Bergamot (bee balm) is an aromatic, pretty perennial that is lovely in both an ornamental or kitchen garden. I fell in love with the goofy, Dr. Suess-style red flowers of bee balm when they attracted so many charming hummingbirds to my garden. Pinch the flower gently to capture its distinct aroma. The blooms are yummy tossed in your salad and all color as well. The leaves make a fine summer tea. Best to harvest the flowers and leaves in the high heat of summer. A member of the mint family, bergamot is prone to spreading. Early spring is the best time to divide and share the plant with friends and family. Anise hyssop, another member of the mint family, has a beautiful purple spike flower that also attracts hummers and bees. Its leaves have a distinct licorice flavor. I enjoy it most as a cool refreshing summer tea.
Remember to include a variety of mints and perhaps give them their own garden space away from others. Some of my favorites are spearmint, orange mint and chocolate mint. Snip a chocolate mint leaf and rest it on your tongue - it tastes like winter and summer, combined!
Sunny calendula, an annual, produces bright yellow blooms well into the fall. Blossoms, rich in beta carotene, add nourishment, flavor and color to soups, salads and casseroles. I enjoy solar infusing the bright buds in grape seed oil, which I later use in a batch of homemade skin cream. Harvest its curly seeds and start them indoors in the spring, or direct sow them into warm soil. A few will "volunteer" year-to-year if you're lucky!
Judi Abbe tends her herb garden at her home in Boscawen. To learn more about gardening with herbs, join the Capital Area Organic Gardeners on Aug 18 at 7 p.m. at the Grace Episcopal Church in East Concord. For more information,visit ccognh.wordpress.com.