Quick Tip: Search the Neighborhood for Edible Herbs

When I was planning my vegetable garden, I knew I wanted to include thyme. It’s a versatile herb that is used in a variety of soups, stews and spice rubs, and I was tired of spending $3 to buy a bunch at the grocery store.

After I had all my vegetables and herbs planted, I unwound the hose to start watering, and stepped mindlessly on the ground cover underneath the hose. A lemony, familiar scent reached my nostrils and I gave the ground cover a closer inspection. I hadn’t needed to plant thyme; there was lots of it growing next to my apartment building already.

It’s easy to spot the apple tree in your neighbor’s front yard – it has fruit growing on it every fall. Herbs are harder to see but they are likely to be more prevalent than fruit trees. Here are three to be on the lookout for the next time you’re on your after-dinner constitutional.

Thyme grows close to the ground and is an ideal ground cover because of how it spreads. Look for low-growing plants with dense leaves and then give a pinch of the leaves to see if they smell familiar. Thyme leaves are small ovals and arranged in opposite pairs along a wiry stem.

Rosemary is used in landscaping throughout California. These bushes are planted just around the block from me.

Rosemary is an herb I’ll never plant or purchase as long as I live in California. Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region in Europe, so it does well in California’s Mediterranean climate. Inspect street corners and side yards – you’ll likely find some rosemary. It is used in landscaping everywhere. The plant has oily, dark-green thin leaves. Because it can grow quite large, older branches will be thick and woody. Cut off younger shoots about six inches long for personal use. Rosemary is a fairly easy herb to spot – if you see a large bush with needle-like leaves, it’s probably rosemary.

Mint is so prevalent and grows so fast and far that it is considered an invasive species. Every garden book has stern warnings about planting mint in any place besides a closed container, because it will quickly spread. Many a backyard gardener has stories of planting mint one summer and then spending every subsequent summer trying to remove it. Take advantage of other people’s mistakes by harvesting this pungent herb. First check the deep corners of your home’s backyard. There might be some mint growing. If not, trawl open fields and abandoned lots. Look for pairs of wide oval leaves with jagged edges climbing a stalk about one foot tall. Mint likes wet soil and lots of water.

  • Gin

    Great tips for finding herbs–thanks!

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