When you look at your herb garden it is always worth stretching what you grow to make the most of fresh ingredients in your cooking, even exotic fresh ingredients.
Exotic herbs are not too dissimilar to your usual herbs in that they need adequate drainage and plenty of sunlight. Once you know the specifics of each exotic plant you should be able to happily grow your own tropical herb garden. Then there is nothing to stop your culinary explorations.
Once you know the growing conditions there is a whole new range of herbs available to grow and eat!
10 Exotic Herbs To Grow In The UK
- Cardamom is an exotic herb that will grow easily in the UK in a conservatory that perhaps has heating for Winter as well! Cardamom plants are a tough herb to grow to flower in the UK. It will survive and do well but not thrive and develop as it might do in it’s native Southern Indian climate.
- Kaffir Lime or Thai Lime can grow outside in warmer climates but makes an excellent houseplant in the UK. Do bring it outside in Summer months and allow to decorate your patio with it’s unusual double leaves. Kaffir lime is grown for the zesty leaves and the rind of the fruit, but do not eat the limes themselves. They are so bitter you will regret it and any attempt to make them more palatable will disappoint.
- Turmeric produce lovely slender leaves and under the surface all of the hard work is taking place. The roots or tubers of the turmeric plant are what we harvest. An exotic plant native to South Asia, turmeric can be grown in the UK providing you give it as many hours of sunlight as possible. A heated greenhouse or orangery are ideal. The larger the pot the better, so perhaps not perfect for a smaller conservatory.
- Fenugreek is one of those fussy exotic herbs, it does not like to be moved. So where you sow it is where you grow it. Space a few inches apart and water well. From sowing seeds to germination should be only a few days and then only 5-6 weeks before you can harvest the leaves. Fenugreek is a more exotic herb, but actually native to Southern Europe so very much on the cusp.
- Lemon Verbena is native to South America and offers a solid leaf that can be used in teas or cooking in much the same way as bay leaves may be! A compact hardwood shrub lemon verbena is exotic but will thrive in the Summer time in the UK outdoors. Bring inside way before the fear of frost and prune back.
- Pineapple Mint is exotic but will return if you completely neglect it over winter. Perfect to grow in window boxes pineapple mint offers that element of the known with the more rare and specialist. We love to grow many different varieties of mint and you can choose to bring it inside for winter and carry on harvesting or allow it to die back and dry the leaves for later.
- Ginger is a readily available herb, but by growing from seed you can harvest the sweeter, younger flavor. The rhizomes of the younger plant are pink and juicy and really sparkle in a herbal tea that has been chilled for a Summer drink.
- Lemongrass is an exotic ornamental grass to grow and harvest as you wish. There are plenty of recipes which include lemongrass and you will find it to be very versatile. When grown in pots lemongrass will live happily indoors for half the year and outside in the Summer months. Be prepared for this plant to grow quickly to fill a pot and need at least 1.5 meters in height to grow. You may wish to grow it as an annual to overcome the size issues, or you may love the fountains of blueish green grasses. Lemongrass will not survive the British Winter time, like not at all! anything below 5 degrees is asking for trouble.
- Tangerine Sage has such a unique flavor that you would really struggle to find anything close. A gentle citrus, almost minty sage flavor. It grows as a small shrub 25-40cm in height, and will be a lovely addition to any plant pot display. It loves Summer time but will struggle with harsh winds and too much rain. Bring inside before any fear of frosts develop and harvest leaves as and when required.
- Curry Leaf Plant is a shrub that grows to around 4-6 feet in height and around 3 feet in spread. There will be a dormancy period in winter with it spring bringing new life. Used in cooking and as an essential neem oil.
Problems and Pitfalls For Growing Exotic Herbs Indoors
- 100% your biggest issue is going to be watering levels. The more exotic herbs come from regions with high moisture levels in the air. Not necessarily high rainfall. Roots are to be kept out of water, but kept moist at all times. Whereas other herbs from cooler climates may need watering when the soil feels dry you are going to want to keep it damp. Raise the plant pots from the drainage dish on pebbles, that way excess water will not make the roots soggy.
- Aphids are always a pest for tender new leaves. They produce that awful sappy honeydew with the intention of creating black sooty mold. They feast on the mold and your tender new leaves are destroyed. A soapy water mix can be sprayed on any area affected by aphids, but we also like to introduce live ladybirds to the mix, which you can buy from a reputable breeder via Amazon, here.
- Slugs and Snails – exotic herbs are not immune and they will love your turmeric and ginger leaves. Go for your organic usual techniques as you will want to remain chemical free. You are harvesting and processing rhizomes that grow in the soil, so any chemicals used will really seep into your crop. Instead look to copper collars, beer traps, egg shells etc.
- Spider Mite can often be shown by your leaves drying up and falling off, so is mistaken for under watering. Therefore make sure by looking for the black dots or webs on the leaves. A good wash is a great way to reduce the impact of this little pest on your exotic herbs.
- Frosts, and not just frost but anything below 5 degrees really. Some exotic herbs and plants can be over wintered outside where there is no fear of frost, but we find getting them straight inside is the only solution. In USDA zones 9 and 10 you can more or less plant direct to the soil and mulch as and when required but for all the rest of us, leave them in pots and grab them at the first signs of a chilly night.
- Hours of Sunlight. If an exotic plant s native to a country with 10 hours of sunlight a day we need to provide full sun for it. We have an article on what that looks like here. Direct sun is not going to harm these tropical and subtropical herbs.
- Pruning can be an issue as exotic herbs can really benefit from regular harvesting. Take the tangerine sage, it can be grown for the flowers alone, but it is so tasty when used in a classic ‘sage and onion stuffing’ recipe as it gives an extra layer of flavor. So do not be afraid to harvest your exotic herbs!
- A possible solution to growing tropical and exotic herbs can be a hydroponic system. This is because it replicates the natural habitat and watering of tropical regions.
Where To Buy Exotic Herbs In The UK
Exotic herbs can be hard to come by in your local nursery, requiring specialist online nurseries often.
Suttons are an established nursery since 1806 and do sell a range of the exotic plants mentioned here.
A little bit of digging for specialist suppliers on Amazon and you can find some more exotic herbs;
Exotic herbs are not without their issues. As you have seen there is time and effort needed to allow them to thrive. We hope you will think they are worth it!
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