Herbs with a Mediterranean, South or Central American heritage grow well in the hot, dry conditions of Texas. Attractive to pollinating insects and butterflies, herbs enhance the garden with scent and color. Most herbs require less water than vegetable garden plants, but all want well-drained soil. Some herbs perform as tender perennials in Texas while others, such as basil, need replanting each spring. Herbs grow well in containers and offer interesting textures in rock gardens or inter-planted with shrubs and flowering annuals in landscape beds.
Unfortunately, traditional French tarragon performs poorly in the Texas heat. However, an alternative with similar licorice scent and taste comes from a member of the Asteraceae family. Texas tarragon (Tagetes lucinda), also called Mexican mint marigold, grows perennially in the southern half of Texas and returns from roots each spring in the Northern part of the state. The plant grows 18 to 24 inches tall and spreads up to 3 feet with narrow medium-green leaves and bright yellow fall flowers. The plant experiences few disease or insect problems, although spider mite damage can occur in the heat of summer. Fresh leaves make a refreshing and strong tasting tea. Chopped leaves can flavor a salad dressing and season roasted meats and vegetables.
A member of the lily family, aloe (Aloe vera) grows commercially in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. The gel extracted from the plant’s leaves offers first aid for sunburns as well as scrapes and scratches. In most of Texas, aloe vera should live in a container, as it cannot tolerate frost or freezing temperatures. Aloe vera grows with little special attention in fertile, well-drained soil. The alkaline water in central and west Texas does not bother the plant’s growth as long as you flush the pot periodically to remove mineral buildup. Scrape the healing gel from lower leaves and apply directly onto burned or slightly damaged skin.
Rosemary loves heat, tolerates some shade, has few problems with insects or diseases, and grows as a shrub (Rosmarinus officinalis) or creeping (Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus') plant all year in most of Texas. Beginning gardeners can successfully grow rosemary. In addition to pretty light-blue, pink or white flowers several times during the year, clippings from rosemary provide flavor for stewed meats and roasted vegetables. Alternatively, place branches of rosemary on top of hot coals to add seasoned smoke to a Texas barbecued steak or chicken. An evergreen shrub, rosemary needs well-drained soil and mulch. Prune the plant back in early spring and provide a small amount of balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. You may harvest rosemary at any time. Clip a branch and remove the needles by running your hand down the branch against the growth pattern. Chop the needles to release the flavor, or place in oil for two to three hours at room temperature.