Sight, smell, taste: Mediterranean herbs can be enjoyed with all of the senses. These evergreen semi-shrubs are more than just a decorative adjunct or a flavorful pinch for meal prep. With their essential oils, resinous rosemary, lemony thyme, fragrant basil, and bitter sage have healthful effects and a strong aroma. In addition, their flowers draw in butterflies and bees.
Best bought pre-grown
Mediterranean herbs grow slowly and are therefore best purchased as young plants in pots. Since the herbs thrive in pots, containers, and boxes, an herb garden can be realized in even the smallest of spaces. To ensure that the herbs produce the most aromatic oils, they should be situated in a sunny, protected area. The idea time for harvest is in high summer. That said, the leaves of these perennial plants can be plucked even in winter. A regular cutting-back will encourage the herbs to stay compact and put out new growth.
Herb varieties and their edible flowers
Simply brushing these plants will cause their fragrance to be released and enjoyed, so placing them near a seating area is ideal. The essential oils are also thought to repel mosquitoes. The selection is large: Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) spreads in a creeping pattern and will reach a height of just over 9 inches. Less well known is an herb called winter savory (Satureja Montana), which, with its peppery aroma, is a good choice for both vegetarian and meat dishes and grows to about 14 inches. About 4 inches taller is oregano (Origanum heracleoticum), a classic component of Mediterranean cooking. In June and July, the blue flowers of garden sage (Salvia officinalis) are a veritable grazing land for bees. The large, silvery leaves of this 18-inch-tall herb are attractive throughout the year. A durable variant on the typical herb pots is sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum). The variety "African Blue" can reach almost three feet, with purple-green leaves and violet flower spikes. They – like the flowers of all herbs – are edible and very aromatic. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) can also grow to a height of about three feet and blooms from April to June in an alluring light blue. For containers, the smaller, creeping variety of rosemary is also a possibility. These plants should be overwintered in a protected spot that is not subject to frost and are therefore particularly good for growing in containers.
The soil is essential
Many of these semi-shrubs originate in the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean and tolerate blazing sun and thin soil. The nutrient mix of typical flower soil is therefore too rich for them. They'll thrive in a substrate (available from specialty shops) that's customized for Mediterranean pot herbs or citrus plants. Herbs should also only be fertilized with organic fertilizer. (GMH)