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5 Unusual Herbs for Your Square Foot Garden

Rosemary, basil, thyme, sage, oregano, chives, bay, parsley, and other recognizable greens, have a place in our gardens for eternity. Perhaps this is the season to shake things up by adding something unexpected to your Square Foot Garden herb bed! There are endless unusual herbs to discover, some of our favorites are below. 

Most of the herbs listed here are perennial. So, you’ll need to be mindful of which bed you choose and plant any perennials into a SFG that isn’t disturbed (replanted) every year. In fact, perennial plants are one of the best reasons to have several beds! Almost every herb has medicinal properties and the five we’re talking about here are no exception. However, in this article we’re focusing on the culinary aspect. 

Jimenez SFG Paz Harvesting Purple BasilPurple basil (Ocimum basicilum var. purpurascens) is a cultivar of sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum). Like common basil, purple basil is an annual herb. It’s easy to grow and its glowing, purple leaves are striking in the garden. Purple basil offers beauty and substance. If you favor a bit of spice in your pesto or salads, purple basil is your herb. It’s strong clove-like flavor makes it a favorite addition to artisan vinegars and oils, plus also makes a handsome garnish. Purple basil grows 18”-24” tall. So, plant one per square foot. 



Mexican tarragon, Unusual HerbsMexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida) tastes much like French tarragon but with an additional anise flavor that it’s often used as a substitute. But that’s where the similarities end as Mexican tarragon is not a tarragon at all, but instead, is related to marigolds. Like many vegetables and herbs, it is a perennial plant in its native home, but is grown as an annual in cold winter areas. Even as a perennial, it may go dormant for the winter. Pair it with fish dishes, soups, sauces, and hot cocoa to take advantage of its sweet anise flavor. Mexican tarragon grows 2’ feet tall and wide, so plant one per square foot.  


stevia herb, Unusual HerbsStevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a tender perennial that loves nothing more than hot weather. Plant them when both day and night temperatures are above 50 degrees. Stevia leaves are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. You can steep the leaves in tea for a natural sweetener. September to October is the time to harvest the stevia leaves. When the flower buds appear and just before the flowers open, the entire plant should be harvested. If you live in a mild winter area, leave six inches at the bottom of the plant so it can regrow next year. Stevia grows 2’ feet tall and wide, so one plant per square is appropriate.  


saffron, Unusual HerbsSaffron (Crocus sativus) is a perennial purple crocus plant. It’s the most expensive spice in the world coming in at ten to twenty dollars a gram. There’s a good reason for this. For us to enjoy its sweet, floral, and earthy flavors, saffron must be harvested tediously by hand. Each flower holds three thready stigmas (the female part of the flower) and it takes 75,000 saffron flowers to create one pound of the valuable spice. You might as well be fancy and grow some yourself. These little crocuses are so short that you can plant six to twelve corms per square foot. 


Fresh,Lemongrass,On,Wooden,Texture,In,Cooking,Concept,And,HerbalLemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a tender perennial that resembles ornamental grass. It’s loved for its floral, lemony, and ginger-y flavors. Most often used in Southwest Asian cuisine, lemongrass is added to roasted meat dishes, salads, soups, oils, and teas. Most gardeners treat it as an annual, so plant one plant per square foot. In zone 9 it may die back for the winter and return the following spring. It should also be noted that lemon grass in its happy place (zones 10-11) will remain evergreen, growing to 3-5 feet tall and 2 feet wide. If this is your zone, you can control your lemongrass’ size by trimming (harvesting) leaves regularly and dividing the grass clump in half next spring after the last frost date.  


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Chris McLaughlin

Chris McLaughlin is a writer and author of nine books on gardening and small livestock. Her primary focus is on regenerative gardening and wildlife habitats. Chris’ current project, The Good Garden: How to Nurture Pollinators, Soil, Native Wildlife, and Healthy Food - All in Your Own Backyard (Island Press). Chris lives on their small family farm in Northern California's Gold Country.

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