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Thursday, Aug 21, 2014
South Shore News

More about herbs that bloom in the summer


Last year I had a column about herbs that bloom in the summer: roses, purple coneflowers, portulaca and purslane. Here are some more.

Pinecone ginger bears one of my favorite flowers. The pinecone cluster of bracts starts out apple green about July 4 and turns red as small flowers bloom and fall. My first bloom – the only one that year – lasted until New Year’s Eve, and I squeezed it every time I passed. The lanolin-like lotion that comes out is fragrant and soothing to hands and face, can be used with shampoo for hair, keeps insects away for a short time and has taken the pain and swelling right out of wasp stings for me.

This plant will double in size every year. It grows in wet or dry places with little care and also in light shade to full sun. It dies down to the ground in the winter but comes back in April.

A plant is a herb if it repels harmful insects or attracts butterflies or hummingbirds. So such butterfly lures as pentas, butterfly bush, milkweed, and passion flowers are herbs that grow and bloom year round here in Florida.

Lantana is a herb that grows wild in much of Florida, but dwarf or specific varieties of the plant are sold in most nurseries. It’s used for fragrance, some medicines and is one of the best butterfly plants. It’s drought resistant, prefers full sun but tolerates some shade. Pruning it back encourages new growth, a more compact plant and more flowers. It may die back in a cold winter but quickly sprouts again in late spring.

Lantana leaves feel like fine sandpaper and give off a fragrance that some call unpleasant. They can be used as a tea for tonic or stimulant for cough, colds and fever and also make a good poultice for sores. But be aware that they can cause skin irritation in some people.

Hibiscus is a beautiful landscaping shrub with flowers in many colors. It needs full sun but doesn’t mind poor soil, though it thrives with fertilizer and moist, well-drained soil. If leaves are killed in a freezing winter, prune it near to the ground, mulch it well and it usually sprouts out again.

The flowers are edible and are used in herbal teas in combination with other herbs. The petals can be added to salads, and the whole flower makes quite a conversation piece if you use it to hold something like chicken or potato salad.

I use the leaves of the cranberry hibiscus in salads through all the warm months. They have a mild, almost bland taste, but they add definite eye appeal and additional medicinal and nutritional properties. It is said to have antioxidant properties, which can help in preventing cholesterol problems, liver disorders and high blood pressure.

Today’s pick: Chives are great in the garden and the kitchen. I used to grow the regular one, Allium schoenoparsum, among my rose bushes to repel insects. It stays low and has lovely clover-like blooms of lavender in the spring.

It wasn’t until I came to Florida that I discovered garlic chive, A. tuberosum, with wider flat leaves that grow to about 18 inches and pretty rose-scented white flowers in two-inch flat clusters that bloom on two-foot stems. These have proven much longer-lived and more reliable in Florida for me. The flowers are nice enough for bouquets and there is much more production of foliage. I’ve had the same plants for a dozen years through cold, heat, rain and drought. The shorter chives only lived for a year at the most for me.

Both can be started from seeds or divisions but it’s easiest to just buy a nice plant and let it spread. Chives do well in full sun to partial shade and respond to enriched soil but tolerate a good bit of neglect. Frequent watering will keep the leaf tips from yellowing. They are members of the lily family and cousins of the onion but much milder.

Now’s the time... to tell you that egg shells are very valuable but take forever to decompose in the compost pile. So I put them back in the carton as I use them and store them in the refrigerator until all the eggs are used. Then I put them on a shelf in our garage room for a while to dry out thoroughly. Whenever I have snail or slug problems, I crush them up in my gloved hands and spread them around on the soil. They hurt the snails and thus keep them away. I remembered to warn my daughter Mary, who visited recently from Iowa, lest she be shocked when she opened the egg carton. Turns out she does the same thing. Great minds...

Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at monicabrandies@yahoo.com. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.

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