Low Water Kitchen Herbs
Many commonly used herbs are naturally drought-tolerant due to their origin in the Mediterranean Basin. But there are others that also withstand surprisingly little water during the dry season.
- Borage thrives best in full sun but tolerates some shade with little water in rich or poor soil, ideally compost-enriched and covered with mulch. Occasional irrigation during dry spells keeps plants thriving longer.
- Flowers appear in groups dangling at tips of branchlets. Plants will re-bloom if flower clusters are removed prior to seed formation.
- Leaves and stems are used in teas, soup, and stocks; flowers are a decorative garnish.
- Bee activity occurs most often on a warm and sunny day. Borage is a critical food source that supports the native bee population in very early spring.
- Because borage re-seeds freely, it’s common to find it popping up in and around both moist and dry cultivated areas of the garden and filling bare spots.
- Chives are a hardy perennial tolerant of nearly any soil. Clumps of hollow stems grow 10-12 in. tall from small, underground bulbs.
- Plant in full sun to part shade and water occasionally when soil dries out.
- Clip off summer-blooming flower stalks to reduce seed formation and self-sowing. Flowers may be added to salads and vinegars. Chives may be used cooked or raw.
- Divide clumps in late summer to propagate for new growth. Clumps grow rapidly in rich soil and are best divided at least every 2-3 years.
- Grow this woody-stemmed shrub in pots or in the ground where you can frequently brush against foliage and release its intense and pleasing scent.
- Leaves are made into teas and can be added to foods when lemon flavor is desired.
- Lemon verbena is damaged by heavy frosts and hard freezes and needs winter protection in all but moderate microclimates.
- Little water if any irrigation is needed during dry summer months, particularly in partly shaded sites, although plants benefit from an occasional watering.
Oregano and Sweet Marjoram
- Give oregano and sweet marjoram a sunny location and well-drained soil. Variegated leaf varieties benefit from some afternoon shade.
- For best leaf flavor, do not allow oregano and sweet marjoram to flower. Pinch them back or shear about one-third of the new spring growth in early May to keep plants compact and tidy.
- If not regularly snipped for kitchen use, oregano and marjoram plants may require a light sheering multiple times over a long growing period. Oregano, especially, becomes woody with leathery leaves at the base if not kept compact. Fresh, young leaves may be added to dishes whole or dried for flakes or powder.
- Provide plants for culinary purposes with moderate water. Non-culinary oreganos have low-water requirements. All oreganos, however, withstand long, dry periods.
- All rosemary cultivars are derived from the single species Rosmarinus officinalis. Each cultivar develops slightly different floral colors and growth habits.
- Long stems from tall cultivars are often used for flavor when grilling.
- Newly planted, rosemary requires ample water to keep the root ball moist. It adapts to any soil with no need for fertilizers.
- All cultivars are drought tolerant after 1 year in the ground, especially when planted in partly shaded sites. In sun-drenched locations, plants benefit from occasional summer irrigation.
- Culinary sage, Salvia officinalis, and cultivars are drought-tolerant once established.
- Evergreen leaves can be harvested year-round and used fresh or dried.
- Growth is best in a sunny location of the garden and does well in containers.
- Sage has no serious pest problems. But, if the growing area is too damp or shady, rot may occur.
- At least twice during the growing season, cut six to eight inches from the tops of the plants. This allows renewal of vigorous growth.
- Thyme grows best and gives its deepest flavor upon harvest when grown in full sun and nutrient-poor, well-drained soil. If planting in containers, use purchased mix; allow soil to dry between waterings.
- In hot summers, give plants in the ground enough water every month or so to moisten roots.
- Trim plants after flowering to promote new, succulent growth and prevent excessive woody stems.
- As with other highly aromatic herbs, thyme does not suffer from pests, although aphids may appear if plants are overwatered.
- This woody-based, deciduous perennial shrub stays 1-2 ft. high and wide.
- Harvest individual small leaves or short branches; experiment with small amounts when added to foods since flavors can be strong in quantity.
- After leaves drop in late fall, trim away leaf-stems to maintain a pleasing shape.
- Provide occasional summer irrigation after a profusion of small, white blossoms appear that attract bees. Plants self-sow sporadically but are not a nuisance.
- Winter savory’s ornamental value as a deer-resistant plant may offer more value that its culinary uses.
- For details and requirements of specific herbs, refer to individual herb articles on this site: Food Gardening Articles