My Favorite Southern Herbs

Pam Britt discusses her favorite Southern herbs, including a list and description of herbs that will grow best in the South.

| October/November 1992

  • One of the author's favorite southern herbs is purple coneflower.
    One of the author's favorite southern herbs is purple coneflower.
    Photo By Fotolia/percent

  • One of the author's favorite southern herbs is purple coneflower.

Learn about the author's favorite Southern herbs and how they thrive in Southern climates.

Many herbs perform extremely well in our quirky Southern ­climate. Here in my corner of Zone 8 (Plymouth, North Carolina), the growing season lasts about 195 days; our last frost normally ­occurs about mid-April, and the first frost of fall comes sometime around the last of October. Wide fluctuations in winter temperature, and tremendous humidity in summer, can cause difficulties for herbs in our area. However, I’ve found the following herbs tough, tolerant, and dependable, and some are a little out of the ordinary, which can add interest to your garden. My favorite Southern herbs reach their peak of bloom late in the season when everything else has begun to fizzle out, and the appearance of those late bloomers is ­always welcome.

Vitex Herb

Sometimes called chaste tree because of the ancient reputation that eating its berries secured chastity, vitex (Vitex agnus-castus or V. negundo) is a deciduous tree that grows 10 to 15 feet high. It is fast-growing and relatively free of disease or pest problems, and because it takes well to pruning, it can be kept as a small tree or shrub. Its combination of leaf texture and fragrance are enough to make anyone fall for this tree, and it is spectacular when in bloom. Vitex is somewhat adaptable but prefers low to medium moisture, well-drained soil (especially to prevent winter injury), and full sun.

Purple Coneflower Herb

Every Southern gardener should grow purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Native Americans made more use of its medicinal qualities than we do today, but it’s a sturdy plant with bold character, and I grow it for its ornamental qualities. It is easy to care for, tolerant of heat and drought, and it grows 2 1/2 to 4 feet tall and blooms practically all season with rosy pink daisy-like flowers that are 3 to 4 inches across. Coneflowers do require some deadheading—or better still, cut the flowers and put them in arrangements—and division every three to four years. The plant does best in well drained, sandy, loamy soil and a sunny location.

Pineapple Sage Herb

The brilliant red flowers of this late-blooming sage (Salvia elegans) are a welcome sight in the fall. Pineapple sage is a shrubby perennial, relatively easy to grow although not very drought tolerant. It grows 3 to 4 feet tall, and its fruity-scented foliage actually smells like pineapple. In my area, it dies back in the winter but usually comes back. Besides its ornamental qualities, pineapple sage can be used as a garnish with desserts or in drinks and is popular as a potpourri herb.

Myrtle Herb

Sometimes called herb myrtle or sweet myrtle, Myrtus communis is an interesting evergreen shrub with a sweet, spicy fragrance. Some gardeners protect myrtle in winter, but for the past few years, our winters have been mild, and the myrtle has come through without major setbacks. It does exceptionally well in containers, so it can easily be brought in for the winter and is a good choice for topiary. The leaves are a glossy dark green and can be used in cooking or potpourri. Flowers, which appear from midsummer to fall, are white to cream with yellow stamens, and can be eaten in salads. They are followed by small black berries that can be ground and used as a spice. The plant likes full sun, and well-drained soil is important. Pruning helps promote new growth and keeps the plant healthy and bushy.



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