AFTER A CHILLY and protracted spring, it’s time to savor the warmth and fully embody the fleeting flavors and fragrances of summer. I recommend pinching, tasting and sampling herbs and edible flowers from an organic garden. Think of it as a vacation for your senses, courtesy of the garden.

Let’s start in Provence … I mean, the rose garden. Every summer, I fill my gathering basket with rugosa roses. The blossoms shatter nearly immediately, but I don’t care. I wait all year to bury my face in their petals, soft as a newborn’s cheek, and inhale their sweet scent. Drying the petals for a simple potpourri is delightful in deep midwinter, but it can’t compare to the tender touch of those fresh blooms.


Citrus probably isn’t top of mind when you think of homegrown flavor in a Pacific Northwest garden. But did you know that the juicy stems and colorful blossoms of tuberous begonias have a lemonlike flavor? Try adding the tart petals to garden-fresh greens for a refreshing twist on summer salads. And while I’m signing on for protective measures in winter, a large container planting of lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) is my delicious (and defiant) stand against sudden Arctic blasts. Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) is another candidate for cultivating citrus flavor.

In the sunniest part of the garden, woody hedges of lavender and rosemary bask in the heat; close your eyes and inhale their aroma, and you could (almost) imagine you’re in a faraway sun-soaked clime. Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean; its genus name, Rosmarinus, means “dew of the sea,” and though our shore is decidedly chilly, the plant thrives in local gardens.

Lavender is potent. Too much for some. Never enough for others. All parts of the plant, not just the blooms, are infused with volatile oils, a redolent floral aroma tempered with camphor. A popular aromatherapy oil, lavender relieves stress, promotes sound sleep, and is said to help alleviate anxiety. More, please.


Add fresh or dried lavender to a jar of honey that’s been warmed just enough to liquefy, and leave the mixture to steep on a sunny windowsill. Strain to remove flowers, or leave the now-candied blossoms in the honey for a boost of flavor. You can drizzle lavender-infused honey on plain yogurt or fresh berries, but perhaps its highest and best calling is slathered on buttered toast.

Not a fan of the heat? Turn to mint. In addition to their familiar cooling quality, various mints have different fragrances and flavors. Peppermint, as you might expect, has a peppery scent and sharp taste, while spearmint is softer and sweeter. Chocolate mint, with dark green leaves burnished with lavender, really does smell a bit like a Peppermint Patty. Lemon mint, apple mint, ginger mint and variegated pineapple mint are just a few of the many mints available to the home gardener.

Handle mint carefully when harvesting. Like basil, which is also in the vast mint family of plants, most mints bruise easily, which leads to oxidation. Skip the teapot, and use the refrigerator to cold-brew a naturally sweet infusion without a trace of bitterness. Gently roll three or four stems of fresh mint between your palms to release aromatic compounds. Place the leaves and stems into a quart jar of cool water, cover and steep in the refrigerator. In as little as three to four hours, you’ll have a refreshing flavored water that’s perfect on a hot day. A longer steep produces a stronger tummy-soothing brew or a cooling facial mist. Store mixture in the refrigerator, and use within one week.

Pro tip: Harvest plants (and flavors) only from gardens you absolutely know are grown without chemicals.