The following plants are low water, culinary perennials, often herbs of the Mint family. Unless stated otherwise, in hot, dry climates they need morning sun with afternoon shade, or part shade most of the day, very well drained, poor soil, no organic mulch, and once established for two years, water once or twice a month in high temperatures. Some plants perform better with gravel as mulch to shield the soil from the sun. Many do best in raised garden beds which provide improved drainage. Most attract butterflies and bees and have ornamental cultivars. Edible plants, of course, must NOT be treated with pesticides.
Bronze Fennel - Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum'
Fennel is a short-lived perennial herb related to Celery. Having yellow flowers and feathery leaves, Fennel can grow to 6' tall. Bronze Fennel is often considered a decorative version of Fennel, but has the same flavor and is more drought tolerant. The yellow flowers are placed in salads and salad dressings. The leaves and stems are consumed as cooked vegetables and provide additional flavor. The seeds are treated as spice.
Fennel is also a food plant for the Black Swallowtail and Anise Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.
Avoid planting near Dill, because they cross easily with poor results. This plant does better in slightly acidic, sandy, dry soil. USDA hardiness zone: 3-10.
Caper Bush - Capparis spinosa
An evergreen shrub and member of the Caper family. The pickled flower buds and fruit are a seasoning.
Crimson Bottlebrush - Callistemon citrinus
An evergreen shrub related to Myrtle. The leaves are an herb to flavor teas and stews.
Cuban Oregano - Plectranthus amboinicus
A perennial herb and a Mint. The leaves add flavor to foods.
Elephant Food - Portulacaria afra
A succulent perennial shrub and member of the Porkbush family. The succulent leaves, high in vitamin C, appear in salads and cooking.
Garlic Chives / Chinese Chives - Allium tuberosum
A perennial herb with a bulb growing from a rhizome. It has solid, flat leaves, with a triangular base, rather than the hollow leaves of most of its Onion relatives. The leaves can be cooked, or eaten raw, imparting a mild flavor resembling garlic with a hint of chives. They are often a filler in dumplings, and provide flavor to seafood and other dishes. The unopened flowers are edible, raw or cooked, and become a green onion substitute. The fibrous bulbs, while edible, are rarely used. An oil is extracted from the seeds. Once established, it can be cut to ground for harvesting and regrows quickly. It is invasive in moist conditions, so locate away from anything needing moist soil and do not mulch. It does better in slightly acidic to neutral soil. USDA hardiness zone: 4-9, depending on cultivar.
Lavender - Lavandula x intermedia 'Gros Bleu'
One of the perennial Mint herbs, this hybrid Lavender with dark blue flowers is adapted to hot, dry climates. It blooms in summer and may repeat bloom with rain. The aromatic leaves add fragrance to a garden. The stems of spent flowers can be burnt as incense. English Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia – is preferred for culinary use, but the leaves, petals and flowering tips of this plant can be evaluated for flavor. The flowers can be boiled for tea.
Lavender does best in neutral to alkaline soil in a raised garden bed. It needs watering several times a week to get established. Once established, it may need water every 2-4 weeks in high temperatures. Yellow leaves indicate overwatering. USDA hardiness zone: 6-10 for this hybrid.
Licorice Mint Hyssop -
A perennial Mint subshrub. The flowers are placed in salads and the leaves flavor teas.
Mexican Oregano -
A deciduous shrub related to Verbena. The leaves have a lemon-oregano flavor.
Mexican Tarragon -
A perennial herb and member of the Aster family. The leaves add flavor to foods and the flowers are placed in salads.
An evergreen shrub and member of the Myrtle family. The flowers are placed in salads. The leaves and berries can flavor cooking.
Oregano - Origanum vulgare
A perennial Mint herb, Oregano does better in neutral to alkaline soil. USDA hardiness zone: 5-9.
Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis
A perennial Mint shrub, Rosemary does better in full sun and slightly alkaline soil. Difficult to transplant and usually propagated by cuttings, it is extremely hardy once established and thrives on neglect. USDA hardiness zone: 7-10.
Rue - Ruta graveolens
An evergreen shrub related to Citrus, its leaves and berries are used sparingly in cooking in some European countries and in Ethiopia. Toxic and bitter in large amounts, it is employed as a garden border shrub to keep insects, rabbits, dogs and cats away. It also serves as a caterpillar food plant to the Giant Swallowtail and Black Swallowtail butterflies. Some people develop a photosensitive skin allergy in contact with the plant, so handle with care. It tends to inhibit the growth of other nearby plants (allelopathic) and is sometimes restricted to large containers for that reason. It grows best in neutral to alkaline soil. USDA hardiness zone: 4-10.
Sage - Salvia officinalis
An evergreen Mint shrub, Sage was once considered one of the essential herbs along with parsley, (sage), rosemary and thyme (remember the song?) The flowers are edible. It tolerates acidic to moderately alkaline soil and does best in slightly acidic soil. USDA hardiness zone: 5-10.
Sage, Autumn -
An evergreen Mint shrub. The flowers add color to salads. The leaves flavor teas and cooking.
Sage, Pineapple -
A perennial deciduous Mint. The flowers garnish salads. The leaves flavor teas.
Salad Burnet - Sanguisorba minor
A perennial herb, and member of the Rose family, Salad Burnet has naturalized (grown wild) in most of the United States. The young leaves and shoots, best picked before the plant comes into flower, flavor salads, soups, cooling drinks and wine in claret cups. Avoid harvesting in the hottest part of the year when it is most bitter. In alkaline soil it has a mild, cucumber flavor, while in acidic soil it is said to have a bitter taste. Once established, it can be watered monthly to weekly depending on taste preferences. USDA hardiness zone: 4-8.
Thyme - Thymus species
Low growing, evergreen, shrubby Mints.
Winter Savory - Satureja montana
An evergreen Mint shrub, Winter Savory has a peppery, savory flavor that blends with beans, meats, vegetables, vinegars, stuffing and tea. Summer Savory, a close relative, is an annual with a milder, sweeter flavor. Winter Savory does better in neutral to slightly alkaline soil. USDA hardiness zone: 5-11.
Mint - Mentha species
A high water herb, such as Mint, can be placed in a 6" pot with bottom holes which is then buried to the rim in a raised garden bed. The pot will keep moisture next to the roots and prevent it from being leeched away by the surrounding dryer soil. The bottom holes release excess water and allow roots to go deeper into the soil for buried moisture. The buried sides keep the sun from warming the pot and increasing evaporation. Mint plants planted like this in spring, and watered once a day, have survived winter without being watered at all in USDA zone 8b.