Extension Educator, Horticulture
Many of us grew up with two choices for seasonings–salt or pepper and sometimes the essence of whatever you were playing with. Herbs offer a much more interesting array of flavors. They also offer beauty in the garden and ease of care.
Most people are familiar with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme as culinary herbs or also as a song if you are willing to admit your age. However there are many other edible herbs.
Could there be a better name for a plant than lovage? It's also fun to see the look on your sweetie's face when you tell them you have some lovage for them. Lovage, Levisticum officinale, is a perennial herb that grows four to five feet tall. It resembles a giant celery plant with a similar but stronger flavor. The stems are hollow so they are often used as straws in tomato drinks. The leaves can also be cut for use in soups and salads. Harvest the stems and leaves anytime through the season. Lovage likes a rich moist soil and does well with some shade. It makes a nice background plant in flower or herb gardens.
Salad burnet, Poterium sanguisorba, is also a winter hardy perennial herb. The small leaves appear to be cut out by pinking shears. Salad burnet grows to about 12 inches tall with a mounding habit. The flowers are not terribly showy but interesting as rounded, pinkish heads borne above the leaves.
The leaves taste and smell of cucumbers without the repeating effects of cucumbers. The young salad burnet leaves can be used in salads, salad dressings and sandwiches. It is very easy to grow in full sun areas of the garden.
French cuisine has made French tarragon a star in the kitchen although it is used throughout the world for its licorice flavor. French tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus, is a wonderful perennial herb used in seafood dishes. I like cutting the fresh leaves and sprinkling them on broiled fish.
Always purchase French tarragon plants or get divisions from friends. Don't use seeds. The seedling plants are a rank, tasteless plant, Russian tarragon. French tarragon is easy to grow in a sunny garden but does not tolerate overly wet soils especially in winter.
French tarragon is best-used fresh. The dried leaves are best described as hay. Tarragon vinegar can be made using fresh washed stems in apple or wine vinegar.
Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum, is a popular herb in Latin and Asian cuisines with its use in Mexican salsas as the most common usage. Once the plant forms seed it is known as the spice coriander. The most common problem is once the plant inevitably goes to seed in summer the cilantro leaves are useless. If you want the leaves, then look for seeds of varieties called 'Long Standing' and 'Santos' and sow seeds successively a week apart. Seeds can be planted again in late summer for abundant crop of cilantro in fall.
Be sure to visit the Champaign Urbana Herb Society sale Saturday, May 5 from 8:30 to 1:00 in the parking lot behind the Urbana Free Library on the corner of Elm and Race streets in Urbana. Society members will be on hand to answer your questions and help you make selections. And while you are there, wish them a happy 25th Anniversary.
Native plants are beautiful, durable additions to landscapes. Be sure to go to the Grand Prairie Friends plant sale on Saturday, May 12 from 9-3. The sale will be held inside Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana. Members will be on hand to answer questions and help you go native.