CHILLY CHARACTERS

Cilantro            Coriandrum sativum       Family Apiaceae    TAMBloomPhoto(84k)
This cool weather loving herb is a lacy looking annual whose leaves are used in Mexican and Asian cooking.  The seeds are the spice known as coriander.  Flat, dark green leaves form a rosette from which clusters of white flowers appear in the spring.  It easily reseeds itself.  Cilantro is best planted in the fall in Austin, Tx as it will quickly bolt in hot weather.  The leaves change shape and flavor as the flower stalks begin to form.  Cilantro will grow best in full sun.  Seeds are easily collected by removing the seed heads when they begin to turn brown and placing in a paper bag until they are completely dry.  Visually, cilantro resembles flat leaf parsley, but the scent of cilantro allows for easy recognition.  Cilantro loses its flavor with long cooking, so add it to recipes shortly before serving.

Italian Parsley       Petroselinum crispum var. neopolitanum    Family Apiaceae
Curly Parsley        Petroselinum crispum var. crispum
Parsley is best planted in the fall in Austin, Tx.  Either plants or seeds may be used.  Germination times are long for seeds due to an inhibitory substance found on the seed.  One technique for hastening the sprouting is to soak the seeds for three days before planting, changing the water daily.  The ruffled leaves of curly parsley are commonly used as a garnish on dinner plates and as a decorative border in the winter garden.  Italian parsley, also called flat-leaf parsley, is thought to have a better flavor than the curly form.  Plants will do well in moderately rich soil and full sun or partial shade.  A true biennial, umbels of flowers will appear in the second year.  Most cooks prefer to treat this as an annual as the best flavor is found before flowering.  The caterpillars of swallowtail butterflies are often found eating parsley so be sure to plant enough to share with them.  Parsley is considered a symbol of festivity in the language of flowers.

Sorrel                   Rumex acetosa                          Family Polygonaceae
This is a bright green clumping herb resembling lettuce.  Its sharp, acidic taste is valued in cooking.  Sorrel grows best with afternoon shade and rich, moist soil.  It will quickly resprout if nipped back by cold and will grow best during the coolest months of the year.  The flowers are reddish and should be removed to promote leaf growth.  Sorrel may be plagued by snails, attempt to limit their access to the plant by surrounding with diatomaceous earth, crushed egg shells, or by "fencing" with thin copper strips available in garden centers.

Garlic                        Allium sativum                        Family Liliacea
Elephant Garlic        Allium  ampeloprasum  var. ampeloprasum
Austin, Tx gardeners plant cloves of garlic in the fall and harvest the pungent bulbs after the foliage falls over and withers in the spring.  Garlic is easily grown in full sun or partial shade and prefers rich, somewhat dry soil. It will, however, require occasional watering and fertilizing with a mild fertilizer such as fish emulsion during its growing season.   If grown strictly as an ornamental the clump will get bigger every year. Elephant garlic, actually a type of leek, is especially attractive in the spring garden, its foliage dies down after blooming.  The milder taste of elephant garlic leaves cooks in constant debate over its usage, but what it really boils down to is personal preference.   Specific varieties of garlic may be purchased from garden centers or the cloves from grocery stores will also grow, however, it is best to buy from a grocery that features organic produce as others may have been treated to prevent sprouting.

Fennel                      Foeniculum vulgare                Family Apiaceae         TAMPhoto(142k)
Bronze Fennel          Foeniculum vulgare 'Rubrum'
Florence Fennel          Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum
The fennels are licorice flavored cool weather herbs with feathery plumes of foliage and stunning umbels of yellow flowers.  Bronze fennel features highly ornamental reddish bronze foliage.  The leaves, stems and seeds are used to flavor fish, beans and salads.  Florence Fennel (finocchio) has a bulbous base that is harvested and treated as a vegetable, although the foliage may also be used as a seasoning.  Fennel seeds are best sown directly into the ground in early fall in Austin, Tx.  A hard freeze may nip the fennel, but it usually reappears as temperatures warm.  When summer heat comes the plant quickly bolts.  All fennels do well in full sun, but afternoon shade is tolerated.   The soil should be rich and moist, but well-drained.  Fennel is a food source for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

Nasturtium              Tropaeolum majus                  Family Tropaeolacea    AMWPhoto(38k)
Nasturtiums are useful both for their beauty and for adding their peppery taste to dips, salads and vinegars.  The leaves, flowers and flower buds may be eaten.  There are cultivars with trailing growth habit that look good rambling along trellises or window boxes.  Others have a more mounding habit.  They are tender annuals that can't make it through a Texas winter, but also fade away when summer heat comes.  In Austin, February plantings will yield the best results, gardeners can plant nasturtiums to fill in bare spots where heat lovers such as peppers will be planted later in the year. Nasturtiums are a symbol of patriotism.

Arugula             Eruca vesicara subsp. sativa            Family Brassicaceae
Arugula, also known as roquette, is a peppery flavored herb, that is almost too simple to grow.  A few seeds planted on an autumn day will provide spice for salads, sandwiches and egg dishes all winter long.  Shortly after planting, the rosette of dark green lobed leaves will appear.  The leaves are most tender when young, the flavor seems to get hotter and hotter as the plant ages.  When the dainty  four petaled white flowers appear in the spring the arugula season is over, but the flowers are useful as an edible garnish.  If a few plants are allowed to go to seed the gardener will be assured of next year's crop of this tasty Mediterranean herb.  Arugula does best in full sun but seems to survive just about anywhere in the garden.

Germander             Teucrium chamaedrys          Family Lamiaceae               AMWPhoto(38k)
Germander is a ornamental herb that remains evergreen throughout the central Texas winter.  It has dark, glossy leaves with spikes of small magenta flowers that appear in the summer.  It grows well with full sun or partial shade, good drainage and little water.  Pruning encourages branching and it is often maintained as a low-growing border in the formal herb garden.  It is a true workhorse that looks good all year long.  It has a very slight fragrance and is a symbol of joy and faithfulness.

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