Subtropical Herb Field Trip!

Although I doggedly grow sage, thyme, and other European and Mediterranean culinary herbs every year, I know that this really isn’t the climate for them. So I’ve been finding subtropical culinary herbs to grow along with the medicinal herbs. I’ve been growing and eating different subtropical vegetables for a couple years now, finding plants that both thrive through our intensely hot & wet summers and my family will actually eat. And so far I’ve found some real winners like lambsquarters, seminole pumpkins, cassava, and taro. So a couple weeks ago I took a weekend trip south and visited two amazing places for subtropical herbs- The Mustang Flea Market in Pinellas Park and Bamboo Grove in Arcadia.
The Mustang Flea Market is 80% typical Florida flea market and 20% amazing Thai and Laotian farmers and nursery market. It was like a wonderland for me. Exotic foods everywhere! I went a little crazy buying galangal roots and hanging baskets of every southeast Asian culinary herb I didn’t already have. Then I headed further south to Arcadia and Bamboo Grove.
Somehow I didn’t get a single picture with any of the 40 or so people at the event, but here you can see the wild diversity on his farm and nursery. Plant Fest was lovely and Andy Firk’s generous spirit and hospitality are without equal. I also picked up some extremely cool plants here too. Altogether I brought home: Limnophila aromatica, Polygonum odoratum, a giant-leaf variety of Eryngium foetidum, Alpinia galanga, Alpinia officinarum, Curcuma zedoaria, Curcuma caesia, Stephania tetrandra, a couple lovely Pandanus amaryllifolius and some malanga I’m going to try growing. I’m not using common names on purpose- these plants are grown on several continents and have common names in multiple languages- how could I choose?

Eryngium foetidum is a perfect example. Despite being native to central America, this unassuming and rather spiky herb is mostly known on Caribbean islands and inexplicably, in southeast Asia and somewhat less in India. I’m not surprised that it reached there since it’s much easier to grow in hot, steamy weather than its culinary sister, cilantro. Unlike cilantro this herb thrives in part-to-full shade and needs humidity. In full sun the leaves stay small and it bolts almost immediately and dies back.


  1. Hi, you mentioned you got hold of some Stephania tetrandra plants. Might I ask how prolific they are; do you have a lot of them? Do you think they might be worth trying to establish in temperate England? I am looking to grow them for a family member who would like to use the root powder, but it is excessively expensive to get hold of in powder form (or tincture).
    Kind regards

    • I only have one, and so far have been unsuccessful in trying to propagate it. Most Chinese herbalists in America no longer use this herb even though it doesn’t contain aristolochic acid. You may have more luck visiting a large Chinatown and buying it from a traditional practitioner there.

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