If you love to cook and fancy yourself as somewhat of a foodie, then it’s likely you grow your own herbs. While most people grow the usual suspects: parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, mint, etc., the true connoisseur should spread his or her gardening wings and try growing some unusual, exotic culinary herb plants.
If you’re interested in different cuisines, you may already have encountered the need for different herbs, so now it’s time to grow your own.
About Unusual Herbs to Grow at Home
Different herbs to try might simply be variations of astandard herb. Take mint, for instance. There are so many varieties of mint,from chocolate to pineapple to grapefruit and ginger, each with that intrinsic mint flavorbut with a twist. Or instead of growing sweetbasil, try growing beautiful purple Thai basil. Many common herbs have a relativewith a little different spin that can liven up a recipe.
You can also decide to go more exotic and grow rare herbsfor cooking that are not commonly found in the pantry. There are so manycultures on our planet, each with a unique cuisine that often features herbsthat are indigenous to that region. Growing rare herbs for use in cooking isthe perfect opportunity to try something new.
Unusual Culinary Herbs to Try
Perilla, or shiso, is a member of the herb familythat is commonly used in Japanesecuisine. The beautiful serrated leaves are available in either green or redand are used in sushi, soups, and tempura and added to rice. Red perilla has alicorice-like flavor while green has more cinnamon notes. Seeds should be sownin the spring for a harvest in about 70 days.
Epazote is a common herb used in Mexicancuisine. The uniquely flavored leaves, both minty and peppery with essenceof citrus, can be used in a myriad of ways. The leaves are steeped for a spicytea, cooked as a leafy green, or added to soups, tamales, egg dishes, chilis,etc.
Persicaria odorata, or Vietnamese coriander,is a tropical perennial with a spicy flavor perfect for stir fries and curries.Grow this frost tender herb in full sun in well-drained containers that can bebrought indoors to over winter.
Lovage (Levisticumofficinale) is a perennial herb that is hardy in USDA zones 3-8. The plantlooks similar to flatleaf parsley, but the flavor is anything like parsley; it actually tastesjust like celery and can be used in place of celery in soup recipes that callfor it. Lovage is tolerant of sun to partial shade with moist, well-drainingsoil.
French sorrel didn’t used to be considered anexotic herb plant. At one time it was very popular, but its popularity neverreally made it over the pond. It is less acidic than common sorrel, with a hintof apple and lemon essence. It can be eaten raw like spinach in salad or onsandwiches, or pureed into soup.
Mexican tarragon has the sweet, anise-liketarragon flavor that accents fish, meat or egg dishes. It is used in Día de LosMuertos festivities as an offering to the deceased, and it is also made into apopular beverage consumed throughout Latin America.
Lemongrass is another unusual herb to grow athome that is commonly used in Asia and Latin American cuisine. Lemongrass has abright, citrusy flavor without any bitterness or acidity that pairs well withfish and other dishes.
Lastly, if you live in USDA zones8-11, you can try your hand at growing your own stevia (Steviarebaudiana). Stevia’s leaves are several times sweeter than sugarcaneand are crushed into a powder that can be used as a sugar replacement. Steviashould be planted in full sun in moist, well-draining soil.
5 Exotic (SuperFood) Root Vegetables and Herbs For Containers
Turmeric is not just a food coloring spice or a medicinal herb. It’s a superfood! It’s obtained from the underground tubers or rhizomes. If finding real turmeric is a problem, growing turmeric in pots can be your option.
How to Grow
Growing turmeric is easy to moderately difficult, depending mostly on the climate. It grows best in the warm climate. Grow it from rhizome, like a ginger plant or find readily available turmeric plants in the nursery.
You’ll need a medium-sized pot, in which you can grow at least 2 plants. Use light and loamy soil, water the plants regularly to maintain the moisture level and feed them with half strength all-purpose liquid fertilizer twice a month.
To learn more read our Turmeric Growing Guide here!
One of the perks of vegetable gardening is getting acquainted with all sorts of vegetables. From the unusual-looking to the unusual-tasting, some of these veggies are downright strange. It’s easy to think this way about vegetables that are not native to your area. Take these unusual vegetables, for example. While they are weird-looking to you, they may be common to others. However, these weird and unusual vegetables will both amuse and inspire you to get creative!
1. Dipper Gourd
With gourds being such a large family of all shapes, sizes, and colors, it seems there will be no end to their surprises. And the dipper gourd isn’t even the last of it. This exotic vegetable got its name from its hard exterior, which can be cut and crafted to resemble a ladle.
2. Snake Gourd
See what I mean about the gourd family? This exotic vegetable is straight-on weird. A snake-shaped vegetable dangling from a trellis can even be mistaken for a real snake. But don’t be put off by the shape, its taste and preparation are very similar to summer squash.
3. Yardlong Beans
Beans are another complex family of interesting and varied members. Take this yardlong bean for example, which also goes by the name long bean or string bean. The length of this variety might intrigue you, but the taste is not far from bush beans.
4. Winged Beans
Now, this is one bean variety which I can really say different from the rest. The unique angled shape earned it the name four-cornered beans or four-angled beans. It’s quite an underrated vegetable because it’s nutritious and most of the plant parts are edible.
Although kohlrabi is a member of the cool season brassica vegetables, it has not achieved the same recognition as cabbage and broccoli. It’s pretty unusual with the leaf stems growing out of what looks like a root part. But it’s actually a swollen stem which tastes much like the stem of broccoli and cauliflower.
6. Black Radish
Radishes come in a wide range of colors, from white to red and even orange. But have you ever seen a black radish? The black skin and the white flesh is a striking contrast, giving a dish an interesting color and texture. This will make an intriguing change in both your vegetable garden and dishes.
7. Moringa Fruit
Moringa is making headlines for its proven health benefits. Although moringa is mostly valued for its leaves, the long slender fruit is surprisingly edible. It is used in many parts of the world as a vegetable, with the young fruits prepared much like you would green beans.
Chayote is also a gourd vegetable variety with a slightly different structure. It is a pear-shaped vegetable but lacks the numerous seeds found in its counterparts. It has a single, large and flattened pit which is edible.
9. Bitter Gourd
No need to describe its taste any further. It is plain bitter and tastes nothing like any other gourd, except perhaps for the silk gourd. You either hate it or love it and if you ask me, I think I can tolerate it. I’ve sampled it in an egg omelet and it gave the eggs a different but interesting flavor.
10. Banana Flower
Of course, there are edible flowers, but did you ever consider banana flowers? And like most of the entries here, they’re a common vegetable in the tropics which are prepared much like you would artichokes. This is one exotic vegetable to try sometime.
11. Bamboo Shoots
Although canned bamboo shoots are found in grocery stores, a lot of people still find it a weird and exotic vegetable. It doesn’t have a distinctive taste, however, it can even be considered bland. But it’s enjoyed and valued for its crisp and tender texture which is comparable to asparagus.
12. Belgian Endive
What makes Belgian endive unusual is how differently it grows from other leafy vegetables. These vegetables can be bitter but the whiter the color, the less bitter-tasting it is. It has to be specially grown underground to keep it from turning green and opening up.
13. Jicama Root Vegetable
Jicama is also called Mexican turnip but they are widely grown in tropical areas around the world. It has a starchy, flat, apple-like taste when eaten raw, and it is also good in stews or stir-fries. Growing jicama in a vegetable garden with a short growing season will not do as it requires a warm temperature to germinate.
14. Achocha Fat Babies
Achocha fat babies, also a member of the gourd group, looks like it belongs more in a Martian garden than a human one! What’s amazing and unusual about this vegetables is that it simply tastes like cucumber when eaten young and raw. But it can be used as a substitute for green peppers when used for cooking.
15. Petch Siam Eggplant
There’s nothing unusual about the humble eggplant except when the variety looks more like an unripe tomato! Like the common eggplant or aubergine, it grows best in summer and will make a great addition to your vegetable garden.
16. India Black Carrot
Like eggplant, there’s nothing unusual with our favorite carrots, until you see the India black variety. But did you know the first known cultivated carrots were originally black or a deep shade of purple? It was only later that the orange carrots were more widely cultivated. Grow carrots in your vegetable garden and try this variety for a change.
17. Winged Asparagus Pea
Winged asparagus pea is called as such because it really does taste like asparagus when cooked lightly and eaten fresh. It also resembles the winged beans with its four corners, but it doesn’t grow as tall and has fewer yields. They make a great ornamental plant with the red flowers making it ideal for edible landscaping.
18. Romanesco Broccoli
Romanesco broccoli looks nothing like the usual broccoli nor the cauliflower although it resembles the same growth with the edible head wrapped in leaves. It has an interesting pattern in the florets as if arranged in an algorithm. If you kids are not a fan of broccoli then the romanesco might be a hit with them for its nutty flavor.
19. Purple Sweet Potatoes
While sweet potatoes are getting a following from avid gardener, they’re becoming quite common in the average garden, both as a food source and as an ornamental plant. Sure you’ve seen white and yellow sweet potatoes, but have you seen purple ones? Not the skin, though, but the inner part which can be covered and hidden under a yellow, red, or white skin.
20. Wooly Bear Gourd
I know what you must be thinking. No way this is a gourd with the spine and all but it really is. No worries because they aren’t prickly but are actually tender and great for stir fries. You can grow them in your garden in the warm summer as with most of this vegetable variety.
21. Chioggia Guardsmark Beet
Although the health benefits of beet are not ordinary, beet is not exactly what you would call an exotic vegetable. Except for this amazing vegetable variety with interesting rings making it look like a marksman’s target. Grow this beet variety as an interesting addition to your vegetable garden and an amazing addition to your favorite dishes.
Check this video about unusual vegetables you may actually have in your garden:
One of the benefits of getting acquainted with unusual vegetables is knowing potential food source. This is actually a survival skill you can learn along with vegetable gardening. But on the less serious note, wasn’t this list of unusual vegetables amusing? Well, this isn’t the last of it. So watch out for more of our interesting vegetable gardening list!
Did I miss out on an exotic vegetable you’ve seen but couldn’t find a name for? Do tell about this vegetable in the comments section below.
Want more on weird gardening? Then you’re in for a surprise with these 21 exotic fruits you’ve probably never laid eyes on till now.
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California Native Herbs used for their Medicinal, savory or aromatic qualities in Gardens
An herb is any plant that may be used for pleasure, fragrance, or physic (medicine).
Many years of worldwide traditions and cultures are behind the growing of herbs.
In California, the indigenous people's lives and their culture were destroyed when the Spanish and then the settlers from other foreign lands came to California. Consequently, there are missing gaps in the information concerning herbs used by the native Californians, especially the inland areas of the outer south coast ranges of the state. Also, there is somewhat of a bias to using California herbs as they are relatively unknown compared to European herbs and are local (and not foreign, exotic objects) and, consequently, low in status, and they were utilized by a culture that was unfortunately,despised, feared, and systematically destroyed.
California herbs have a rich, history and have much to offer any student of herbs.
They can be grown with many of the European herbs.
California herbs in cooking
The fruits of Manzanitas, Arctostaphylos species the plants with the evergreen leaves, small, urn-shaped white to pink flowers, and gorgeous red bark, were used for food and drink.
The berries were eaten raw or cooked.
For a refreshing drink: scalding water was poured over a bowl of ripe berries, let sit a few minutes, crushed to a pulp, the same amount of water was added, steeped for 1 hr. strained and drank.
A story by Jeff, a white man raised by the Indians, told of an elderly native Californian, placed in jail for a minor infraction of the law.
After a short while, on white man's food, he was rapidly declining in health, In the spring he begged his jailers to let him out in the sun for a bit, They consented, and then watched as he walked through the field of wildflowers near the jail and picked and eat the tips of a wide variety of plants. There are other reports of this same phenomenon. In the spring the indigenous peoples would diet upon the fields of flowers and herbs, much the same way that people cook and eat spring greens. There is a drought of scientific names referring to this subject.
One plant that could be and was effectively used was Claytonia (Montia) perfoliata, or Miner's Lettuce, an herb whose leaves can be eaten raw in salads. This was also used by early settlers, as you can see by the name.
Another herb that is enjoyed in the early summer is California Strawberry, Fragaria californica. The tiny berries are rich, sweet, very fragrant, and rival the alpine strawberry of Europe. Walk by several plants of this strawberry and you notice the unmistakable strawberry fragrance. They make a great ground cover and birds are attracted to the berries.
The next plant comes from the most popular genus in the world. The flowers can be used for potpourri, can be eaten raw, can be made into jelly, and the fruits can be eaten raw, made into tea, or jam , etc. Can you guess?
The California native rose is a must for herb gardens.
California Wild Rose, Rosa californica, This rose grows locally. It has a single layer of pink petals, and small red fruits. It grows to about 4 ft. tall. Its resembles the ancient apothecary rose, Rosa gallica, in that they both form clumps. This habit is very pretty in an informal garden.
California Mountain Rose, Rosa woodsii var. ultramontana, is called the Fragrant Rose and is it fragrant! The rose hips are intensely fragrant, excellent for tea, and jam. This rose grows on the east side of the Sierras, does well throughout California.
This small tree, the Blue Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana), is the third most important wildlife plant in the pacific states. It produces small bluish-black berries that are very popular with the birds. Many people consider it a weed. I consider it a treasure. The large yellow flowers have sweet fragrance. Humans as well as birds like elderberries. They will make you sick if you don't cook them and they need a lot of sugar. My grandmother made excellent elderberry jelly. The berries also make good cobbler and of course elderberry wine. Yum!
Another plant that we think the native Californians carried with them from place to place locally is the Wild Golden Currant, Ribes aureum or maybe they just settled in the same areas that this plant preferred as its habitat as they are often find in their camps. This is a deciduous shrub, around 4 ft. tall, a mass of golden color in the early spring, and a mass of ruby colored jewels turning to black in the summer when they are ripe. The currants can be eaten fresh or can be dried. They are very tasty. They are a favorite of the Phainopepla, Phainopepla nitens and the California thrasher, Toxostoma redivivum and people!
A tiny, creeping, native mint that supposedly the Japanese use commercially and that contains menthol is Mentha arvensis, Tule Mint, and can be used in the same way that other mints are used, to flavor candies and sweets, calm upset stomachs, and aid digestion.
There is a native species of Nettle, Urtica dioica ssp. holosericea. You can cook the leaves (gather them with thick plastic gloves) and put in stews and soups. The chemical compound that causes the stinging is destroyed by cooking. Use small amounts at first. They are very high in vitamins. Another interesting fact, if you are into butterflies, nettles are the food plant for the Satyr Anglewing, Polygonia satyrus neomarsyas, Milbert's Tortoiseshell, Aglais milberti furcillata, Painted Lady Vanessa cardui and West Coast Lady, Vanessa annabella butterflies.
Chia, Salvia columbariae, Chia is a true sage and is a well-known herb by now. It is a pretty little annual to grow in your garden. Chia does best in dry, sunny places. The seeds are highly nutritious. The way I used them was to mix them with those red sprinkles and scatter them over the top of plain sugar cookies. They were a big hit as part of a class demonstration. But I'm sure that there are healthier ways to eat them. For instance in breads, muffins, or in trail mix.
Another well-known native herb is Yerba Buena, Satureja douglasii, San Francisco's old name, the leaves of which can be used for tea. This creeping perennial grows best in the shade under oaks. Yerba buena is also very drought tolerant,and without summer water it just goes dormant. It stays very low, only a few inches off the ground. It is excellent next to a path or amongst cobblestones in the shade.
Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium, is a popular native plant used mostly in landscaping. All parts of the plant are poisonous except for the fruit which can be cooked to make jelly or wine and make a beautiful dye. Nichol's Garden Nursery has home wine-making supplies.
The Headache Tree or California Bay or Oregon Myrtle (Umbellularia californica)-should be used with caution- leaves can be used as a substitute for bay leaves but use half the amount. Also, leaves can be used for potpourri. They have a clean fresh scent. I use them in my spaghetti sauce.
Several customers have asked me lately if I have any water plants. Cattail, Typha domingensis, is a popular choice. Practically the whole plant is edible, though it does not fit the classical image of an herb. The roots are pure starch, a good substitute for corn. In the winter, young shoots of the roots can be cooked and eaten like veggies, potatoes, or dried and ground into flour. In the spring the flowering stem tips can be eaten raw or cooked like bamboo shoots, and the pollen can be made into bread. Possible Problems: Guardia, make sure the water is not contaminated and some people get hay fever from the pollen.
I'm going to include these two as they are very important California native plants. Even though they aren't really herbs. They have beauty and utility and a California tradition, which should count for something.
“Digger” has such a contemptible meaning, meaning to dig for food (bulbs, insects, etc.) with pointed sticks, referring to the native Californians again. I think that gathering your food from the soil by digging has more dignity than buying it after someone else picked it or dug it up. This tree was so associated with them and their culture, I guess that is how it got its name, Digger Pine Pinus Sabiniana. The new name is Gray Pine (which is very confusing. ) A real interesting fact about this pine is that it is a member of the genus (Pinus) that is utilized as food (not to mention homes), and even when dead, to more animal species than any other in the Pacific states. gorgeous gray pine with very large, sweet pine nuts that taste great: i Also, the native Californians used the roots of this tree for some of their finest basketry (many examples are in museums in Europe). Gray pine can live for 250 years. You have to be on the alert to get any pine nuts as competition for them is fierce.
Holly-leaf cherry, Prunus ilicifolia is a large, shiny, bright green, evergreen shrub or small tree which is drought tolerant. It provides great erosion control. The cherries have thin pulp, but are good in cherry pies. The seeds contain cyanide, as apples and other stone fruits do. The down side is that the plants are slow growing and Black bears, Ursus americanus, love the fruits, but how many bears have you seen lately? Not to mention the prefer orchard fruits like plums when given a choice.
Fragrant California native herbs
Many of the other herbs listed are fragrant but these are some of the best!
Artemisia pycnocephala, Coastal Sagewort, This herb has silvery blue-gray leaves, a strong fragrance, and can be used in dried flower wreaths and arrangements.
Hummingbird sage, Salvia spathacea This sage is a true sage, but grows mostly in the shade of oaks. The leaves of this spreading, low-growing perennial, produce a tall spike of magenta flowers that are fragrant, and can be used in potpourri. Also, the hummingbirds love the flowers.
Butterfly Mint, Monardella species, is a small perennial and a relative of Bee Balm, Monarda species, of the Midwestern and Eastern U.S. The leaves possess an intense fragrance, and can be used in potpourri, and the bees and butterflies love the flowers.
White Evening Primrose, Oenothera caespitosa This herb has large, white, a sweet fragrance on a summer's night. Hummingbird moths love to visit the flowers at dusk.
White Sage, Salvia apiana with unusual white leaves, has been used more in recent years for native American religious ceremonies, for incense. This sage, with the intensely fragrant leaves grows two about three feet tall.
Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii This herb is native to San Diego County, and the leaves have a unique, musky fragrance. This small sage is the most popular of the native sages, being very ornamental, drought tolerant, with beautiful blue-purple flowers. On humid days you can smell the fragrance on the air from a good distance. Musk Sage makes good potpourri.
Woolly Blue Curls (Trichostema lanatum), is a dry land shrub with wonderful strange, fuzzy , purple flowers and thin fragrant leaves. Many people think this looks like rosemary. Woolly blue curls grows well in sunny, dry places, is very showy and fragrant, and the leaves and flowers can be used for potpourri. Hummingbirds use the flowers and Goldfinches eat the seeds.
Herbs used for Physic (Medical), for Household uses, dyes, soaps, baskets, insect repellents
Artemisia californica, California Sagebrush, The leaves can be used as an insect repellent, a strewing herb, and a moth repellent. California sagebrush is a 4 ft. shrub, with beige-gray leaves, and grows best in an informal herb garden or wild land garden
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, This yarrow is part of a complex group of plants from around the northern and mountainous parts of the world. This California native yarrow was useful medicinally. The boiled leaves were applied as a poultice, to people and horses (collar boils). Yarrow contains anti-inflammatory compounds, helps clot blood faster, and can be used on wounds, and used in lotions.
Yerba Mansa, Anemopsis californica, This creeping herb, grows in moist places and was called Mild or Gentle Herb. An infusion can be made from the root and used as a liniment for wounds or bruises. The leaves can be heated and applied as a poultice to relieve swellings. The leaves were boiled in water then one placed the aching part in water and soaked it.
Alum Root, Heuchera species The root of this herb was moistened and pounded, and then applied directly to sores and swellings. These small, clumping perennials live in shady spots under oaks.
Wild Ginger, Asarum caudatum is a beautiful small creeping herb, native to the redwood forest of California. It has large leaves and strange little flowers with very long spurs. The rootstock was dried or candied, though it is not used now for this purpose. Wild Ginger is pretty in shady gardens.
Stachys chamissonis, Hedge Nettle is a spreading herb in the mint family with fuzzy leaves and stems, and Purple flowers. It is not a true nettle and does not sting as true nettles do. Another name for this plant is California Betony, and it is a very pretty perennial to grow in shady, dry places or part-shady, moist places. An infusion of fresh leaves was used as a wash for sores and wounds.
Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum is an ungainly, thick-stemmed perennial. The medicinal properties more than make up for its unlovely appearance. Tea was made from the leaves to alleviate the discomfort of sore throats, colds, bronchitis, and asma. The fresh leaves, crushed were applied as a poultice on sores, and for sore limbs, and rheumatism, of man and animals. The tea is so strong it is difficult to swallow and I would rather breathe the fumes from the tea than to drink the tea.
California Lilac, Ceanothus species is an evergreen shrub with showy blue, purple or white flower clusters that grows throughout California and you can make soap lather from the fresh flowers, by rubbing them in water. Also, a tea can be made from the leaves and flowers and was used as tonic. The tea is good mixed with Yerba buena tea.
A Few of the Sources Utilized
Wild Edible Plants of the western U.S.------- Donald Kirk
Common Edible and Useful Plants of the West----Muriel Sweet
Early Uses of California Plants---Edward K. Balls
Indian Uses of Native Plants---Edith Van Allen Murphey
Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs----Rodale Press
Poisonous Plants of California ---- Thomas C. Fuller & Elizabeth McClintock