Archive for the ‘Herbs and spices’ Category

20140806_183145sMore minty than peppermint and spearmint, the Menthe Arvensis is an instant breath-freshener. All my friends who sampled the leaves hesitantly were amazed at how minty it really is.

The Menthe Arvensis has the trademark square stem which is characteristic of the mint family, and small, nondescript white flowers.IMG_9412s

It grows easily and spreads through its network of roots. 20140824_104622sWhile mints have a reputation for being invasive but mine is nowhere as invasive as I’d like it to be.

I thought I’d lost the Menthe Arvensis on more than one occasion but this trouper bounced back each time. I’d cover the bare stems with more soil and wait for them to spring up again. They’ve never failed me before, but I  should try to make more use of it while I can.

I’ve used it as a garnish and will probably brew some mint tea next. But, what else? Someone said she used it to flavour her chocolate mint cake. Tempting indeed. I wonder if I dare …

Care and propagation: Partial sun to full sun, humus rich soil, water generously. Propagate using runners or cuttings.



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20150531_173124sGarlic chives can go into just about anything … omelette, pancakes, fritters, soups … And what’s great about this versatile herb is that it keeps coming back so you have a constant supply. I’ve been enjoying my chives for many years now, nipping out to snip them whenever I felt like adding some to a dish.

So in my list of ‘Got-to-have herbs’, I had confidently ticked off this herb.


what I saw up in the highlands

Then on one of my trips to the highlands, I saw the broadleaf flowering Chinese chives which I was told yielded garlic chive buds popular in stir-fries. My eyes widened at the information, I had thought the chives I had produced these chive buds … no wonder mine were a poor shadow of those I find in the market.

I couldn’t ask my host for a plant as it was a recent acquisition, so I mentally added the herb to my wishlist.

20150531_173047sThen quite recently, I saw it for sale at a floral fest. There were only two pots so I grabbed one and persuaded my aunt to get the other.


regular and broadleaf juxtaposed

The broadleaf chives which have settled in next to the regular chives, put their more common cousin in the shade.

It surpasses the regular chives in terms of size with leaves about 4 times wider, and its plump buds are definitely bigger too.

What about taste?

It’s said that the leaves can be used in the same way as regular garlic chives but I’ve yet to try them. But it’s about time I did. After all, the more I harvest them, the more they’re supposed to grow.

Hopefully that means I will not have to wait too long for a plate of stir-fried homegrown garlic chive buds.


Care and propagation: Full sun; regular garden soil; water normally. Propagate by division.




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20140501_084659sWhile the Salvia Officinalis is the sage most people are familiar with, fewer have heard of Salvia Elegans, the pineapple sage.

In contrast with the grey-green of the regular sage,  the pineapple sage has attractive light-green ovate leaves, pink stalks and square stems.

The leaves have a fresh fruity taste and make what I’d like to think are ‘healthful herb’ fritters.

I’d seen pineapple sage fritters on the Internet and as soon as it was possible, a handful of sage leaves went into the batter and into the hot oil. As my niece would say, I walloped them all.20140501_130204s

But since that fritter episode, the sage has diminished in size and is just teetering in there. I’m giving it a small dose of TLC and am hoping it’ll rebound.

If it does, it wouldn’t be fritters that would top my wish-list this time; it would be the herb’s intensely red edible blooms. I wonder if those taste like pineapple too.


Care and propagation: Partial sun, well-drained soil, water moderately. Propagate using cuttings











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20130908_103111_sI’ve seen Lemon Verbena at the market and supermarket. But the herb, sold loose or bagged, was not what I was looking for. I had little need for the dried leaves; what I wanted was a potted herb.

I searched high and low but it eluded me. I scoured the internet for seeds but if anything, that turned out to be a bigger challenge.

When I finally found the lemon verbena, I was on holiday, thousands of miles from home. If it had been possible to cart one home, I would have done so.

I was transfixed. The lemon verbena shrubs were as tall as I am and were flowering to boot.

I helped myself to a sprig or two of the spent blooms. Surely there would be seeds within the calyxes? But there was none – what a letdown.

a full-grown lemon verbena in Melbourne

a full-grown lemon verbena in Melbourne

flowering lemon verbena in Ballarat

flowering lemon verbena in Ballarat

Before I left for home, I visited a friend. Lo and behold, there was a lemon verbena in her yard! Pat, bless her heart, offered to make me a cup of the herbal tea. Snip, snip, snip. She tore the leaves and stuffed them into a tea strainer. Minutes later, this contented gardener sipped a precious cup of freshly steeped lemon verbena tea.


Yet, there would be no lemon verbena plant for me – not for a long while.

I tried numerous cuttings, some of which grew and then died. I just couldn’t get it right. Other gardening friends who have tried growing this pernickety plant threw in the towel. “It’s not worth the trouble,” they said.

I may take their advice one day since there are other herbs with a more intense lemon scent. The lemon verbena is a punishing herb if your clime isn’t suitable for it.


Mine seems to be doing okay … for now. I am just hoping it can grow into a more sizable plant without dying prematurely.

Will it ever bloom? I hope it does; if only to try my hand at pollinating it although I know now that lemon verbena flowers are sterile after all.


Care and propagation: Dappled to full sun; well drained soil, water moderately. Propagate using cuttings.


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I’ve been coughing my lungs out.

After multiples doses of cough mixtures and popping lozenges and cough drops, I decided to turn to the herb garden for relief. I wonder why I never thought of the Indian borage in the first place.

As it’s always been lauded as a great herb for coughs, I steamed a few leaves with a small lump of rock sugar.  Just as well I hadn’t pruned away too much of the herb the last time I gave it a haircut.

Today, my friend, Mag told me that her family has always turned to this herb as the panacea for coughs. “My great-great grandmother would extract the juice from the leaves and drink it.”

Since it was too much bother to extract the juice, I just popped the leaves into my mouth and chewed. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be; I’d have endured much more to beat this dastardly cough. I just hope there’ll be enough leaves on the plant for a few more doses.

That’s my normal Indian Borage. I value it for its medicinal value as well as its lovely thick scented leaves which are covered with a soft fuzz.

The other Indian Borage I have has an additional feature; the leaves have an attractive white edge.

I saw the variegated Indian borage at a friend’s place and loved it.

For some reason the cuttings she gave me rotted away; perhaps due to my over enthusiasm in watering them.

Just as I was lamenting its demise, I saw a tiny leaf that was miraculously spared. I stuck that leaf, no bigger than my fingernail, into the soil. No harm trying, I thought.

I cheered the leaf on, praying that it wouldn’t end up as compost material. Amazingly the tiny spunky leaf took root and grew.

The spindly new growth is now about six inches tall and sports more than two dozen white edged leaves. While this little tyke is still dwarfed by its strapping cousin, I don’t think it’s going to remain so for long.

Care and propagation: partial shade to full sun; garden soil; water moderately. Propagate using cuttings.

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I was wondering if I had the French or the Russian tarragon. Let it be the former, I thought, since the French tarragon is said to be superior in terms of flavor.

It turned out to be neither.  It wasn’t the Artemisia Dracunculus or A. dracunculoides. It wasn’t even an Artemisia to begin with.

Mine was the Mexican or Spanish tarragon; a tagetes lucida, belonging to the marigold family. That threw me off for a while; I felt I was dealing with an imposter.






But then what’s there to mind? The tagetes lucida is a great tarragon substitute and is fuss-free. It also propagates easily and grows fast. This is one herb I can prune regularly and share with friends.

You’ll probably end up with more tarragon than you need.

If you’ve loads of it, try making a pot of refreshing tagetes lucida tea. It’s said to be calming for the stomach and the nerves.

Lately there have been clusters of small orange marigolds. And these cheerful five-petalled blooms are edible too! … just the thing to toss into a lovely fresh salad.

Care and propagation: partial shade to full sun; garden soil; water moderately; propagate using seeds or cuttings.


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A gardening friend emailed me. “We found the allspice plant. It doesn’t look the one you have. It’s different,” he said.

My heart sank right down to my toes. Had I been taken for a ride?

“What do you mean? What’s different?” I asked.

“The leaves,” came the reply.

The leaves of the allspice I had were oval while the other was elliptical.

Okay … but the scent was more critical in this case.

“Is that the only difference? What about the scent?”

“Yours has a stronger citrusy scent. The other is more subtle and smells more like cloves. ”

 “Which do you think has a better scent?” I held my breath and tried to sound nonchalant.

“Yours,” he said.

I exhaled. That was some consolation.

But was mine an allspice plant then? This started a flurry of email exchanges and internet searches.

Google Search threw up dozens of photos of the Pimenta Dioica with elliptical leaves and only a few of the oval shaped ones. But that didn’t tell us much.

By now I was more interested in something else. Was the other Pimenta Dioica worth getting? Priced at just a third of what I had paid for mine, it was a no brainer. I wanted it.

I set the wheels in motion. Friends helped and one drove her set of four wheels right to the doorstep recently to unload the elliptical Pimenta Dioica.

The two Pimenta Dioica look like totally different plants. Could they be related? I’m not in a hurry to find out, but if you do know, please drop me a line.

Whatever the case, welcome to the fold, Elliptica!

Many, many thanks to everyone who made this possible for me. ❤

For those who are keen to see the other plant, the article is here in https://typicalgardener.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/allspice-pimenta-dioica/


Care and propagation: Partial to full sun; garden soil, water moderately. Propagate using seeds (not tried to propagate this myself as yet)

elliptical and oval

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