Soule Garden: More about the herbs of cool months - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Soule Garden: More about the herbs of cool months

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Posted: Tuesday, September 22, 2009 11:00 pm

Last week I began a discussion of cool season herbs. We looked at some of the herb members of the carrot family: caraway, cilantro, coriander, dill, fennel, and parsley.

This week, we shall look at members of some of the other families, including salad burnet, a rose kin, and calendula, German chamomile, and feverfew in the daisy family. In our area it is best to treat these as annual plants. They thrive in the winter, but once the weather heats up, allow them to pass on to the compost heap in the sky.

Salad burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) is more of an herb than a vegetable, despite its name. It is an interesting herb to grow in the garden just for its looks, something like a parsley on steroids. Better yet, it's an easy to grow, tasty and versatile herb.

Only tender young leaves are used. Young burnet leaves taste like cucumber, and add an excellent flavor to salads, soups and other dishes. Tender leaves can also be used in dips, with fish, or in cucumber sandwiches. Older leaves can taste bitter. Salad burnet loses a great deal of flavor when dried. It can be diced and frozen or preserved as flavoring in herb vinegars and cheese.

While I am calling it an herb, some seed catalogs classify it as a vegetable. What ever it is, eat it in moderation. You could also grow it for the pretty flowers that will appear in spring. Flowers look rather like a rosy red crab apple blossom. All in all, salad burnet is an attractive addition to the garden.

German chamomile loves the cool weather and does better here than the hot-blooded Roman chamomile. Dried flowers are used to help soothe upset stomach and also to relieve tension headaches. Older herbals recommend using the dried, not fresh, flowers.

Feverfew got its name for its fever-reducing properties. I prefer using aspirin for that purpose, but the plant just plain looks great in the garden. Shortly after planting, the foot tall plant is covered with masses of small yellow and white daisy flowers. Delightful.

Calendula is another herb now more commonly grown for its pretty flowers. The golden orange flowers have proven antibacterial properties, but they also look and taste good in salad (in moderation). Use them fresh or dried.

Light. These herbs need six or more hours of winter sun to do well.

Soil. These herbs grow best in a well-drained, slightly acidic soil, rich in organic matter. They also grow well in containers. Use a pot 1-1/2 feet deep. Potting soil mixed with about one-fifth sand will work well.

Plant. All transplant easily, but burnet and feverfew seedlings may be hard to find. Set seed a quarter-inch deep in rows two feet apart. When seedlings are two inches high, thin. Thin feverfew and chamomile to 10 inches apart, burnet to 12, and calendula to six.

Water. Keep the soil relatively moist during establishment. Once they get larger, you can let herbs dry a little more between waterings. Some people believe this makes their flavors stronger.

Fertilizer. These herbs do not require fertilizer. If you amended your soil at the start, they should do fine. Plus, avoid fertilizing anything when frosts are a possibility. Come late February, you could apply a half strength general purpose fertilizer.

These lovely herbs look so cheerful in the garden, plus they attract winged wildlife. Butterflies, birds such as the lesser goldfinch, and bees all visit the blooms.

Jacqueline has been gardening in the Southwest since childhood. Dr. Soule has been writing articles about how to garden successfully in our area for over two decades. Look for her column in these pages every week.

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