Florida’s Best Herbs and Spices


Florida’s Best Herbs and Spices
Native and Exotic Plants Grown for Scent and Flavor

Charles R. Boning
Illustrated and Photographed by the Author

Pineapple Press, Inc. Sarasota, Florida

Copyright © 2010 by Charles R. Boning All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Inquiries should be addressed to: Pineapple Press, Inc. P.O. Box 3889 Sarasota, Florida 34230 www.pineapplepress.com Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Boning, Charles R. Florida’s best herbs and spices : native and exotic plants grown for scent and flavor / Charles R. Boning ; illustrated and photographed by the author. -- 1st ed. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-56164-453-7 (pb : alk. paper) 1. Herbs--Florida. 2. Spices--Florida. I. Title. SB351.H5B634 2010 635’.709759--dc22 2009047809

First Edition 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Design by Charles R. Boning and Jennifer Borresen Printed in China

Preface 4 Introduction 4 History of Herbs and Spices 5 Scope, Limitations, and Cautions 6 Features of the Plant Profiles 7 Classification of Herbs and Spices 8 I THE BASICS OF GROWING HERBS AND SPICES IN FLORIDA 9 Getting Started 9 Propagating Herbs and Spices 11 Florida Growing Conditions 11 Maintaining the Garden 13 Harvest and Storage 18 Geographic Origin of Herbs and Spices 20 II PLANT PROFILES 21 Allspice 22 Anise 24 Annatto 26 Basil 28 Bay Laurel 30 Bay Rum 32 Bee Balm 34 Bilimbi 36 Black Pepper 38 Borage 40 Burnet 42 Cacao 44 Calamondin 46 Caraway 48 Cardamom 50 Carob 52 Carolina Allspice 54 Chamomile 56 Chervil 58 Chicory 60 Chili Pepper 62 Chives 66 Cilantro 68 Cinnamon 70 Coffee 72 Cuban Oregano 74 Culantro 76 Cumin 78 Curry Leaf Tree 80 Dill 82 Fennel 84 Fenugreek 86 Florida Anise 88 Gardenia 90 Garlic 92

Ginger 96 Goldenrod 98 Horseradish 100 Jamaican Mint 102 Kaffir Lime 104 Lavender 106 Lemon 108 Lemon Balm 110 Lemon Grass 112 Lemon Verbena 114 Lime 116 Lovage 118 Mexican Oregano 120 Mexican Tarragon 122 Mint 124 Miracle Fruit 126 Moujean Tea 128 Mustard 130 Myrtle 132 Nasturtium 134 New Jersey Tea 136 Oregano 138 Osage Orange 140 Pandanus 142 Parsley 144 Pepperweed 146 Perilla 148 Red Bay 150 Root Beer Plant 152 Rose 154 Roselle 156 Rosemary 158 Rue 162 Rumberry 164 Sage 166

Sassafras 168 Savory 170 Sea Rocket 172 Sesame 174 Sorrel 176 Spicebush 178 Star Anise 180 Stevia 182 Sugarcane 184 Sumac 186 Tamarind 188 Tarragon 190 Tea 192 Thyme 194 Turmeric 196 Vanilla 198 Vietnamese Mint 200 Watercress 202 Wax Myrtle 204 Wild Cinnamon 206 Witch Hazel 208 Yellow Anise 210 Glossary 212 Gardens and Herb Collections 214 Nurseries and Seed Companies 215 References and Further Reading 216 Index 218

Herbs and spices excite the senses with vibrant flavors and exotic scents. They enhance food. They bring the cuisines of distant lands into the home. Many are steeped in history, lore, and tradition. Herbs and spices also make attractive additions to the home garden. They surpass many ornamentals in visual appeal, combining beauty, intrigue, and utility. Florida’s warm climate provides residents with the opportunity to raise herbs and spices from around the globe. Unique tropical plants such as vanilla, pandanus, and curry leaf grow in southern portions of the state. By making minor adjustments, the Florida gardener can raise nearly any popular northern herb. Valuable native plants round out the possibilities. This book introduces gardeners to 92 herbs and spices suited to cultivation in Florida. Each plant is covered in a detailed profile, which includes illustrations, growing techniques, climate requirements, and distribution maps. Florida’s Best Herbs and Spices presents the gardener with a myriad of planting choices. We at Pineapple Press are confident that this book, like its companion volume, Florida’s Best Fruiting Plants, will be regarded as a gardening classic.

Raising herbs and spices within the home landscape provides several key benefits. First, the gardener can select plants based on personal preferences. Plantings can be tailored to match a particular cuisine or to provide access to ingredients that are not widely available. Second, the gardener has the ability to control the use of pesticides or other chemicals within the landscape. Third, substantial savings can be achieved by using herbs and spices grown within the garden, rather than those purchased from the market. Plants harvested directly from the garden are always fresher and more flavorful than their commercial counterparts. Finally, there is the sense of accomplishment that comes from establishing a successful herb and spice garden. This book covers herbs and spices suitable for planting in every region of Florida. It includes both native and exotic plants. It describes familiar plants along with those that are rare or obscure. The plants described within these pages embody a unique mix of scents, flavors, textures, and colors. For purposes of this book, a spice is defined as a plant part, devoid of significant nutritive value, which is used to enhance or alter the flavor of food. Spices may consist of seeds, roots, fruits, or leaves. While they are often dried for preservation, spices may be used fresh or may be processed in a number of ways, such as through fermentation or extraction. An herb is defined as a green, leafy plant part used to flavor food, to provide aroma, or for medicinal or therapeutic purposes. Herbs are most often used fresh, although they may also be dried. Unlike spices, herbs may provide significant nutritive value.

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida, is home to one of the most extensive and diverse herb collections in the country.

Many herbs are highly ornamental and can be used in place of other groundcovers and bedded plantings. The pebbled leaves of golden sage, Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’, add texture and color to the garden.


Humans have used herbs and spices since primitive times. Early uses may have been directed toward masking the effects of spoilage. However, our early ancestors may also have used herbs and spices for medicinal or ceremonial purposes, or simply for eating out of hand. Prior to the advent of written history, herbs and spices stimulated commerce and communication between cultures. Evidence of the use of herbs, in both China and the Middle East, stretches back 5,000 years. As early as 2,000 BC, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and other spices were important items of commerce in the Middle East. Egyptians used spices for embalming and mummification. According to the New Testament of the Bible, three kings from the Orient bestowed rare spices—frankincense and myrrh—on the infant Jesus Christ. Arab merchants, then Phoenician traders, supplied southern Europe with spices. Spices were symbols of status in the Roman Empire. Throughout early European history spices were expensive, and were only available to persons of wealth. Indeed, at various times, certain spices were worth more than their weight in gold. European interest was piqued as a result of the military expeditions of Alexander the Great, the crusades, and the travels of Marco Polo. The cities of Venice and Genoa grew and prospered for many centuries as a result of the Mediterranean spice trade. The Age of Exploration was driven in large part by the quest for spice. Spain and Portugal sought to break the monopoly held by Italian merchants and Arab traders. When Christopher Columbus sailed the Atlantic in 1492, he sought to discover a sea route to India, the country of origin for many valuable spices. In 1498, Vasco de Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and became the first European to discover a sea route to India. During the period that followed, Portuguese, British, Dutch, and Spanish navies competed for control of sea routes to India and Southeast Asia. Spices were the subject of wars, treachPound for pound, saffron is the world’s most expensive spice. The threads shown here are actually the dried stigmas ery, and complex colonial ambitions. of the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus. This plant is native to the While the events described above ocMediterranean region and may have originated on Crete. curred in the Eastern Hemisphere, several key spices originated in the Americas. The most noteworthy of these are vanilla, cacao (chocolate), and chili pepper. The Aztecs were familiar with these plants and their culinary uses. Native Americans used cacao as early as 1,000 BC. Spanish conquistadors, upon their arrival in the New World, swiftly recognized these plants as a source of potential wealth. The Spanish exploited native labor to establish and work vast plantations, shipping their produce to eager European markets. When a hurricane drove the Spanish plate fleet ashore on Florida’s east Hot peppers come in many forms, sizes, and shapes. Peppers coast in 1715, not only did its ships carry gold are native to the Americas and were not known in the eastern and silver, but they also carried a cargo of hemisphere prior to the voyages of Christopher Columbus. They have since been adopted as a key ingredient in many European, precious New World spices. These included Asian, and African cuisines. annatto, sassafras, cacao, and vanilla.


This book does not cover every herb and spice that will grow in Florida. It focuses on 92 plants of merit. The species included are those with agreeable flavors and scents, those that are easy to grow in the home garden, and those with high landscape value. This book focuses on culinary herbs and provides reduced coverage of plants grown purely for scent. This book includes more than a dozen descriptions of native herbs and spices. Some of these, such as Carolina allspice, Florida anise, wax myrtle, witch hazel, and yellow anise, are scent plants and are not suitable for human consumption. However, some native species such as bee balm, New Jersey tea, red bay, sassafras, spicebush, sumac, and vanilla, offer culinary uses. While this book contains basic information regarding uses of the herbs and spices covered within its pages, it is not a recipe book or nutritional guide. The bibliography includes several excellent sources that provide expanded information about cooking. Further, while the culinary uses given for plants within this book comport with those recognized in current literature, they are not based on any specialized knowledge of the author or publisher. If information provided The clove of commerce is the within this book conflicts with that of recent government advisories or dried flower bud of a mediumscientific findings, the reader should exercise caution and should rely sized evergreen tree, Syzygium aromaticum, thought to have on the most recent information available. originated in the Maluku Islands. The This book omits any references to the alleged medical or theratree is extremely cold sensitive and peutic qualities of herbs and spices. The author is not a physician and suffers damage when temperatures fall below 50° F. Therefore, it is not is unwilling to recommend any dubious forms of treatment. Many of suitable for growth as a dooryard tree the medical properties commonly ascribed to herbs have not been in Florida confirmed by science. In the author’s opinion, any books or articles that “prescribe” herbal “treatments” for a broad range of ailments should be viewed with skepticism. That a single plant would reduce arthritic pain while preventing the common cold and eradicating various cancers is unlikely. That the writers of such literature have uncovered a “miracle” cure unknown to medical science is even less likely. It should also be emphasized that not every plant in this book is edible. Some are only suitable for use as scent agents or as strewing herbs. Such limitations are pointed out within the plant profiles. A few species are poisonous. Unless the text specifically indicates that a plant is suitable for culinary use, it should never be ingested.

Many species of jasmine are grown as scent plants throughout the world’s tropical and warm-temperate regions. Shown in the photographs above are downy jasmine, Jasminum multiflorum (left), and windmill jasmine, Jasminum laurifolium (right). In the Orient, especially in China, jasmine blossoms are used to flavor tea.


Lemon Balm
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Melissa officinalis FAMILY: Lamiaceae OTHER COMMON NAME: Melisa (Spanish) Semi-Woody, Deciduous Perennial
Planted in Spring

Planted in Fall

Known Hazards
Those with a thyroid condition should consult with a physician before using this herb, as it may interfere with production of the hormone thyrotropin, a thyroidstimulant. There is insufficient data on the safety of lemon balm while pregnant or nursing, and use is therefore discouraged.

Lemon balm is one of several herbs grown for their “lemony” scent and flavor. The International Herb Association designated lemon balm as the Herb of the Year for 2007. This species does very well in north Florida and can be grown throughout the state.


GEOGRAPHIC DISTRIBUTION Lemon balm is indigenous to southern Europe. It has been planted in most warm temperate regions of the globe. In some areas it is viewed as an invasive pest. It is capable of spreading by seed and displacing native species. To date, these invasive tendencies have not been apparent in Florida.

In its habit of growth, lemon balm resembles many other members of the mint family.

PLANT DESCRIPTION Lemon balm is a perennial herb. It attains a height of about 3 feet. Leaves are opposite, glabrous, somewhat wrinkled, with dentate margins. Clusters of small off-white to pale-yellow flowers appear in the leaf axils in the late spring and summer. These turn pink with age. FLAVOR AND SCENT Leaves are aromatic and exude a faint lemon scent, which is accentuated when the leaves are crushed or bruised. The lemon flavor is pleasant, but not as strong as that of lemon verbena. VARIETIES A few cultivars appear to have been selected. A yellow-leaved variety dubbed ‘All Gold’ and a variegated type, ‘Variegata,’ are sometimes available. RELATIVES Lemon balm is a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family. This family consists of about 625 genera and 7,000 species. Other Lamiaceae species discussed within this book include basil, Ocimum spp.; bee balm, Monarda didyma; Cuban oregano, Plectranthus amboinicus; Jamaican mint, Micromeria viminea; lavender, Lavandula spp.; mint, Mentha spp.; oregano, Origanum spp.; perilla, Perilla frutescens; rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis; sage, Salvia officinalis; savory, Satureja spp.; and thyme, Thymus spp. The Melissa genus is small and contains only about five species. None are native to North America.

CULTIVATION Lemon balm can be grown throughout Florida. With some protection, it can succeed as far north as USDA hardiness zone 4. In north Florida, it is deciduous. It is killed to the ground by the first frost, but regenerates from its roots upon the return of warmer weather. In south Florida, lemon balm suffers decline in the heat and humidity of the summer. It is therefore grown as a winter crop and is treated as an annual. Although the plant performs well in full sun, it will tolerate light shade. Lemon balm has moderate salt tolerance. The plant can be cut back as it begins to flower to prevent it from self-sowing. Lemon balm can be started from seed, cuttings, or clump division. The seed is tiny and should be planted at a very shallow depth. HARVEST AND USE The leaves can be harvested at any time after the plant is established. Lemon balm leaves are used fresh in salads, steeped as herbal tea, and used as a flavoring agent for beverages, sauces, salad dressings, soups, seafood dishes, and desserts. Dried leaves are used in potpourris, although the scent diminishes when the leaves are dried. Those taking thyroid medications should not consume lemon balm, as it is thought to interfere with the absorption of these drugs. Otherwise, this species is considered safe for human consumption.

Close-up photograph of lemon balm growth tip


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