A blend of hyssop and Mexican marigold strikes a happy balance of blue and yellow flowers in the garden. And both herbs offer edible leaves with interesting flavours to discover. Words Marilyn Wightman
Its botanical name Hyssopus officinalis alludes to hyssop being an ancient herb that was used medicinally. This herb was used to help ease coughs and aid recovery from colds and chills. Like other herbs in the Lamiaceae family, the flowers are loved by bees and butterflies.
Hyssop is a summer-loving perennial that will flower for months. It grows 30 to 50cm high and prefers well-drained, rich soil in a sunny position. It is usually grown from seed but can be propagated using the top, leafy growth. As a perennial, it will last for four to five years if trimmed in autumn to remove spent stalks, which neatens the shape of the low bush. Its pretty blue flowers are grouped together down the upright flowering stalk. Pink and white flowering varieties are available too, but these may be harder to source.
Hyssop is part of a family that includes mint, thyme and sage and, like those other tasty herbs, the hot and spicy flavour of hyssop leaves is great to use in cooked dishes. Added to hot pasta or bean dishes, the flavour is quite different. It can also be finely chopped and sprinkled over green leafy salads or cucumber and onion dishes.
Let your summer basil sing in this easy – and cheesy – quiche that’s ideal for lazy day lunches. This quiche is self-crusting as the flour forms a soft outer edge to the base and sides.
• 600g asparagus spears (or substitute a bunch of silver beet or spinach)
• 2 tbsp chopped basil leaves
• 6 eggs
• 250g cream cheese
• ½ cup milk
• 2 heaped tbsp plain flour
• 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
The marigold family has about 50 species, both annual and perennial. Even though two main annual bedding species are called French or African marigolds, they actually all originate from Mexico. These attractive bedding plants grow well in the heat of the hot summer sun and come in a variety of daisy shapes, colours and forms. They are low-growing and often used to fill spaces in the garden. Popular with council parks and reserves, these marigolds are often seen in park plots and on roundabouts.
African and French marigolds are useful in the garden as their unusual, and not overly attractive, scents are exuded underground by the roots and above ground by the foliage. These scents deter nematode and insect activity in the soil, so they make good companion plants when planted near fruit trees and vegetables. But are you familiar with the perennial Mexican marigold (Tagetes lemmonii)? In the summer herb garden, this herb is a mass of cheerful yellow daisies. They can cover the bush if planted in a hot and sunny spot. Full of nectar, they are popular with bees and butterflies too.
How to grow it
Tagetes lemmonii has to be the biggest and best marigold species as it grows vigorously and forms an upright bush over 1m high and wide. The leaves are finely divided and feathery, and this gives the shrub a softer shape and outline compared to others. It becomes sprawling and untidy if left to its own devices. I find it best to give it a good trim and shape it into a rounded shrub.
How to enjoy it
Mexican marigold differs from French and African marigolds in that its foliage has a pleasing lemon scent. This scent reflects its botanical name, but that is pure coincidence as the plant-finding team of the Lemmon botanist family identified and named this after John Lemmon. This herb makes a refreshing and tasty drink. Place several sprigs in a jug and cover with water. Chill in the fridge and add ice blocks if the day is especially hot. Getting young folk involved to do this task encourages them to try more sugar- and additivefree beverages. Another task for them is to pick the flowers and place these in ice block trays, cover with water and freeze. The flowers release their flavour as the ice melts in a glass. Mexican marigold is edible, so consider using the finely chopped leaves sprinkled over poached eggs or an omelette. They can be added to salads and bean dishes too. And the flowers can be used as decoration to make a statement on a home-cooked meal.
The other herb variety called ‘marigold’ is Calendula officinalis and should not be confused with the Tagetes species. Calendula is a medicinal herb that is used in ointments for skin complaints. When using herbs medicinally, it is so important to be aware of common names and to check them botanically to ensure you are growing the correct herb.