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.



Scrophularia nodosa

Common figwort is an important medicinal herb dating back at least to medieval times.   It is native to Northern Europe and does very well here in Nova Scotia.


Common Figwort is in upright perennial that can reach three to four feet in height in moist semi shaded areas.    Its tiny flowers form in pannicles and would be easy to miss until their brief blooming period in early summer.    Figwort spreads by rhizomes, making it a very good candidate for naturalizing in moist semi shaded spots.

Growing Information:

Zones 6- 8

Common Figwort is easily started from seed and will bloom the first year if started indoors eight weeks before the last frost date.    It prefers rich moist soil but once it is established will pop up in neighbouring fields and ditches.

Like many perennials, figwort will benefit from being divided every couple of years to prevent overcrowding.     Divisions are best done early in the spring when the plants are under a foot tall.


Although Figwort is not native to Nova Scotia, it does very well in southwestern areas with more temperate winters.    It should be noted that Figwort can be grown in colder climates as an annual, provided it is started at least eight weeks before the last frost date.    When grown as an annual, the flowers should be harvested when they are in bloom in early summer and the rhizomes dug up and dried in the early fall before the hard frosts come.     Please note that if you live in an area where you can grow Figwort as a perennial, it is helpful not to harvest any of the plant in the first year so that it can become well established.

It should be noted that some of the traditional times for preserving Figwort in amulets simply are not sensible here in Nova Scotia because we have a different climate than Europe.

Lady’s Mantle


Alchemilla vulgaris

Lady’s Mantle is one of my very favourite herbs.  It was a bit tricky to start but once established there has been no stopping it from popping up in every shady spot it can find.


Lady’s Mantle is a sturdy perennial with unique and beautiful bluish green leaves branching out from a center stock.    Lady’s Mantle spreads easily and in decent soil will easily grow over a foot tall.   It blooms almost all summer with sprays of delicate yellow flowers.    This is one of those special herbs that thrives in full shade and should be the backbone of any shade garden.

Growing Information

Lady’s Mantle is a perennial herb that is hardy in Zones 3 – 9.     It can be tricky to start but will germinate if the seed flat is covered and tucked into the fridge until it germinates.    The good news is that once it is started Lady’s Mantle is unstoppable.    I have found that it was best to put it in one bed by itself so that it didn’t overwhelm more delicate herbs.

There has been nothing that a Nova Scotia winter could throw at it that has ever slowed it down either.


Although Lady’s Mantle has historically been used for childbirth to stem bleeding, under no circumstances should it be used during pregnancy.

Please note that while there are other varieties than vulgaris, I have not found any available in either seed or plants.

If you let the runaway popups mature each season, the plants can be harvested without decimating your herb bed.

Blessed Thistle


Cnicus benedictus

I always feel like there is a little bit of history in my garden whenever I grow Blessed Thistle.   In the Middle Ages it was widely cultivated in European herb gardens for its medicinal properties.   Since then, it has naturalized in most of Europe.


Blessed Thistle is an erect spiny annual herb that thrives in hot dry weather.  It produces thistle like yellow flowers that are at least and inch and a half in diameter.

Growing Information

Blessed Thistle is very easy to start from seed directly in the garden after the danger of frost has passed.      While it can tolerate poor soil, Blessed Thistle can easily reach two feet in height in well nourished soil.  Plants should be spaced at least a foot apart to avoid crowding.

Each plant yields such a bounty that for personal use one would never need more than half a dozen plants in any given year.


Wear gloves when handling and harvesting this very bristly plant.    Wear safety glasses if you are hanging the plants to dry overhead.

There is an upside to such a prickly plant as a row of it makes a splendid barrier to discourage wildlife traffic though the garden 🙂

If you have room in a freezer, Blessed Thistle is one plant that freeze dries very well.



Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea is a widely respected medicinal herb that is native to Eastern North America.   So much so that several variietes have been cultivated with the intent of improving upon the original wildflower.


Echinicea is a tall hardy perennial that is easily grown in Zones 3 – 10.   It was originally used to treat wounds.   In addition to its antiseptic properties, it is also used to boost immune systems.

Growing Information

Echinicea is so easy to start from seed that it can be direct seeded in the garden.    For early indoor starts,  it is best to wait until just a month before last frosts.  Transplant seedlings at least a foot apart.

Echinacea will grow almost anywhere … from full sun to part shade.    In poor soil it will reach at least two feet and in well nourished soil it can easily reach four feet.  For best results, do not harvest any part of new plants until the second or third year.


In addition to the native echinacea purpurea, there are cultivated varieties.   thes are the ones that I know of:

  • Magnus and
  • White Swan – both of which are easy to start from seed
  • Ruby Giant, which is not available in seed
  • Narrowleaf, and
  • Pale Purple – both of which are difficult to start from seed
  • Yellow Echinacea which can be tricky to start from seed


This plant makes a splendid ornamental as it flowers almost all summer long.

For medicinal purposes, it is best to wait to harvest the roots until after the first hard frosts when the rest of the plant begins to die back..    Please note that although the crown can be replanted, the ‘new’ plant will be more ornamental than medicinal.

Although this is a hardy plant, it will benefit from a heavy mulch of the straw before winter.

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.




Achillea Millefolium

It is not at all difficult to find Yarrow.    It’s persistence is very likely the reason that it has survived from ancient times until this day.    It survives regular mowing.   Yarrow thrives in ditches and fields.    Long before there was any scientific substance to back such claims, Yarrow was widely respected as an effective medicinal herb.


There could be no mistaking Yarrow.   It is an upright perennial with delicate fern like foliage.   Yarrow is native to Europe and hitchhiked over with the early immigrants.   While it is not an invasive species, Yarrow has naturalized here in North America.   I find that wild Yarrow usually has white or sometimes pale yellow flowers, but there are a wide range of colours in the cultivated varieties.

yarrow5 Growing Information

Zone 2 and up.  Yarrow will grow in any soil, but can reach three feet or more in a well nourished spot in full sun.   Yarrow starts easily from seed and will bloom the first year in good ground.

Varieties (that i know of) :

  • Proa Yarrow -White Flowers
  • Moonshine Yarrow – Yellow flowers –
  • Mongolian Yarrow – Light Pink flowers
  • Red Yarrow – Red flowers
  • Sneezewort Yarrow – White or pinkish flowers
  • Wooly Yarrow – Low growing with Yellow flowers
  • Yellow Yarrow – Tall with yellow flowers



There is an undocumented belief that Yarrow is a great companion plant for any herb that will be harvested for its essential oils.

Yarrow does make an excellent living mulch in the garden and has been found to attract the very beneficial hover flies ( look like small bees and eat aphids 🙂    It is also thought to attract predatory wasps and lady bugs.

Yarrow should be encouraged because it is so useful, but can be invasive in a perennial bed.    In my yard, I find it best suited to being part of my little wildflower garden.



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.




Salvia Sclarea

There is nothing about the humble first year Clary (below) that even hints at what a spectacular show stopper (above) that this biennial herb becomes in its second year.   If you have been hesitant to try biennials in your garden, Clary would definitely be the best one to start with.



In its first year, Clary has a cluster of large soft green fuzzy leaves.   In the second year, those same leaves come back to life and burst into a beautiful flowering plant that holds its beauty for nearly the entire summer.   Even when it begins to fade a bit, it is still a lovely sight as it goes to seed.

clary3Growing Information

Zones 4-9

Clary is a soft leaved biennial that flowers in the second year.    During the first year, there will be a cluster of soft leaves that can reach 12 to 18 inches tall.   During the second year, Clary can easily reach three feet.   In well nourished soil it can go as high as five feet.    The second year plant can spread at least as wide as its height.

Clary prefers well drained dry soil and will thrive in full sun.

Clary is easily started from seed.   Although it can be directly seeded in the garden, it does benefit from an early indoor start in jiffy pots.


Even in our lovely pocket of Zone 6, I have found it beneficial to heavily mulch Clary with a good thick covering of straw.   Pull it back gently in the spring so as not to disturb the early growth.

If left standing over the winter, in mild years second year Clary can self seed..