Perennial herbs and spices live through several growing seasons, in contrast with annuals which only live for one. The difference between an herb and a spice is which part of the plant is used. When the leaves of the plant are used, it is referred to as an herb. If other parts of the plant, such as the stems, bark or seeds, are consumed it’s known as a spice.
Chives are a perennial herb with a delicate onion flavour. This plant likes full sun and can be planted close together. Rather than leaves that grow on a stem, chives look more like bunched grass. Chives produce small, hollow, green cylindrical leaves that sprout from the base of the plant. When chives are ready to flower, a green woody stem emerges from the centre and produces a small, bushy, edible, lavender flower. Keep your chives healthy and vigorous by taking cuttings from the base of the plant often. Chives are delicious, fresh or dried, in lettuce or pasta salads, eggs, dips and atop sandwiches.
Oregano is another popular perennial herb in the home garden. It performs well in pots or in the soil among other plants. Oregano grows in a small bush with woody stems and can reach 12 inches high. The leaves are small and flavourful, and the flowers are tiny and lavender. Harvest oregano leaves before it flowers for best flavour. Cut sprigs close to the node of the stem for mature plants. Clip the sprigs of younger plants in half to create a bushier plant with higher yield. Oregano is popular in both Mexican and Italian cooking. Add oregano leaves to tomato sauce while cooking, sprinkle it on top of pizza after baking and cut it with a scissors into small bits as a welcome addition to fresh salsa.
Fennel, a member of the parsley family, is a perennial spice. Its seeds, leaves and bulb all have a mild but distinctive liquorice flavour. The gossamer leaves of fennel are often confused with dill, but the bulbous base of fennel is distinctive from dill in that it resembles celery. Expect fennel to tower over other plants in the garden and reach a height of 4 or 5 feet. Fennel has deep yellow flowers with many tiny blossoms that form seeds. An ingredient in Italian recipes, the leaves, seeds and bulb are used. The leaves are the mildest part of plant and should not be dried, but used fresh from the garden; pinch them off at the leaf base with your fingers, and throw them into a salad. The bulb is sliced like celery and adds a mild flavour to soup. Use the dried seeds whole in breads, pastries and sausage.