Common garden herbs, such as basil, oregano, marjoram, chives, parsley and sage can quickly fill not only an herb garden, but your pantry, too, if you save what grows over the summer.
But what about herbs that may not be as useful, but are still interesting to grow? There's a place in the garden for these types of herbs as well and one of my favorites is borage.
I don't eat it. Borage (Borago officinalis), is an annual plant with fuzzy leaves that are unappetizing to me. There are some who will eat them in salads and other dishes, but my primary reason for growing borage is for the blue flowers, which are edible as well. I plant rows of borage directly in my vegetable garden alongside other plants. Most of the time I will pluck off a handful of small blossoms and throw them on top of my salad, but for its culinary use, that's about it.
Borage grows easily from seed and is commonly called starflower. The flowers start out pale pink but quickly turn deep blue with black stamens. Even if this plant wasn't an herb, I would grow it just for the flowers. The flowers, contrasting with the dark green, oval-shaped leaves, makes borage a striking plant.
Those who eat the leaves say they have a slight cucumber taste. The flowers have a sweet flavor, like honey. Because of this, borage flowers, just as rose petals and violets, are sometimes sugared and used to decorate cakes and other desserts. The leaves have been found to contain small amounts of liver-toxic alkaloids, although scientists say it takes quite a lot to do any damage. Although I've grown the plant from seed for many years, I can't say I've ever tasted a borage leaf. I just can't get past the fuzzy leaves.
In some countries in Europe, primarily German and northern Italy, borage leaves and flowers are used as common vegetables in salads. Leaves are also used as a cocktail garnish and some afficionadoes have put borage leaves in their tea.
Another unusual plant I've grown and loved is wormwood. I grew this plant out of curiosity after seeing it referenced in several of Shakespeare's plays. It is also mentioned in the Bible. The plant's history describes it as a source for the illegal drug, absinthe, which is how the plant got its botanical name, Artemisia absinthium. Edgar Allen Poe is said to have had a particular fondness for absinthe, which could explain some of the more macabre themes of his work.
Although it's a cousin of the many artemisia varieties that I'm particularly fond of, including Silver King, Silver Queen and Sweet Annie, wormwood is not invasive. Rather, it grows as a small shrub with one plant per crown and does not spread throughout the garden by way of traveling underground roots. The plant's scent is camphor-like and not perfumey. It is believed to be a natural insect repellent. The flavor is bitter, which is the reason the plant's essential oils were used to wean children from breastfeeding.
The topic of wormwood also leads me to another plant I have in my garden that is an herb, although not for culinary use. This plant is rue and at one time, it had many medicinal uses. Rue grows as a small upright shrub. Not as concentric as wormworm, it grows in different directions like a head with wild hair, but the leaves are cute, like puppy feet. It is said the leaves of the rue plant were used as the design for the clubs in a deck of cards.
Rue (Ruta graveolens), is symbolically the herb of regret. Also mentioned in Shakespeare's plays and like wormwood, rue has long been believed to ward off insects, particularly fleas. It is an evergreen, and like wormwood, is a perennial that comes back every year.
In my garden, rue is strictly ornamental because I love the way the leaves contrast with the more common leaves of other garden plants. The flowers are pale yellow with long stamens that make the blossoms look as though they are dancing on the top of the plant. It is also thought to be a repellent of dogs, cats and other animals, so it might be a plant worth growing if you want to discourage animals from the garden. I have dogs and cats and I grow rue, but I can't verify this.