Bored of parsley and oregano? Wake up your garden and kitchen with these unique green herbs that you probably haven’t tried before: lovage, papalo, lemon basil and summer savory. Whether you grow them or grab them at the farmers market, these intense green beauties will add new flavors to your everyday cuisine.
1. Lovage: A classic English herb and hardy perennial, lovage is easy to keep and grow. It blooms with little round, yellow-green flowers during the summer season, likes wet soil, and can grow taller than a human being. With bold stature and flavor, lovage is an unusual herb for the garden and kitchen – and you’ll love experimenting with its leaves.
Lovage stems can also be eaten raw, but they’re much tastier and easier to eat once cooked. With an unsubtle flavor reminiscent of celery, this fine-leafed herb can be tossed fresh into green salads, or cooked in stews, soups and egg dishes. Try the leaves in potato salad, or mixed with butter on shellfish and other seafood. Get really creative and try eating the roots, or dry the seeds and grind them into a savory spice. Ground lovage seeds are often used in Southern European cuisine, so add them to hearty tomato dishes and with Mediterranean vegetables.
2. Papalo: With a high tolerance for hot, long summers and numerous appearances in Mexican cuisine, papalo is sometimes known as summer cilantro, or Bolivian coriander. It’s actually a wild member of the daisy family, a strong-smelling herb from south of the border. Papalo grows tall, up to five feet high, and prefers the weather to be sunny and the ground dry – perfect for hot climates. This aromatic herb has a zesty, pungent flavor; a cross between cilantro, arugula, rue and citrus. You only need a few leaves to add pizzazz to seafood dishes, grilled meats, guacamole and salsas. Try papalo anywhere you would add cilantro, but use only one-third as much.
3. Lemon Basil: Bold and citrusy, lemon basil is like the quirky, loud cousin of basil, the prom queen of the herbs. Its floral aroma and flavor is ideal for spring and summer dishes and drinks. It will smell divine growing in your garden; be sure to add organic fertilizer if you want the best flavor. You can also pick up a bunch of lemon basil at farmers markets – though you might be tempted just to keep it in a vase and smell it. But you’re better off chopping up the leaves and adding them to cocktails, mocktails and lemonade. It pairs well with curries, stir-fries and Southeast Asian cuisine. Lemon basil is also a secret ingredient for fresh fruit salads made of peaches, pineapples and berries.
4. Summer Savory: Featuring a deep flavor akin to thyme or rosemary, this fragrant annual herb grows quickly and easily in full sunshine. It’s a thin and skinny herb, and its pungent flavor will develop throughout the season. Summer savory is a beautiful match for dishes with beans, onions, mushrooms or garlic. It also makes a mean herb rub for meats: pork roasts, steaks and lamb chops. Try substituting summer savory wherever you usually use parsley, but only use half as much. You can also dry this fresh herb with stellar results; it retains much of its original aroma and flavor and will perk up your dishes through the winter and fall.
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Image: Rebecca Simms