By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
As the name implies, sunset hyssop plants produce trumpet-shaped blooms that share the colors of the sunset – bronze, salmon, orange and yellow, with hints of purple and deep pink. Native to Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico, sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris) is a hardy, striking plant that attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds to the garden. Growing sunset hyssop isn’t difficult, as the plant is drought-tolerant and requires little maintenance. If this brief description has piqued your interest, read on to learn how to grow sunset hyssop in your own garden.
The fragrant aroma of sunset hyssop plants is reminiscent of root beer, thus giving it the moniker “root beer hyssop plant.” The plant may also be known as licorice mint hyssop.
Sunset hyssop is a hardy, versatile, fast-growing plant suitable for growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 10. At maturity, clumps of sunset hyssop reach heights of 12 to 35 inches (30-89 cm.), with a similar spread.
Plant sunset hyssop in well-drained soil. Hyssop is a desert plant that is likely to develop root rot, powdery mildew or other moisture-related diseases in wet conditions.
Water sunset hyssop regularly the first growing season, or until the plant is well established. Thereafter, sunset hyssop is very drought tolerant and generally does fine with natural rainfall.
Mulch sunset hyssop lightly with pea gravel in late autumn if you live in the cooler range of hyssop’s acceptable growing zones. Avoid compost or organic mulch, which may keep the soil too moist.
Deadhead flowers as soon as they wilt to encourage development of more buds. Deadheading also keeps the plant neat and attractive.
Divide sunset hyssop plants in late spring or summer if the plants look overgrown or are outgrowing their boundaries. Replant the divisions, or share them with friends or family.
Cut sunset hyssop nearly to the ground in early spring. The plant will soon rebound with a burst of healthy, vigorous growth.
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Botanical Name: Agastache rupestris
Native: New Mexico and Arizona
Hardiness: Perennial in USDA zones 6–9
Plant Dimensions: 18"–24" tall and 12"–18" wide at maturity
Variety Information: ¾"–1" salmon-orange, tubular flowers
Exposure: Full sun to part shade
Bloom Period: Blooms summer to frost
Attributes: Attracts Pollinators, Cut Flower, Deer Resistant
When to Sow Outside: 1 to 2 weeks after your average last frost date, and when soil temperature is 60°–75°F. May also be sown in late fall for spring germination.
When to Start Inside: RECOMMENDED. 6 to 8 weeks before your average last frost date.
Days to Emerge: 7–14 Days
Seed Depth: Press into surface
Seed Spacing: A group of 3 seeds every 12"
Thinning: When 1" – 2" tall, thin to 1 every 12"
Special Care: Light aids germination press seed lightly into soil surface.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache Foeniculum) is an herbaceous perennial with vibrant purple or blue flowers. It smells of a licorice scent. Even though its last name is hyssop, it belongs to the family Labiatae (a type of mint). Several people thought it belongs to the carrot family (Apiaceae) due to its hyssop name.
Scientists always call this herb as Agastache Foeniculum. Apart from Anise Hyssop or Agastache Foeniculum, it is also called by a couple of names such as giant lavender hyssop, fragrant giant hyssop or giant blue hyssop.
It is native to dry upland forested and prairies areas, fields and plains in the upper Great Plains and Midwest into Canada.
Anise Hyssop is effortlessly identifiable thanks to its oval-shaped and jagged opposite leaves and vibrant purple flowers with the mint-liked smell. Its mature leaves can grow up to 2 inches wide and 4 inches long.
Like a lavender flower, Anise Hyssop’s flowers have a spiky and upright formation which can reach 6 inches tall. A mature plant can reach 4 feet tall and 1 foot wide. It usually blooms in the summertime, from June to September.
Like other plants of the mint plant family, Anise Hyssop also possesses alternate leaves on the square stems. Its foliage remains awesome looking through all seasons. For the new growth leaves, purplish casts may exist sometimes.
Its flowers have a blue-purple gradient color. The flowers tend to have the blue color at the bottom of the spike, and the purple hue at the top. The tiny flowers blossom in dense, tightly packed together. They can reach up to 6 inches long.
As it belongs to the mint family, each tubular flower also has 2 lips. The lower lip has 2 tiny lateral lobes and 1 larger central lobe.
Flowers’ fragrance has copious medicinal benefits, especially in relieving stress. Hence, it is one of the most common herbs in the American’s garden.
This plant originates from the United States. People first discovered it in prairie areas of the Midwestern states. Some of the plants also appeared in several places in Canada. After a hundred years, Americans have realized its medicinal uses and started planting it everywhere.
It lives well in the middle of perennial borders, wildflower gardens, herb gardens , cottage gardens as well as in prairies and meadows. It also flourishes in small clumps, drifts, and masses. It can live well with other natives such as goldenrods, biennial, bee balm, false sunflower, purple coneflower, and native grasses.
Anise Hyssop has numerous uses. You can add its aromatic leaves in herbal teas, or eat fresh in an inconsiderable quantity such as in a salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber or to flavor jellies.
Making tea with added fresh Anise Hyssop leaves in hot water will create an attractive flavor thanks to its slight natural sweetness lending well to desserts.
Americans always add Anise Hyssop into mixed fruit for jams and jellies. It pairs well with fruits such as berries, apricots, and peaches. Some cake lovers pure Anise Hyssop in cream or milk for ice creams, custards, chocolate butter cookies or panna cotta.
Additionally, you can make a sweet-smelling sachet to your lovely home as the peppermint scent in the Anise Hyssop leaves is highly delightful.
Its dried leaves are usually used in potpourri. Its leaves and flowers are highly beneficial in treating fevers, diarrhea, coughs, and wounds. To retain dried leaves and flowers’ scent, you should keep them in the refrigerator in a resealable plastic bag.
People regularly harvest the foliage when the flowers have just passed their full bloom. At that time, the percentage of oil in the leaves will be the highest.
All things considered, Anise Hyssop (Agastache Foeniculum) possesses a wide range of benefits which can satisfy everyone. Growing a cluster of Anise Hyssop not only brings you a fresh mint air but also gives you a natural medicine when needed. Below are some growing tips in case you need it.
You are suffering from digestive troubles, ailment, or illness frequently, don’t worry, Anise Hyssop will help you handle all of these problems. Instead of buying it, you can grow it by yourself.
People usually grow Anise Hyssop from seed. This herb is suitable for rock wool. Hence, you should start seeds in rockwool. They tend to germinate from 1 to 4 weeks and grow fast in cold weather with moist temperatures with copious of sun.
Anise Hyssop develops well under direct sunlight. What is more, this herb attracts numerous hummingbirds, pollinators, and bees. Hence, after the growing season, you’ll find other fruiting plants produce fruits more often and quickly.
It grows in clusters and can reach up to 4 feet in height. Hence, it is ideal for adding enough amount of seeds per rockwool cube not to let the plants crowded.
Anise and Anise Hyssop can make people confused. Ture hyssop flowers and Anise Hyssop (Agastache Foeniculum) share the same taste and appearance. However, they come from entirely different roots.
While Anise natively comes from North America, Hyssop originates from Europe. What is more, hyssop has medicinal benefits, which don’t happen in anise.
Anise, (Pimpinella anisum) is an annual herb of the parsley family (Apiaceae), famous for its seeds called aniseed, native to Eastern Mediterranean region and South-east Asia, While anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), is a perennial herb of the Lamiaceae, or mint family, native to Northwestern USA, cultivated for its flowers & leaves for their fragrance & taste.
Both plants have variable heights Anise grows to a maximum height of 3 feet while anise hyssop may go up to 5 feet tall.
Anise plant has simple, feather like leaf structure having number of short flower stalks originating from a common point and produces white seeds, whereas anise hyssop plants have oval, tooth like leaves and produces clusters of tiny lavender-blue flowers.
Anise plants get mature & ready to harvest after 120 days of the transplants, anise hyssop is an early blooming to get mature in 60 days after being transplanted, from early summers to first frost.
Anise plants have capability to thrive well in full sunlight with abundant water needs whereas anise hyssop does well in full sun & partial-shades, and is well tolerant to droughts.
Apart from so many differences, only one thing common in both plants is their licorice taste which creates confusion for identifying them into two different family plants.
Question: I enjoy watching the hummingbirds that visit my feeder. Are there herbs I can grow that will attract them to my yard?
Answer: Hummingbirds sip nectar from many herbs that produce tubular flowers, including most members of the mint and sage families as well as lavender and mallows. Four spectacular herbs will invite hummingbirds to visit your garden again and again: red bee balm (Monarda didyma), pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), hummingbird sage (Salvia guaranitica) and anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). All these plants are easy to grow and feature aromatic leaves in addition to nectar-rich blossoms.
Native to eastern North America, bee balm also is called bergamot. A perennial hardy to Zone 4, bee balm grows best in rich, fertile soil that holds moisture well. Take care not to plant bee balm or other hummingbird plants near entryways, however, because in addition to hummingbirds, bee balm attracts bees.
Bee balm has a reputation for being susceptible to powdery mildew, but several cultivars offer good resistance and the deep-red flowers hummingbirds love. These include ‘Gardenview Scarlet’, which grows 3 feet tall and blooms in midsummer, and dark red ‘Jacob Kline’. The leaves of bee balm make a refreshing tea, and the blossoms are colorful additions to potpourri.
The same sage you grow for cooking will be visited by hummingbirds when it blooms, yet there are other sages (also called salvias) that are essential in a hummingbird garden. One of the best, pineapple sage, usually is grown as an annual from seeds started indoors in spring. Pineapple sage thrives in full sun to partial shade, and it’s easily grown in containers, too. In late summer, the plants will erupt with 4-foot-tall spikes of dazzling red blossoms.
Another salvia, S. guaranitica, sometimes is called hummingbird sage because it’s so irresistible to hummingbirds. The leaves have a mellow anise scent, and the flowers are a deep purplish blue rather than red — proof that hummingbirds see other colors besides red. Hummingbird sage will bloom from midsummer to frost if old flowers are snipped off every week or so. A tender perennial hardy only to Zone 7, in most climates it’s best to grow hummingbird sage like pineapple sage, from seeds sown indoors in spring. Some gardeners in cold climates pot up the plants in late summer and keep them in an unheated garage until spring. When handled this way, plants often grow for two years before they become woody and weak. Before this happens, take stem cuttings from the new growth that emerges in spring and set them to root in damp potting soil.
Native to the Southwest, anise hyssop is but one of several species of Agastache ideal for herb gardens that also must stand up to drought. Anise hyssop bears edible anise-scented leaves and pinkish-blue flowers, and thrives in strong sun that makes other plants wilt. Hardy to Zone 4 with winter mulch, anise hyssop forms well-behaved clumps that are best dug and divided every other year.
In addition to this species, new types of agastache are being introduced every year. One of the heaviest blooming of the group is a hybrid called ‘Blue Fortune’, hardy to Zone 6, which features 3-foot-tall spikes of pinkish blue flowers that hummingbirds love.
Hummingbirds also are drawn to the deep-orange blossoms of sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris), which sometimes is called root beer hyssop because of the scent of its leaves. Indeed, if you run across any plant labeled as an agastache at a garden center, it is worth a try as a hummingbird herb.
Barbara Pleasant lives in the mountains of western North Carolina, where she enjoys garden writing, cooking and luring hummingbirds to her garden.
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@Newyorkrita says, "Not perennial here in my garden on the north shore Long Island, New York in zone 6/7. It is such a stunning flower with the contrast in the blue flowers that I buy it new and plant it each spring. Very attractive to hummingbirds."
@Ispahan added, "One of my favorite salvias for both general garden beauty and attracting hummingbirds. Very eye-catching and will sometimes overwinter in the Chicago area. A favorite!"
@Skiekitty says, "Bought this plant about 5 years ago and planted it in an area that gets morning/noon sun. It was an absolutely beautiful golden color the first year. The following year, and every year thereafter, the leaves were the dark color seen in my photos. Not at all golden. Blooms the same color as always, however. Tolerates poor soil and my zone 5 winter well."
@bonitin says, "This is an amazing plant. When I bought it the flowers were bicolor: red and white. The same plant later on produced entirely white flowers, and now the first blooms in late May-June are entirely red. It proved to be very tough too, having gone through a very severe winter with long periods of hard frosts without damage. It is very drought resistant too."
@Marilyn says, "Love this Salvia! I planted it one year in the ground, but I don't really have the space for it. I might plant it in an extra large container next year as it isn't hardy where I live.
I also noticed that as the season progressed into the cooler fall days, the color of the flowers became more beautiful, richer, and darker."
@RickCorey says, "Leaves fragrant, used to make tea or jelly. Edible flowers attract bees & butterflies.
Semi-erect growth habit. Bag seed heads to collect seed. Seed doesn't store well.
Provenance: Mexico. Older name: S. rutilans. Family: Lamiaceae.
Grows as annual in Zone 6.
Other propagation method: softwood cuttings.
Height 36" to 48", prefers full sun.
Spacing: 24" to 36""
@Mindy03 says, "Honey bees get nectar and pollen from this plant."
@gardengus added, "This semi-woody subshrub is an easy-to-grow evergreen perennial herb that is used in many recipes.
It is also added to some medicinal teas.
It is easy to dry and store for winter use. Simply pick the leaves or cut whole branch tips and hang to dry.
For tea, just hand crush the dry leaves and add a small amount to loose-leaf teas before steeping. (This is a strong herb and a little will add much flavor.)
For seasoning in cooking, remove stems and crush leaves in a mortar and pestle. This is called ''rubbed sage.'' Leaves must be completely dry to use this method.
I use most of my sage to season fresh sausage and homemade bread stuffing."
@SongofJoy says, "Selected as the 1997 Perennial Plant of the Year. Outstanding for its compact growth habit, profuse deep purple flower spikes and vigorous re-blooming nature. “May Night” thrives in hot, sunny planting sites. The first flush of flowers comes in late spring. Deadheading and a little extra watering assures heavy re-blooming."
@Danita says, "'Wendy's Wish' is a wonderful hybrid Salvia with spires of bright fuchsia colored flowers with brownish-pink calyces that was found in Wendy Smith's garden in Australia. The leaves are dark green and glossy. It is a sterile, interspecific cross so it has a very long bloom period and doesn't set seed. This plant is patented and part of the proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, therefore the name 'Wendy's Wish'. It can take Sun to Part Shade (prefers part sun-part shade in the south.) It has performed very well for me in a container and I love the flowers. It is attractive to hummingbirds. I have been overwintering it on a porch that gets close to freezing but not below and it doesn't go dormant. I haven't tried overwintering it outside yet.
My Climate: USDA Zone 7b, AHS Heat Zone 7/8, Humid"
@Newyorkrita says, "In my opinion the best of the blue Hyssops. Blooms on mine were always covered in yellow swallowtail butterflies. Long spikes of masses of tiny blue flowers appear to be one giant fuzzy bloom. Starts blooming in July. Unfortunately the one large plant I had for many years died out over one winter and I have never gotten around to replacing it."
@CarolineScott says, "Clary Sage has colored bracts.
The color is not actually flowers."
@Bonehead added, "This is an invasive plant in Washington. It spreads by seed, so it would be a good idea to deadhead before the seeds form if it is a problem in your locale. I would like to have one in my herb garden for medicinal purposes, and thus far my county has not had a serious infestation so I believe I can manage this cautiously."
@Danita says, "Salvia azurea is a lovely, easy-to-grow plant here. It blooms in late summer and fall with long wispy stems topped with sky blue flowers. The hummingbirds and butterflies use this plant some, but it's more of a bee plant. It's been very drought tolerant and has survived severe drought and watering bans.
My Climate: USDA Zone 7b, AHS Heat Zone 7/8, Humid"
@sallyg says, "I've had this for years. It's a lovely coral color. They self sow, and they grow easily, although they sprout a bit later than you might expect. Once blooming, they go nonstop until frost."
@Marilyn added, "One of my favorite Salvias! I love it! It's a beautiful Salvia!
I love the color of the flowers, that it's long blooming, that it attracts hummers, butterflies, and bees, and that it's easy to care for during the season. I rarely see seedlings from it, but maybe I disturb the soil too soon.
I try to order at least one every year."
@plantladylin says, "I received seeds of this plant from a friend and love that it reseeds itself in my garden. It blooms from early summer until fall in a full sun location."
@Marilyn says, "This is my Mom's favorite, as well as mine. She always wants a container of 'Lady in Red' for Mother's Day from me every year. She and I love it, and the many hummingbirds that visit it love it too!
It self sows, has many blooming flowers, is a beautiful color of red, and is easy to maintain.
I plant many pots of it into containers, and the ones in the ground self sow from the previous year and I'll get more plants! Sometimes, it self sows from one container into another container and the next year, I'll get a new free plant!"
@SongofJoy says, "The flowers are cross-pollinated primarily by honeybees, bumblebees, digger bees (Melissodes spp.), leaf-cutting bees (Megachile spp.), Halictid bees (Lasioglossum spp., etc.), and Masked bees (Hylaeus spp.) seeking nectar or pollen. The flowers are also visited by an oligolectic bee, Doufourea monardae. Other occasional floral visitors are Syrphid flies, bee flies, and various butterflies, skippers, and moths.
Mammalian herbivores normally avoid consumption of this plant as the anise scent of the foliage is repugnant to them. The anise scent may also deter some leaf-chewing insect species."
@Newyorkrita says, "I tried Tutt-Frutti multiple times but it would never overwinter in my garden. Lovely plant.
Located on the north shore of Nassau County Long Island, NY zone 6/7, where it is humid in the summer."
@Marilyn added, "I've planted Agastache 'Tutti Frutti' before, but sometimes it doesn't come back the following spring. I always try to make sure the soil has excellent drainage, but it could be that we get too cold for it in the winters. I'm not sure whether it's hardy to zone 6a, 6b, or 7a. I've gone through a lot of websites where I've seen it listed as one of the three.
It could very well be that it's hardy to 6b, but it any case, it deserves to be grown in the garden for beauty, scent, long blooming, low maintenance, and especially for hummers, butterflies and bees!
@BookerC1 says, "Details from plant tag, from Lowes:
"Dig hole 2 times width of pot. Set top of root ball even with ground level. Combine planting mix and soil. Fill to ground level and tamp. Form water basin water to settle soil. Add layer of mulch. Check often for water needs until established. Fertilize spring and summer, or before new growth begins. Cut back after flowering.""
@JonnaSudenius says, "Grown as an annual in zone 6"
@wildflowers says, "Although the plant was stated to grow to 2 feet tall, mine grew over three feet tall and wide its first year. I guess things really do grow bigger in Tx."
@Onewish1 added, "One of my favorite Agastaches! Easy to grow from seed. Sometimes I get lucky and it will return the next year but most of the time I end up with an annual. I have had success overwintering it inside the house for winter. It's a compact beauty. "
@chelle says, "The foliage of this plant emits a rather unpleasant odor, but I find it to be a completely undemanding resident of my rather wild, moist and sunny seasonal stream bed. The blooms are dainty and a wonderfully pleasing clear, bright blue."
@SongofJoy says, "This beautiful Agastache is a xeric plant that likes a lean, well drained soil along with lots of summer heat. The natural range is from southeastern New Mexico to central and south-central Arizona and into northern Chihuahua, Mexico."
@SongofJoy added, "For most of the summer, Agastache ruprestris is covered in brilliantly-colored flowers that attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. And Sunset hyssop fills the air with a great aroma similar to root beer or licorice.
You can use sunset hyssop leaves to make tea."
@Marilyn says, "Salvia 'Amistad' is a very new Salvia. The flowers are purple and it is a hybrid. They look like the shape of Salvia 'Black and Blue'. This Salvia has generated a great deal of excitement in the Salvia world. It's a hummingbird magnet!
Rolando Uria of the University of Buenos Aries discovered this wonderful Salvia in 2005 at a plant show in Argentina and wanted to share it with everybody. Amistad is Spanish for friendship, hence the common name of Friendship Salvia.
Rolando Uria stated he didn't want this Salvia patented, intending for the plant to be freely distributed around the world and he gave a cutting to a grower in the US when the grower was in Argentina, but after the cutting came to the US, it unfortunately got into the hands of a US company that is going to have it patented."
@RickCorey says, "According to Richard F. Dufresne, Salvia mexicana `Limelight’ may grow to 4 feet in full sun, with 18" spikes. He gives the hardiness zone as "8 (7?)"."
@Bubbles added, "This has been a reliable, pest-free perennial with low water requirements. I have it growing in full sun, where it is also open to the elements of wind and cold. It freezes to the ground each winter and comes back in late February. It will grow to about six feet tall and six feet wide by late summer in my garden. The long bloom spikes consist of gorgeous electric blue flowers emerging from lime green calyxes. It will bloom from late summer to the first hard freeze. It attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and neighbors (for those showy blooms).
This salvia was discovered growing in Quertaro, Mexico by Robert Ornduff in 1978. It is also known as Lolly Jackson salvia as it supposedly was found growing in her front yard garden."
@Lavanda says, "I have raised this lovely plant on and off for years. In my borderline zone 7b/8a, it acts as a half-hardy perennial, lasting for a few years (not more than three seasons), until a colder than normal winter takes it out for good. I then replace them.
They drive hummingbirds crazy with joy.
I like to use them to surround the birdbath."
@Marilyn says, "I've planted Salvia 'Dancing Flames' (in a container) before, but this year it looked even better!
I always had it planted with other plants and this year was no exception. I had planted two different Pentas and Salvia 'Black and Blue'. As I look at one of the photos I had posted, I remember now that I had added compost in addition to the potting soil. That might be the key for it looking better this year. Of course, I had fertilized it and kept up on the watering.
Next year I decided to plant it in container by itself, since it looks so great. It will grow and bloom better without other plants competing with it."
Attractive native plant of New Mexico and parts of Texas. Also known as rose mint, its showy rose-pink flower spikes attract bees and butterflies. If the flowers are dead-headed frequently, they will keep coming throughout the season. The Navajo used the plant as a ceremonial medicine and for fever, coughs, and skin problems. Ht. 45-60cm/18-24". Order it now!
Attractive anise-scented flower native to the northeastern U.S. and Ontario. A heavy nectar-producer, the flowers attract honey bees, wild bees, as well as goldfinches and hummingbirds. The Meskwaki, a First nations people of the Great Lakes area used it as a diuretic. Ht. 90-120cm/3-4ft. Order it now!
Creating your own herbal tea can be a cinch with the right herbs. Here are some options for your garden:
Agastache foeniculum, Mint Family
Anise hyssop brightens many home gardens with its long-lasting purple spikes. The leaves and flowers taste like licorice and can be snipped into salad as easily as they can be turned into sweet tea. Also consider root beer-flavored sunset hyssop (A. rupestris) and bright pink bubble gum mint (A. cana), says Tammi Hartung, herbalist and author of “Growing 101 Herbs that Heal.” These beauties attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees.
Growing Conditions: This perennial is low-fuss. It will grow in rich or poor soil in full sun to partial shade. Grow from seed, seedling, cutting, or root division. Harvest the top two-thirds of the plant, just above a node, every few weeks. Zones 4-10.
Special Needs: Anise hyssop rarely suffers from disease or pests. However, it may seed itself throughout your garden.
Tea Attributes: Anise hyssop will lighten and sweeten any tea with its licorice flavor. It blends well with mints, chamomile, lemon balm, and rose petals.
Ocimum basilicum, Mint Family
Most of us think of basil as a pesto plant. However, its spicy aromatic flavor also makes a surprisingly delicious tea. Of the more than 400 herbs that Jekka McVicar grows, she says “I consider basil my to be my morning cuppa.” Also check out the purple-hued holy basil (Ocimum sanctum), which has an aromatic, sweet taste and is revered in Ayurvedic medicine.
Growing Conditions: This herb thrives in a sunny location in well-drained rich soil. Basil species are well suited for containers, as seen throughout the Mediterranean neighborhoods, as well as in temples throughout Indian temples. Grow from seed, buy seedlings, or use a cutting. Harvest the top two-thirds of the plant, just above a node, every few weeks. Basil will grow in all zones as an annual.
Special Needs: Young basil plants are prone to “dampening off” due to fungus in wet soil. “Water the plants in the morning-not at night-so the plant does not go to bed wet,” suggests McVicar. Basil will not tolerate a touch of frost.
Tea Attributes: Enjoy basil on its own, with mints, lemon balm, or jasmine green tea.
“The flowers of this herb are stunning,” says McVicar. True to its name, bee balm is a favorite of bees and hummingbirds thanks to its sweet nectar and bright red, pink and purple blooms. Bee balm’s great looks and low-maintenance care have earned it a place in many home gardens. However, few realize that the leaves and flowers make one of our best herbal teas, in spite of its other common names: Oswego tea and bergamont.
Growing Conditions: Bee balms prefer rich soil in full sun to partial shade. Water needs vary by species. Grow it by seeds, seedlings, or root division. Divide roots after three years. Harvest the top two-thirds of the plant, just above a node, every few weeks. Zones 4-9.
Special Needs: Powdery mildew can be a problem, but regular harvesting should keep it under control. Otherwise, cut the plant to ground level and remove all contaminated leaves, recommends McVicar. It will grow back.
Tea Attributes: Bee balm became popular after the Boston Tea Party for its similarity to black tea. “It tastes like posh Earl Grey,” says McVicar. Its citrus-oregano-thyme flavor will change slightly from mild to spicy depending on the species, variety, and climate. It blends well with mild, sweet mints like apple mint, pineapple mint, and spearmint.
Matricaria recutita, Sunflower Family
The tiny daisy-like chamomiles cheer up any garden and give it a meadow feel. The flowers and foliage have a light pineapple-apple scent to them. Also consider the hardy perennial & Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), which can be used similarly.
Growing Conditions: Chamomile will thrive in most soils and conditions, though it prefers a sunny spot. Grow both types of chamomile by seed. Roman chamomile can also be grown by cuttings and root divisions. Dedicate a few leisurely mornings or afternoons throughout the growing season to collect the small flowers for tea. While it may take a while to harvest, their flavor will surpass any store-bought chamomile. German chamomile is an annual that often reseeds and can be grown in all zones. Roman chamomile is a perennial in zones 4-9.
Special Needs: Chamomile is extremely low-fuss.
Tea Attributes: Often enjoyed solo, fresh and dry chamomile flowers also provide a light pineapple-y flavor to tea. Consider blending chamomile with mints, alfalfa, and lemon balm.
Alchemilla mollis, Rose Family
Many gardeners prize lady’s mantle for its crinkly, dew-kissed foliage even more than its subtle golden flowers. Lady’s mantle is steeped in lore: Dewdrops collected from its leaves were believed to hold magical powers and keep women young.
Growing Conditions: Lady’s mantle likes full sun to partial shade in dry or slightly moist soil. Grow this perennial from seed, seedling, or root division. Harvest the young leaves for tea. Zone 3-8.
Special Needs: Lady’s mantle is low-maintenance, but cut it back after it flowers to prevent if from reseeding all over the garden.
Tea Attributes: Lady’s mantle tea has a mild, astringent flavor that resembles Chinese tea. It blends well with mints, lemon balm, hibiscus flowers, and raspberry leaves.
Melissa officinalis, Mint Family
Lemon balm masquerades as its relative Menthas until you rub its leaves to release its intense lemon fragrance. It is loved by bees and other winged pollinators as well as herbalists, who use it for a relaxing tea.
Growing Conditions: True to its mint genes, “Lemon balm will grow in almost any soil and in any position,” says McVicar. You can purchase seedlings, grow it from seed, use a cutting, or root division. Harvest the top two-thirds of the plant, just above a node, every few weeks. Zones 4-9.
Special Needs: Lemon balm’s root runners can get invasive. Keep it container-bound or dig out the plant if it spreads too far. Also be sure to cut it back before it goes to seed to prevent rampant reseeding.
Tea Attributes: This herb’s bright lemon flavor is prized by tea blenders however, it is also slightly bitter. Mints, anise hyssop, tarragon, chamomile, and other lemony herbs like lemon verbena, lemon grass, and lemon thyme will all lighten lemon balm’s flavor.
Thymus citriodorus, Mint Family
This shrubby evergreen herb will wind around rocks and along walkways, or hold its own in a formal garden bunch. It is less pungent than common thyme (T. vulgaris) and has a citrus flavor enjoyed by both herbalists and chefs. The tiny lavender blooms attract bees and other winged pollinators.
Growing Conditions: Thyme likes poor, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Thyme can be grown by seedling, seed, cuttings, root division, or layering. Harvest the leaves and flowers at any time. Sheer it up to two-thirds down the stem. Zones 5-9.
Special Needs: Thyme requires little care, but it will rot if it becomes too wet during a cold winter, warns McVicar.
Tea Attributes: Lemon thyme adds a warm, slightly spicy lemon taste to tea. It blends well with fresh lemon wedges, freshly grated ginger, cinnamon, lemon balm, lemon verbena, common thyme, bee balm, and mints.
No tea garden is complete without at least one mint. Beyond peppermint and spearmint, consider species and variety with other subtle flavors including apple, pineapple, chocolate, orange, ginger, and lemon. Do be careful when planting mints as they can be aggressive spreaders.
Growing Conditions: Mints are readily available in nurseries and can also be grown from cuttings and root divisions. They do not grow well by seed-flavor will be lost. Mint grows in a variety of soils and conditions. Some species, including spearmint, thrive in damp soil. Harvest the top two-thirds of the plant, just above a node, every few weeks. Zones 5-9.
Special Needs: Help control mint from spreading by keeping it sparely watered, says Hartung. Also consider keeping it container-bound to control the roots. It may occasionally get powdery mildew, but this can be discouraged with regular harvesting.
Tea Attributes: Mint is the most recognized herbal tea. It blends well with other Mentha species and mint family relatives including anise hyssop, bee balm, lemon balm, basil, thyme, and rosemary. It also combines nicely with chamomile, rose petals, cinnamon or bland herbs like nettle and alfalfa.