Photo by Jessica Walliser
I’m planning to try a few new herbs in my garden this year. Although old standby’s like oregano, dill, thyme and basil will always have a home, I’m hoping to get a little more adventurous in both the garden and the kitchen this year by trying these slightly out-of-the-box herbs.
A common ingredient in everything from rye bread to sauerkraut, caraway (Carum carvi) lends itself to a diversity of culinary experiences. A native of Asia and Europe, this 2-foot-tall herb is a biennial member of the carrot family. Grow it first for its enticing blooms and thread-like foliage, then let it go to seed for use in the kitchen.
Caraway is most often grown as an annual or biennial in northern regions and as a winter annual in the South. Because it typically doesn’t flower until its second year of growth, gardeners in the extreme north (zones 3 and below) may find it doesn’t always overwinter. The soft pink or white flowers it bears are small and diminutive, but gathered together like other members of the carrot family, they make a striking umbrella-shaped inflorescence (called an umbel). Caraway’s stems are hollow and the leaves are finely divided and feather-like. The leaves and flowers both have a licorice-like flavor and scent, and both can be used in the kitchen.
Caraway is a hospitable host to syrphid flies, minute pirate bugs, big-eyed bugs, lacewings, parasitic wasps and other beneficial insects.
Another annual herb in the carrot family that I plan to try this year is cumin (Cuminum cyminum). The plant looks nearly identical to a caraway plant, but the foliage and seeds smell and taste completely different. Because it’s an annual, cumin will flower and set seed the same year it is planted. It bears white umbels of small flowers that also support many pollinators and beneficial insects. Ground cumin seed is a necessary ingredient in my homemade guacamole and pasta primavera. I’m excited to give it a go in the garden.
And one last herb I’m going to try for the first time this year: chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium). Yes, this is yet another member of the carrot family, but this one is prized for its delicate and delicious foliage rather than for its seeds. A cool-season annual, chervil is easy to grow and has beautiful, soft green, ferny foliage. Its delicate flavor is mildly licorice-like. I’ve grown it in salad mixes but never as a stand alone crop. I think chervil gives its best flavor when in a fresh state; in my opinion, dried chervil tastes “muddy”.
I plan to start all three of these herbs by directly seeding them into the garden as soon as the danger of frost has passed this spring. With any luck, they’ll all eventually produce flowers and drop some seeds on their own, returning from year to year and providing me with many future harvests.