*Spearmint (Mentha spicata) or Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
Mint has a reputation among gardeners as a plant which will take over an entire garden. This is certainly something to keep in mind when you plant it. Personally, with the challenges of gardening in Oklahoma, I'm rather partial to plants which take over. I can never have too much mint for my tea. If this is a concern for you, however, you can always grow mint in pots as it does quite well in pot culture. In fact, if your soil is low in organic matter and dries out easily, growing mint in pots is a good solution. Mint likes moderately rich soil and in this part of the country grows best in partial to full shade. It likes moisture and needs to be watered regularly through the summer but otherwise is very easy care. Mint is a perennial plant and will come back year after year. It is best propagated by cutting or division. If you leave a sprig of mint in water for several days it will began to develop roots so they are very easy to propagate. Mint leaves can be gathered throughout the season and the plant will continue to branch out and grow more leaves. Mints are traditionally used to promote digestion and are a pleasant-tasting addition to medicinal tea blends to mask less tasty herbs. I use spearmint in my blends for tummy troubles and headaches and I use peppermint in cold care tea. Mint is one of my favorite beverage herbs and fresh mint tea is one of the highlights of my summer.
*Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Catnip is also a perennial. It's relatively easy to start from seed but if you prefer to purchase plants from a nursery, you'll find it transplants well. Catnip grows best in partial shade and prefers moist soil. If you have cats, be forewarned---the stories about cats' love for catnip are not myths. I've found having it up in large pots helps protect it from too much kitty love. Catnip should be gathered when the flowers are beginning to open. It is traditionally used to calm nerves, ease tummy troubles, soothe tense muscles (including stress headaches) and promote sleep. I use it in tea blends and also infuse it in honey.
*Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
In northern climates basil is treated as an annual. It starts easily from seed and is easily transplanted. It grows well in pots or in ordinary garden soil. It likes full sun. It needs regular watering through the summer but doesn't need as much moisture as catnip or the mints. You can harvest basil throughout the season to encourage it to grow in a bushier shape and to keep it from going to seed. Basil lends a pleasant scent to men's aftershave and is of course, a splendid culinary herb. It also has a reputation as a digestive aid as well as being traditionally used for a variety of ailments, including colds.
*Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Calendula is sometimes called pot marigold, although it shouldn't be confused with the marigold (Tagetes spp.) which is used as a common bedding plant. Calendula is treated as an annual in northern climates. It is easy to grow from seed and transplants well. It can be grown in pots or ordinary garden soil. It will need regular watering through the summer but withstands drought better than some plants. The flowers should be harvested when they first began to bloom. They are traditionally used externally for cuts, scrapes, burns and fungal conditions. The plant is considered antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. The flowers are edible and make a lovely addition to salads.
*Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album)
Oh, I know what some of you may be thinking! "Sure, a weed is easy to grow." Well, as I said, I'm rather fond of invasive plants. I know some of you may have pulled this out of your gardens for many years but chances are your ancestors ate it during the Great Depression when it was a common food. Lambsquarters is one of the most underrated plants I know. The new leaves are a delicious substitute for spinach and they are rich in vitamins and minerals. You can pinch them off from mid-spring until late fall and have fresh greens all season. The tiny black seeds make a good poppy seed substitute and are delicious in muffins and cookies. Lambsquarters is also considered to be antiviral, antiparasitic and is traditionally used to fight infection. In my family we have used a few leaves of fresh or frozen lambsquarters every couple of hours for stomach troubles, colds, cold sores and toothaches. It really is an amazing and versatile plant. It's very easy to grow from seed and while it thrives in garden soil, it also will grow in less than perfect soil. It is very drought resistant, although it may require watering during the worst summer heat.
I hope this gives you some ideas for your gardens this year. Happy gardening dreams!