Aug. 29 is National "More Herbs Less Salt Day." To celebrate, lets look at some landscape herbs you can grow.
Even if you have a "brown thumb" you should be able to grow these hard-to-kill "Herculean Herbs." I call them Herculean Herbs for three reasons.
First, many of these herbs come from rocky slopes of Greece and the eastern Mediterranean — the same rocky slopes that tales of Hercules originated in.
Second, these herbs are strong. They can take high heat, low humidity, and plenty of bright sunlight. These herbs can take a light freeze, and often come back more vigorous from conditions that would kill other plants. These herbs do best in well-drained soils, and prefer drying out a little between waterings. This describes our Southwest growing conditions.
Finally, these herbs have been grown for centuries, by all manner of folks. Often people who were not otherwise gardeners grew these herbs to avoid spending hard-earned coin on culinary herbs. After all, why spend money when all these herbs need is some soil, some water, and a sunny spot to grow in?
Herculean Herbs are mostly low-growing shrubs or slightly woody perennials. This means they are small enough to be grown in pots on patios. They can also be grown in the yard, and fit in Southwestern landscapes exceedingly well. The list includes rosemary, germander, horehound, Dittnay of Crete, oregano, marjoram, sage, and French lavender.
Rosemary and germander are both available in several forms, prostrate or creeping, and upright or more shrubby. Creeping forms work well as groundcovers, filling in spaces on slopes, or trailing over edges of pots. Germander has small glossy green rounded leaves, while rosemary has dark blue-green needle-like leaves. Both can be used the same way in cooking.
Rosemary, germander and horehound are perhaps the toughest of the Herculean herbs. Once established, they can live on very little water, take light freezing in winter, and full sun in summer. It will take them about six months of extra water and extra care to become established in a landscape. Taper off gradually. Herbs in pots will always need extra monitoring because pots dry out much quicker than the ground.
Dittany of Crete, oregano, and marjoram are the next most Herculean. They have a closely related flavor. They are listed from sharpest flavored to least strong. Coincidentally, this list is also in order of most drought-tolerant to least. I have seen Dittany of Crete growing 15 feet above the ground in the rocky ruins of an ancient Greek temple. This makes it a great candidate for the Southwestern landscape. Oregano does better if it gets some afternoon shade in summer, while marjoram is best grown in areas that do not get over 100 degrees.
French lavender and sage are especially lovely in the landscape. They have silver-green leaves that are soft and fuzzy, plus smell great. A fun plant for kids of all ages to investigate. Both are best grown similar to oregano, with some afternoon shade in summer.
Additional Herculean herbs, once grown, include aloe vera, used medicinally for centuries, and the beautiful true bay tree. Both of these need some pampering. When small, aloes suffer frost damage below 25 degrees, and young bay trees need frost protection below 20 degrees.
Herbs taste so much better grown at home than purchased in tiny tins from the store. There is also a deep satisfaction to be gained from growing and harvesting your own foodstuffs. Do try growing some of these herbs — and use them! More flavor, less salt —priceless.
Dr. Soule has been writing articles about how to garden successfully in our area for over two decades.