While humidity-hating lavender and sage can be a problem for the Floridian gardener, herbs like ginger, lemongrass, bay and basil glory in the subtropical conditions. Most of these herbs’ pungent scents protect them from pests, making them a boon for the organic gardener. Further protect the plants from humidity-related diseases by giving them sandy soils and gravel mulch, which allow them to receive water without rotting their roots.
Many tropical trees grow compactly in Florida’s subtropical conditions, making them suitable to grow as hedges or specimen plants in the herb garden. One of them, allspice, seldom tops 10 feet in the southeastern region. Allspice produces berries and leaves useful in cooking and potpourri. It receives its name from its complex flavor, which carries hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
While heat-loving basils gernally make a natural choice in the Florida herb garden, Florida-based ECHO (Educational Concerns For Hunger Organization) suggests southern growers eschew traditional Italian basil in favor of types better suited to the region. Try African tree, purple ruffle, Thai, cinnamon and spicy globe basils. Grow basil in soil enriched with compost to keep it healthy and disease free. Plentiful leaf production is relatively simple. Pinching off the plant’s flowers results in a bushier, leafier plant, while regularly harvesting the leaves causes even more leaf output.
A staple of Mediterranean cooking, bay leaves grow on evergreen trees, which, in Florida, stay relatively compact. Bay can also be pruned for container culture. Keep the plant well watered--but don’t let it grow it in boggy areas--and position it to receive full sun.
Also known as Cuban oregano, Plectranthus amboinicus makes an excellent replacement for sage or common oregano in humid gardens--like lavender, sage and Greek oregano prefer alkaline, dry gardens. Caribbean oregano thrives in sun or part shade, and isn’t fussy about soil conditions. Because of their disease and pest resistance, Caribbean oregano plants make excellent additions to organic gardens.
Curry Leaf Tree
As the name implies, shrub-like Curry Leaf Tree’s leaves are a staple in Indian cooking. The leaves work well fresh or dried and powdered. Useful in the organic garden, the herbal shrub’s white flowers attract beneficial insects.
Florida Water Mint
While most members of the mint family prefer shady, moist places, Micromeria brownie seeks out sunny and damp conditions, making it an ideal plant to tuck into boggy corners of your garden. The herb also grows in ponds and streams, where it naturally oxygenates the water, helping control algae and to provide cleaner water – making water mint useful not just for organic gardeners, but to organic fish farmers as well.
A natural for Floridians to grow, ginger does equally well in containers or in a garden bed. Its above ground parts reach 3 to 4 feet high, with striking, narrow leaves the occasional white flower with purple streaks. Harvest the entire plant to obtain the root. Grated or sliced ginger root works well as a digestive tea, in Asian cooking and to prepare sweet classics like gingerbread or ginger snap cookies.
Equally useful as a hedge, ornamental plant or culinary herb, Lemongrass also scents the garden with a tangy citrus perfume. Dry the leaves potpourris or cooking. Divide the three-foot clumps every few years. The herb’s pungent smell makes it easy for the organic gardener to grow – in fact, position it near more vulnerable plants to repel pests.
A good plant for Florida’s boggy, sunny areas, Vietnamese Coriander (Polygonum odoratum) subsitutes well for cool-weather common cilantro. Garden writer Jim Long describes the taste as “lemon, coriander [and] curry,” with a corresponding fragrance. He warns that if the leaves aren’t harvested regularly, they become bitter.