a tender perennial in the northeast. Like chocolate mint it is pleasing to run your hands against and have a lovely mint scent with just a hint of chocolate. It’s a vigorous grower and much like its cousins can tolerate heat and dry soil. I find that it loses its scent when dried so this one is best used fresh. Ideas for use include lining the bottom of a pan when making quick breads or cakes or using it to infuse its scent into sugar.
If you are trying to increase the use of native plants in gardens, then Geum rivale ‘Chocolate Root’ might be for you.
Perhaps a chocolate theme is in your future garden plans. When you factor in color and scents the world of plants really opens up for you. Ideas include Chocolate Sunflower, Chocolate Viola, Chocolate Daisy, Chocolate Hollyhock, Chocolate Sweet William (‘Sooty’) and Chocolate Pincushion Flower, the darkest flowering forms of Nasturtium, Sunflower, Chocolate Orange Rudbeckia, Pincushion Flower, Snapdragon and a charming Chocolate Viola.