Green Patch: Grow Exotic-Tasting Herbs

| October/November 2010

  • The peel of makrut lime is popular in Asian curries, but watch out: The juice is quite bitter.

Q. I want to expand my culinary herb garden with plants that will lend an exotic flavor in the kitchen. Which herbs do you recommend?

A. For herbs that excite the senses with a taste of the exotic, try lemongrass, lemon verbena, pineapple sage and makrut lime. Look for plants at select farmers’ markets, garden centers, specialty catalogs or online stores.

With the exception of lemongrass, these tropical-tasting herbs benefit from an occasional to frequent pruning of branch tips—in other words, snipping of fresh sprigs—to encourage more leaf production. Often grown as annuals, they are all marginally hardy, though they thrive in containers. You can overwinter them as potted plants indoors.

Makrut Lime (Citrus hystrix)

Native to Thailand, this small, shrubby tree bears green lime-sized, bumpy-skinned fruit. You need two genetically diverse plants for cross-pollination to ensure fruiting. Also known as Kaffir lime, although this term is best avoided because it is an Afrikaner slur.

Growing conditions: Best in full sun to light shade and moist, well-drained soil; protect from hard freezes. Zone 9.

Culinary tips: The juice is bitter, but the strongly flavored peel is sought after in many Asian dishes, especially curries. Use the intensely flavored leaves to
season broth, soups and stews as you would bay leaves, removing them before serving. Thinly slice tender leaves for use in salads, stir-fries and curries.

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