By Erin Marissa Russell
If your garden includes a vertical space like a trellis or garden wall, why not make the most of it by planting one of these herbs? Climbing plants are a great way to make the most of the space at your disposal, and herbs are always useful either in the kitchen or elsewhere around the house. There aren’t a huge number of herbs out there that are climbers, but the four on this list are our favorites.
American Bittersweet / Climbing Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)
It’s rare to find bittersweet in the modern herb garden, but it was cultivated by several Native American tribes for medicinal use. Historically, climbing bittersweet has been used to treat dysentery, liver problems, skin issues (including skin cancer), and women’s reproductive health. It has also been used as a diuretic, a diaphoretic to cause perspiration, and an emetic to induce vomiting. As a poultice, it treats burns, scrapes, and skin problems.
The species Celastrus scandens is a climbing variety of bittersweet that can reach heights of 20 feet tall. From July to August, climbing bittersweet plants burst into yellow-green blooms and eventually bear rusty brown fruit. This variety of bittersweet thrives in dense, moist soil, such as that found in forests, thickets, and along riverbeds. Seeds germinate best with three months of cold stratification.
Common Hops (Humulus lupulus)
Hops will be familiar to many readers because of their role in adding kick to beer. However, you may not know that hops also have a relaxing effect. Even better, they grow on a gorgeous vine, with the little green hops (which resemble green pinecones) dangling from the stems. (Just be sure to choose a female hops plant, which should be relatively easy as the male plants are normally not sold in stores. Males do not produce the flowers known as cones that are used in brewing beer.)
The perennial hops vine will end the fall season by dying back, so it does require just a bit of maintenance. As autumn comes to an end, simply cut the plant down to its roots. It will spring back to life as the weather warms up again the following year. The vines can reach heights of up to 30 feet tall, and the weight of the hops can ultimately knock over the trellis supporting them, so be mindful of that as your hops vine grows.
Hops are not often successfully grown from seed, being propagated instead from rhizomes. Make sure to provide your hops plant with a place to grow where it will get six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day, as skimping on sunlight will result in a plant that produces fewer hops.
Nasturtium, Climbing Spitfire or Climbing Phoenix (Tropaeolum majus)
Nasturtium plants are popular in the garden because of their gorgeous blossoms as well as their ability to repel garden pests. Their tendency to keep bugs at bay makes them an excellent addition to the vegetable garden or anywhere you want to keep insect-free. The leaves of the nasturtium plant are also edible and add a spicy touch to salads and other recipes. The trailing type of nasturtium plant isn’t a natural climber, but you can train the plant to climb up a trellis or other type of support.
Nasturtium performs best in full sun, but the plant will tolerate partial shade. However, nasturtium plants growing in partial shade are likely to have fewer flowers than if they were grown in the sun. For best results, grow nasturtium in average garden soil that drains well. To improve the germination of nasturtium seeds, soak them in water overnight before you plant them.
Provide nasturtium plants with plenty of water, or the leaves may become too spicy to really be tasty. When plants are stressed due to hot weather, the flavor of the leaves and flowers becomes more intense than most people like to eat. The young leaves are considered the best for eating, as they are the most tender and have the best flavor, but leaves and flowers can be picked all year long if the gardener desires.
Star Jasmine/Confederate Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)
Star jasmine is best known for the sweet scent of its white blooms. As an herb, the plant is used in jasmine tea and to lend its scent to soap and other beauty products. Gardeners will love star jasmine because of how quickly it grows. In warm regions, star jasmine is evergreen and, as the weather begins to warm up, it bursts into white flowers. Jasmine is a twining plant that will climb when trained to do so if you tie it to a fence or other support.
Star jasmine is happiest in full sun, though it will tolerate partial shade. It can be grown in sand, clay, or loam soils that are either alkaline or acidic, as long as the ground is kept consistently moist. Before you plant star jasmine, you may wish to amend the soil with organic material such as leaf mold or compost. A two-inch layer of mulch will help the soil where jasmine is growing to remain damp even if the weather is dry. Feed star jasmine plants with an all-purpose fertilizer, following the directions on the package.
These climbing herbs will provide vertical visual interest in the garden, while at the same time being useful in the kitchen or around the house in other ways. Any of these plants would make a great, unexpected addition to your herb garden. So choose your favorite, and add a climbing herb to your garden.