Summer Annual Herbs for The South

Defining an herb can be so confusing. Botanists say if something is “herbaceous” it is a seed-bearing, non-woody stemmed plant, but this term refers to all non-woody flowering plants. Herbalists, consider plants to be herbs as long as their leaves or stems benefit mankind in some way as medicine, dye, pest deterrents, perfumes, or, for our most popular modern herbs, for flavoring food. (A spice, in contrast, is when a plant’s dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetable is used in comparable applications.)

A beautiful borage flower ready for picking.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to limit our list to a few annual culinary herbs that also happen to be herbaceous, and perform well in Southeastern gardens.

How to Grow Herbs

First, let’s discuss how to grow herbs. You could assume that most culinary herbs would grow well in the hottest states on the East Coast because so many of our favorite flavorings are from the balmy Mediterranean. The problem here isn’t the sun and heat, it is the high moisture and humidity, which turns silver-leaved plants to mush and breeds fungus.

To combat this problem, try to give herbs lots of breathing space between plants so that what little breeze may be blowing will help dry them out. A clever gardening practice I learned while volunteering in a historic public herb garden is to mulch closely-branching herbs, such as rosemary and lavender, with coarse gravel or bright white rock to reflect heat and light into the undersides and interiors of the plants. This is a perfect application for either decorative white rock (which is less than ½-inch in size) or washed pea gravel.

All herbs need excellent drainage. Though that isn’t usually an issue for gardeners with sandy soils, those of us with clay-based sites must raise and amend herb gardens with organic matter to encourage drainage and open up the porosity of the soil for good root development. Black Gold® Garden Compost Blend offers a mixture of peat moss and aged compost to improve soil moisture retention, aeration, and drainage. This top-quality garden amendment is OMRI Listed for organic gardening.

For sandier soils that dry out too quickly, try Black Gold Garden Soil, which enriches the soil with needed organic matter to increase moisture retention and promote aeration and drainage.

Growing Herbs in Containers

Growing herbs in containers may be the best choice for gardeners with limited space or sunlight. I have successfully used Black Gold® Natural & Organic Potting Soil with RESiLIENCE® for my potted herbs and was pleased with the results. I credit the earthworm casting fertilizer for the lush growth, even in summer, when most plants slow down in the heat.


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The variegated basil ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ never bolts and produces tasty leaves all summer long. (Image by Jessie Keith)

The first annual summer herb that most gardeners can’t wait to get started is basil (Ocimum basilicum) in all of its many forms from various large-leaved sweet basils to the exotics like African blue, Thai, and Indian holy basil (O. sanctum). Varieties of our favorite herb for spaghetti sauce, pizza, and Caprese salad keep being introduced into the gardening trade, including teeny tiny-leafed globe basil, columnar basil, and this year, I have seen more white variegated ‘Perpetual Pesto’ basil offered at garden centers.

Basil loves it hot. It sprouts quickly from seed started directly in the soil, and is only 6-15 weeks to harvest. Keep picking your basil leaves throughout the summer for the bushiest plants, and be sure to keep the endless supply of basil flowers pinched for the best-tasting leaves.


Borage is another annual that can be started from seed, even when soil temperatures are up into the ’80s. The signature sky-blue, star-shaped flowers of borage (Borago officinalis) can be sugar-coated, dried, and eaten; but, the young leaves add a hint of cucumber taste to salads. Once the fuzzy leaves mature, they are best cooked. Keep planting them throughout the summer for continuous harvesting.


Eat the leaves and cilantro and the dried seeds as coriander.

Southerners may be more familiar with the fresh leaves of cilantro than we are with the nutty seeds of the same plant, which are called coriander (Coriandrum sativum). An ancient plant mentioned in the Bible, this herb has been relished throughout history in cultures across the world.

Though usually planted by seed in the early fall in the Southeast United States, coriander left too long in the garden will scatter seed that will pop up everywhere the next spring. Keep cutting and using this plant when it is fresh, as it bolts easily, then vanishes.


Nothing perfects a potato salad, deviled egg, or pickle like the addition of dill (Anethum graveolens). Dill’s ferny leaves are fragrant and astringent, so the perfect complement to heavy rich foods and anything made using vinegar. This is a plant to keep seeding into your garden every few weeks. Like cilantro, it bolts quickly in the heat, so be prompt to pick it and replace it.

Dill flowers are just as tasty and pungent as dill leaves. (Image by Jessie Keith)


Newer to the culinary scene is epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides) a wild plant that is essential in Mexican bean dishes, soups, and mole sauce. Once treated as an aggressive weed, gourmet cooks are now searching for its fresh young leaves. Your local Latin market may have some viable seed available, otherwise, check organic seed catalogs.


We love the colorful flowers of nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), not forgetting that both the fresh blossoms and its rounded leaves can be peppery additions to salads, and that nasturtium flower buds can be pickled like capers. Plant nasturtium early in the summer in very well-drained, moderate to poor soil for the best flowering. Remember that unlike others in this list, these annual plants don’t thrive as well during our dog days of summer but perform better in fall.

Of course, there are cool-season annual herbs, biennial herbs, and plenty of perennial herbs to cultivate in the Southeast, but I hope that this sampling of summer annual culinary herbs will inspire you to keep planting something special through the hottest days ahead.

Cool It with Violas

In the garden, these old fashioned violas spread, mound and cascade through the cooler seasons.
In the garden, these old fashioned violas spread, mound and cascade throughout the cooler seasons.

I once worked for Roger’s Gardens Colorscape, a world famous nursery that installs fabulous annual color gardens for stately homes on the southern California coast. That experience taught me how to grow annuals for two seasons. In early summer, we’d plant the traditional marigolds and petunias that love the heat. Come September, it was time to tear out all those warm season flowers and fortify the beds with compost and fertilizer before installing our cool season annual palette. Violas were a favorite for gracing our gardens with intense color all winter long. Continue reading “Cool It with Violas”

A Guide to Edible Flowers

A bumblebee pollinates the edible flowers of borage.

Well-placed culinary blooms are surprisingly delicious and bring unique and elegant beauty to the table. Many edible flowers are common garden plants, which provides even more encouragement for everyday gardeners to add them to everyday recipes. They are not just for chefs and connoisseurs.

Edible flowers fall under two categories: herbal flowers and edible garden flowers. Most garden herbs have edible flowers—though you always want to double check before chowing down on any bloom. Some garden ornamentals also have edible flowers, but only a handful of these are really tasty.

Beware Florist’s Blooms

There are a few caveats to eating edible flowers. First, never eat flowers from a florist because they have often been sprayed with chemicals. In turn, never spray garden flowers you intend to eat. Even pesticides and herbicides approved for organic gardening are a no-no.  Flowers are too delicate to wash, so if you want to eat them, let nature tend to them.

Cultivating Edible Flowers

For the cultivation of all the herbs and flowers highlighted in the tables below, provide full sun, average moisture, and quality garden soil with good drainage. The addition of OMRI Listed Black Gold® Garden Compost Blend will improve performance. A granular fertilizer formulated for flowering is also recommended.

Pretty chive flowers and a sweet onion flavor to fresh cucumber salad.
Pretty chive flowers add a sweet onion flavor to fresh cucumber salad.

A favorite springtime edible flower recipe is chive flower cucumber salad. It’s very easy to make and will compliment lots of spring meal plans. To make the salad, thinly slice 2 cucumbers (peel them if they are thick-skinned), then make a dressing that combines 2  tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1  teaspoon sugar, 1/3 cup heavy cream, 1 shallot finely minced,  1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill. and salt and pepper to taste. Mix the dressing and cucumbers then toss with 2 to 3 chive flowers that have been trimmed and gently broken apart. The chive flowers lend a delicate oniony flavor to the salad that makes it extra delicious!


Popular Edible Herb Flowers

Herb Look & Flavor  
Basil  (Ocimum spp.) If your basil plants flower in summer, eat the zesty purplish or white basil blooms and green buds. They taste lovely on salads and veggies.  Ocimum-basilicum-Cinnamon-JaKMPM-300x200
Borage (Borago officinalis) Pure violet blue and flavored like cucumber, these early summer flowers look and taste lovely on any fresh savory dish.  Borago-officinalis-1024x682
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) Beautiful tufts of mauve blooms with pure chive flavor bedeck these plants in spring. Break them apart and use in place of chives.  100
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) Umbels of lacy white flowers are the precursor to coriander seeds. Use the fresh tasting spring or fall blooms in place of fresh cilantro.  Coriandrum sativum2
Dill (Anethum graveolens) Yellow or chartreuse green dill flowers appear in spring or fall and taste as dilly as the leaves but add good looks to dishes.  Dill
Lavender (Lavandula spp.) Lavender is a common culinary herb in the South of France. The flavorful summer flowers add charm and flavor to grilled lamb or herbed goat cheese spread.  Lavender
Mints (Mentha spp.) All mints have wonderfully minty summer flowers that may be white or purplish. Add them to any dish calling for fresh mint, from tabouli to desserts.  Mentha
Oregano (Origanum officinalis) The purple or white summer flowers of oregano lend potent oregano flavor to savory dishes.  050
Thyme (Thymus spp.) The early summer flowers of thyme may be pink, white or purple and taste delicately of thyme. Sprinkle them on spring cream soups or salads.  Thyms.ashx
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Blooming intermittently in fall, winter or spring, rosemary flowers are white or purplish and pair well with grilled meats and savory salads.  Rosemary


Popular Edible Garden Flowers

Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) These cheerful cool weather annuals have flowers in warm colors. Their petals have a spicy flavor and lend interest to salads.  Calendula
Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) Daylily buds and petals taste almost like lettuce. The summer blooming plants have colorful flowers in almost every shade but true blue.  Hemerocallis 'Red Razzle Dazzle' JaKMPM
Marigold (Tagetes spp.) True marigold flowers have a sharp, somewhat citrusy flavor that lend good flavor to heirloom tomato salads.  tagetes
Monarda (Monarda spp.) The zesty, somewhat minty flavor of summer blooming Monarda flowers can be used to decorate salads or desserts.  045
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) Summer blooming nasturtiums have flowers that are peppery tasting, like watercress. They are beautiful and add appeal to fresh savory dishes.  Nasturtium
Pansy (Viola hybrids) Violas are cool season flowers with a mild, sweet flavor and bright color. They can be candied and used to decorate desserts.  Viola Sorbet Lemon Chiffon JaKMPM
Rose (Rosa spp.) Rose petals can be used alone in fresh confections or used to make rose water. Be sure to only use garden flowers that have not been sprayed or treated in any way. Candied rose petals taste lovely with almond desserts.  Blushing Knock Out
Violet (Viola spp.) Spring blooming wild violets have a stronger sweet violet flavor than hybrid pansies, but they can be used in the same way.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Scrumptious, Old-Fashioned Tawny Daylilies

Old-Fashioned Tawny Daylilies - Pam Beck
Hemerocallis fulva is also known as the Ditch Daylily, but will grow just about anywhere.

The individual blooms of the Tawny Daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, only last from dawn to dusk, but what a performance they give when properly staged in a garden! Since there are several flowers on each stalk, and multiple stalks in every clump, these easy-to-grow species perennials remain showy for weeks. Though sweeps of Tawny daylilies are familiar along old country roads in the Southeast, they originally traveled from their homeland in Asia, where these daylilies are still used in traditional cooking (think hot and sour soup).