By Peggy Riccio
I love being able to step out into the garden and snip fresh herbs whenever I need them. Yesterday, I was making ham and bean stew in the crockpot. I was inspired to add thyme so I cut off a few sprigs from the thyme growing in the front of the house. I looked around and snipped even more herbs: cutting celery, oregano, sage, and rosemary. Except for the cutting celery, these are perennial herbs that should be in everyone’s garden. They can be tucked in the ornamental bed just like any other perennial plant. In the spring, you can purchase the small plants from a nursery or you can ask a friend for a cutting or division. Once you have them in your garden, you can enjoy them year-round and nothing will bother them, not even deer.
Botanically speaking, the cutting celery is a biennial. It puts its energy into foliage the first year and then into flowering and setting seed the next year. In my Zone 7 garden, I can harvest the foliage any time so it acts like a perennial. I am sure it is because the seed drops, germinates, and produces new plants each year. I always grow it in one place, under the dappled shade of a tree and where a tiny stream runs through after it rains. This gives the celery enough moisture. The plant is smaller with thinner stems than store-bought stalk celery (it is the center plant in the bowl in the photo). The taste is like stalk celery but with a peppery, pungent bite. It can be used fresh in a salad, in sandwiches, or sautéed with onions and carrots, which is what I did for the bean stew.
Thyme is a perennial shrub with very small leaves (in upper left quadrant in the bowl). It is only about six inches tall, making it a good groundcover. Because the thin wiry stems root easily, it is a great plant to have in order to cut and root stems in the spring to place in containers with summer annuals for the “spiller” effect. Culinary thyme remains green and above ground all winter long. It can be harvested and used in the kitchen any time of the year. There are variegated forms of thyme as well as flavored thymes such as coconut, lemon, and spicy orange. Thyme prefers full sun and well-drained soil. The leaves can be used fresh or dried.
Oregano is an herbaceous perennial (in bottom part of bowl). It grows back every spring, reaches about a foot tall, flowers, and then dies back in the fall. Usually though with our mild winters, there are green leaves at the base year-round. In the early spring I cut back the dead flower stalks and remove the debris so fresh new growth can push through. Mine is in full sun and well-drained soil. Oregano is a great plant to have in the garden for the culinary use as well as the flowers. The flowers are small but attract beneficial insects and pollinators. Oregano leaves can be used fresh or dried and we use them for the bean stew, pizza, pasta sauce, poultry rub, and stuffing.
Sage is a woody shrub, about one to two feet tall. There are many types of sage but if you want to make sure you are purchasing culinary sage, look for Salvia officinalis with grey green leaves. Sage prefers full sun and well-drained soil. The leaves can be used fresh or dried for many dishes such as poultry rub, sausage, stuffing, and root vegetables. You can cut just a few leaves as you need them since they are pungent (top of the bowl).
I have the ‘Arp’ rosemary plant in full sun, on the southern side of the house in well drained soil. It grows so well I trim it back every year to keep it in proportion to the rest of the front garden. Rosemary blooms in the cool months and the purple/blue flowers are edible. The leaves are so flavorful you do not need many of them and they can be used fresh or dried. This plant is easy to propagate by stem cuttings or layering. Rosemary is versatile because the stems or branches can be used as well as the foliage and flowers. Line a platter with branches and then put a roast on top or use them as stirrers in drinks. The leaves can be used in pasta sauce, yeast breads like focaccia, roasted potatoes, poultry rub, and rosemary butter for vegetables (the cuttings are on the right side of the bowl).
This year as you add annuals and flowers to your garden beds, don’t forget to invest in perennial herbs for year round flavor.
Peggy Riccio is the owner of pegplant.com, an online resource for gardening in the Washington, DC, metro area; president of the Potomac Unit, Herb Society of America; regional director of GardenComm, a professional association of garden communicators; and is the blog administrator for the National Garden Clubs, Inc.