Althaea officinalis

Marshmallow in an ancient medicinal herb that is a real favourite with both bees and hummingbirds.    While it will not stand up to foot traffic, it will hold up well in heavy rain and wind.

Growing Information:

Zone 3 – 9

Common Marshmallow is a tall upright perennial herb plant with a profusion of lovely little white and purple flowers.    It is easily started from seed and will sometimes flower in the first year if it is started indoors eight weeks before the last frost date.

It is very hardy during its dormant stage and will even survive being tilled under.    Marshmallow will hold up well in heavy wet weather but if it is trampled, the plant will not recover for that season, although it will come back the next year.

During the first year Marshmallow should grow to at least three feet.   In following years it can easily reach six feet in well nourished soil.    Marshmallow likes full sun but will tolerate a partially shaded spot as long as it gets mid day sun.


There are several different useful species in the Althaea family but care must be taken not to plant any perennial varieties too close to this variety.     Otherwise it would be possible to create a hybrid of the two that would not accurately reproduce either of its parents in following years.

Viper’s Bugloss


Echium vulgare

Many biennial plants are so easy to overlook in their first year that they could easily be mistaken for weeds in the herb garden..  Viper’s Bugloss is well worth the wait as it becomes a real show stopper in the second year.   In Europe, Viper’s Bugloss grows wild in fields and ditches


Viper’s Bugloss is a biennial herb that commonly found as a wildflower in Europe.   First year Viper’s Bugloss could easily be mistaken for a weed.    In the second year, Viper’s Bugloss becomes an upright plant with spikes of blue flowers.    In poor soil, this herb will still reach at least a foot in height.  In well nourished soil it can easily reach three feet in height.   This is an excellent plant for wild gardens as it easily naturalizes.

Growing Information

Viper’s Bugloss is a hardy biennial in Zones 4 to 8.    Although it starts easily from seed, I have found it helpful to label the unassuming first year seedlings so they do not wind up being weeded out of the garden.    Space seedlings at least 18 to 24 inches apart to accommodate the second year growth.

Seeds do require sunlight to germinate, although I have found a bit of bottom heat for a few days when first starting the seeds to be very helpful.   Helpful Hint …. although you can buy heat mats for starting seeds, it can be just as helpful to tuck the seed flat on top of the fridge.

This is a plant that prefers full sun and well drained soil.   I have found that a generous top dressing of rich compost in the first fall to be very helpful for naturalizing.


Bumblebees REALLY love the showy second years spikes of flowers!

Although in olden days, Viper’s Bugloss was thought to be beneficial for snake bite, it is now valued more for its antiseptic properties.   There is anecdotal evidence that infusions of  the leaves can be used as a diuretic.

Garden Sage



Salvia Officinalis

Garden Sage makes a wonderful herb to plant by your garden gate.  While it might not have the striking appeal of some other sage varieties, plain garden sage more than makes up for that with its lovely earthy fragrance every time those soft leaves are touched.   If I didn’t have happy boisterous dogs, I would also plant Garden Sage by my front door for good health.


Garden Sage is a hardy perennial herb with soft velvety leaves.   As it ages, the stems become quite woody but the growth remains dense and full in well nourished ground.    Garden Sage has a short flowering time with small blue flowers that bees are fond of.

gardensageGrowing Information

Perennial in  Zones 5 – 9,  can be grown as an annual in cooler climes if started indoors eight weeks before the last frost.

Sages of all sorts prefer full sun and are great plants for gardeners who need to conserve water.   Once they are established, all sages actually prefer not to get their feet too wet.

Even in milder climates, sages of any variety benefit from heavy organic mulch to protect them from cold weather before they are blanketed with snow.

Garden Sage can be helpful companion plants for cabbage, carrots and tomatoes.   Sages of any sort should not be grown near Rue or onions.     Cucumbers will not do well when planted near sage.



Unless one is cooking for a crowd, there is no need to harvest the entire plant for winter stores.    Individual leaves freeze dry very well on trays and winter well if they are layered in a container lined with parchment paper in the freezer.    Leaves can also be preserved in oil or processed in the same fashion as pesto.

If one is making bundles for smudging, the plant is best harvested and tied in shape after flowering   Hang individually to dry.




Borago officinalis

Borage may be famous for its ability to promote bravery, but for my money the best bit about borage is that bees are drawn to its little blue flowers. And as any gardener knows, without bees there would be no gardens at all!


Borage should be at the top of every lazy gardener’s wish list! Why? Because it is that loveliest of things, a genuinely self seeding annual!

Mind you, the new shoots will not pop up in the same neat row where they were planted. Look carefully in the early spring for the tiny round leaves that only bear a passing resemblance to the mature plant.

Growing Information

To Zone 4 as an annual, Zone 5 and up as a self seeding annual

Hardy, upright leafy annual or self seeding annual

Blue flowers, blooms from early summer until first frost if deadheaded

Will grow at least a foot in poor soil, from 2-3 feet when well nourished

Prefers full sun but can get by anywhere

Spreads easily …. you should only need to seed once if you watch for the popup seedlings when you are readying your garden in the spring

Although I have found nothing anywhere to substantiate this, in my garden, all vegetables seem to benefit when this self seeding herb pops up in a bed



I have only ever grown the blue flowered Officanalis because I like the young leaves in salads early in the season.

There is also another blue flowered variety, Borago pygmaea, but as it is not suitable for culinary or medicinal use, I have never tried it here

There is a white variety, Borago Alba, that is often available in greenhouses that can be used for culinary and medicinal purposes, but I do not know how attractive it would be to bees.


Borage is such an easy thing to start from seed that it is surprising that it is not found in more home gardens.

Although Borage is self seeding, if for some reason you do not want to grow it again, it is easily tilled out of the garden in a year or two

If you are looking for a fun little plant for a children’s garden, this would be one of my first picks. It is safe for them to eat. It is easy to germinate, so they can quickly see results. And I think it is a great thing to encourage children to have respect for bees.