Florence fennel, also known as Sweet Fennel or finocchio, develops a big, swollen bulb at the base of the stems. Native to Italy, Florence fennel are often tricky to grow because they don’t always develop desirable bulbs. The plants themselves will always grow well, whether the weather’s hot or cold, but the stems seem to only thicken during slightly warm, but not hot, periods. Like wild fennel, Florence fennel tastes like licorice, but the green growth is shorter and more abundant, and the swollen bulbs are tremendous, having celery-like consistency.
Ginger is a tropical plant that looks like a stunted little corn plant. It generally will not tolerate temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Edible ginger cultivation follows more or less the same rules as container citrus cultivation in the northern areas. Ginger can even be grown in Iceland if a sunny window in a warm house is available. The ginger that one buys at the supermarket is usually fine for planting material. If the rhizomes aren’t damaged, they’ll likely sprout once placed in a pot of soil.
Cardoon, also known as Texas Celery, artichoke thistle and cardi, requires a long growing season, so starting seeds in the earliest part of spring is advised. In general, cardoon grows the largest in good, deep soil and with frequent watering. Pests are minimal, and the perennial plants are drought-tolerant, although a lack of water reduces its size. Cardoons need to have their stems blanched or they will be intolerably bitter. A month of being tied up and kept in the dark will make the stems much sweeter.
Broccoli rabe generally prefers cool conditions. The plant grows similarly to broccoli and will produce a series of new harvestable shoots, so the growers can usually harvest two or three times from the same plant. Broccoli rabe is susceptible to the same problems as other cruciferous vegetables, and cabbage worms and snails seem to cause the most trouble.
Essentially a type of cherry tomato mainly found in Italy, these sweet plants grow in clumps of up to a dozen at a time. The name “datterini” means “little dates” in Italian because of its very sweet taste and small size. The skin is thicker than regular tomatoes and they have fewer seeds, which means more flesh.
Witch hazel will thrive almost anywhere. Considered a shrub or small tree, witch hazel’s crooked branches are covered in smooth, gray bark and witch hazel’s arresting, yellow flowers appear in the fall or winter – the bloom time depends on the species you choose. The distilled extract from witch hazel’s leaves and bark has long been used as a general tonic and swelling reducer, and witch hazel is still used to treat minor skin irritations, burns, acne and more. .
With smooth, needle-like leaves ranging from gray-green to silvery-gray, there are many different lavender varieties featuring a characteristically sweet, clean scent. Lavender’s volatile oils are thought to have antiseptic properties and were often used to clean wounds and freshen the air in hospitals and sick rooms. Now lavender oils are commonly found in herbal soaps, shampoos and perfumes. A fantastic border plant, lavender naturally repels insect pests and it dries well for use in wreaths, flower arrangements, potpourris and sachets.
The people of ancient Greece originally used feverfew, a southeastern European native, to dispel fevers – hence its name. With white petals and yellow button centers, feverfew’s flowers look a bit like chamomile, but its bitter odor and yellow-green leaves confirm feverfew as another herb entirely. Feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium) is a member of the daisy family. Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, feverfew has had countless medical uses, including the treatment of migraine headaches, arthritis, digestive problems, menstrual and labor irregularities, and asthma. In the garden feverfew serves as a natural insect repellent (including bees). It is also used to make dried wreaths and flower arrangements, as well as a from-scratch, greenish-yellow dye.
What we know as chamomile is technically two different plants — German chamomile (Matricara recutita) and Roman (or English) chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) — with many similarities including gray-green, feathery leaves; tiny, daisy-like flowers; and a pleasing, apple scent. Both types of chamomile are relatives of the daisy family and have been used to aid in digestion, calm frazzled nerves, alleviate menstrual cramps and soothe some skin conditions. It’s thought that the Roman chamomile is also able to reduce some kinds of inflammation. Whether you grow German or Roman chamomile, either will make a soothing cup of tea, herbal bath or steam facial.
Offering a near-continuous run of cheerful, golden flowers, calendulas (Calendula officinalis), or pot marigolds, are a very hardy herb. This Mediterranean native is a annual from the Asteraceae family. Once used as an all-purpose tonic, calendula flowers really made the rounds in the kitchens of England and parts of Europe; the Romans even relied on calendula to treat scorpion bites. Less popular now, calendula makes a pretty addition to the herb garden and its petals can be used to create a striking yellow dye. Calendula’s dried flowers are sometimes still used in topical ointments for burns, cuts and minor skin irritations; a few handfuls of calendula petals can make for an energizing, herbal bath.