Herbs are easy to grow and serve multiple purposes.

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HERBS ARE LITTLE powerhouse plants that are culinary, ornamental and medicinal, yet so easy to grow they’re pretty much Gardening 101. And herbs are trending in 2016, with tempting new varieties to play around with in the garden and the kitchen.

Most edibles require full sunshine, but herbs such as thyme, coriander, tarragon, cilantro, dill, parsley, sorrel and lemon balm grow happily in partial shade. Some are annual; others are perennial, like evergreen rosemary. You can go outside any day of the year and clip a few pungent needles to stir into soup or risotto.

Oregano ‘Cleopatra’ (Courtesy Log House Plants)
Oregano ‘Cleopatra’ (Courtesy Log House Plants)

For thousands of years, people gathered and grew herbs for medicine and for brewing teas. Now we mostly use them to infuse food with fresh, lively flavors. Even common garden herbs are packed with nutrients, and their healthful properties might well be why herb-growing is back in style. There’s even talk of herbs as superfoods, and not just the more exotic ones like turmeric. Even common garden herbs, like peppermint, chives, bay (another evergreen ornamental), dill, oregano and basil are dense in nutrients and antioxidants.

A successful crop of basil is as much a badge of gardening honor as ripening tomatoes. Basil ‘Purple Ball’ is a highly aromatic dwarf basil. Alice Doyle, the owner of wholesaler Log House Plants, so coveted this unusual variety of basil that she wired money to Russia to get her hands on the seeds. Why the fuss? ‘Purple Ball’, which naturally grows into a tight, round shape, is the only small-leafed basil with full-on purple foliage. Even the tiny flowers are purple.

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Basil ‘Kapoor Tulsi’ is another new compact variety. It has a mild, spicy aroma with hints of chocolate and coffee, which might inspire brewing it into tea as well as pulverizing it into pesto.

Basil ‘Purple Ball’ (Courtesy of Log House Plants via)
Basil ‘Purple Ball’ (Courtesy of Log House Plants via)

Rungia Klossi, or mushroom plant, is another herb Doyle obtained internationally, this time from Israel. It originated in Papua, New Guinea, and is prized for its glossy leaves that smell and taste strongly of mushroom. This bushy, fast-growing herb has leaves similar to spinach in texture. And like spinach, the leaves are nutritious, packing plenty of vitamin C and iron in every crinkly bite.

How about a petite feathery dill that grows less than a foot high: Ella dill (Anethum graveolens), an annual herb that can be grown from seed and harvested in 25 days? Lemon catnip (Nepata cataria citriodora) is as ornamental as it is beloved by felines, growing 36 inches high with white flowers and a strong lemon fragrance. Both are newly available from Pinetree Garden Seeds.

If you’ve grown summer savory (Satureja hortensis), you’ll appreciate the far less tall and rangy Savory ‘Compact Summer’. It has the same earthy flavor as the species; the leaves are lighter green; and the plant stays upright, tidy and small enough to grow in containers.

Oregano is one of the prettiest and most useful herbs. The new Oregano ‘Cleopatra’ (Origanum syriaca) is especially ornamental, with silvery, soft leaves and compact, trailing habit that make it perfect to grow in pots or raised beds. The flavor is mildly spicy, differentiated from the usual Greek and Italian oreganos by its intriguing taste of peppermint.

Lemon catnip (Courtesy Pinetree Garden Seeds)
Lemon catnip (Courtesy Pinetree Garden Seeds)