Mother Earth Living

Garden Spaces: Plant These Herbs for a Tonic Garden

By Kathleen Halloran
April/May 2011
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• Parsley (Petroselinum crispum). Italian flat-leaf or the familiar curly variety, both types are loaded with vitamins, easy to chop, and can be added to salads or tossed in a savory dish late in the cooking stage. Grow this one from a start from your neighborhood garden center rather than from seed, as it can be slow to germinate. 

• Chicory (Cichorium spp.). Bitter greens in this genus include curly endive, also described as frisée, and escarole. Both are better eaten young, or blanched to remove some of their bitterness if larger. 

• Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum). This perennial can live for a long time, so plant it in the back or someplace where it can live on beyond the season. Grow from crowns or divisions, and put a shovelful of aged manure or good compost in the planting hole. Great source of vitamin C.

• Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). Traditional spring tonic herb, rich in minerals and vitamins. Harvest young leaves and shoots to eat fresh; harvest older leaves carefully, as they have irritating hairs (hence the name) and are usually eaten steamed. Grows 2 to 4 feet tall, so plant toward the back so that you’re not likely to brush against it.

• Lettuces (Lactuca sativa). Many wonderful varieties to try in a range of colors, from deep purple and red to light green, romaines and butterheads, crisp and frilly, smooth, speckled—lettuces to suit every taste.

• Violets (Viola spp.). The annual pansies and Johnny-jump-ups, as well as both annual and perennial violets, contribute colorful, perky, edible flowers to the spring garden.

• Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Eat the leaves when still small in early spring. Common lawn varieties will do if not treated, but varieties meant for gardens are also available online. Dandelions are perennial and taprooted, so be sure to harvest the whole root when you’re done.

• Spinach (Spinacia oleracea). These popular greens are nutritious and delicious right out of the garden or lightly steamed. 

• Arugula (Eruca vesicaria), also known as rocket. Cool-season annual with green leaves harvested to add zesty, peppery flavor to salads.

• Sorrel (Rumex acetosa). Also try the more refined French sorrel (R. scutatus) and some of the attractive new sorrel varieties. This perennial plant is rich in vitamins and minerals with a tangy, fresh taste.

• Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus). Leaves and flowers are beautiful, useful, even tasty, commonly available in a range of colors and easy to grow from seed. Confusingly enough, common garden nasturtiums are not in the Nasturtium genus, which does include watercress (N. officinale). 

Kathleen Halloran is a freelance writer and editor living and gardening in beautiful Austin, Texas. 

Click here for the main article, Garden Spaces: Create a Spring Tonic Garden.

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