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.
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.
Although native to Eurasia, catnip is fully naturalized across North America. Part of the Mint family, it is sometimes called Catmint. What is essentially a behavior-modifying drug for felines works as a mild sedative for us. When catnip’s crushed leaves and flower buds are brewed as a tea, it has a calming effects. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) has also been used widely in salads and soups, and as a digestive aid.