What if we told you that technically, purple doesn’t exist? That we can only see it because of a trick in the way our brains perceive the world, and that the colour itself doesn’t actually correspond to any visible frequency in the colour spectrum?
“But what about rainbows!” we hear you cry. “They’ve got purple in them!”
Orange is nestled between red and yellow, as you’d expect. Green sits between yellow and blue: nothing controversial here. But if you look carefully, the purple-ish colour appears after blue, not between blue and red. This is because the final colour on the rainbow is violet, and, technically speaking, violet and purple aren’t the same.
Now that we’ve blown your minds…
We digress. You probably didn’t come here looking for a fundamental re-evaluation of the way you conceptualise colour, so we’ll knock that line of conversation on the head and move onto the real question: which herbs have purple flowers?
(Or, should we say, which herbs have flowers that we perceive as purple?)
Here are nine contenders, all of which will look stunning in your garden regardless of the newfound philosophical considerations that surround them.
Probably the first purple herb that comes to mind is lavender. This distinct and varied family of herbs all feature long stalks tipped with purple (or sometimes white or pink) sprigs. Rub your fingers on a sprig and you’ll get a waft of their famous scent: one you can find in all manner of essential oils, toiletries, and even recipes.
Lavender grows naturally in expansive bushes, often replete with bees going about their pollen-related business. Bushes naturally exude the captivating scent, making them a lovely addition to any outdoor space. Lavender also grows well in containers: great if you want to prevent it from getting too unruly.
This is a good example of a herb that most of us never really see in bloom. If you pick up a packet of rosemary from the shelf at your local supermarket, it’ll just be a few sprigs of dark green leaves. Catch it in the right season growing in the wild, though, and you’ll find a dazzling array of purple flowers vying for your attention.
If you have a cat (or if you are one, although this seems unlikely), then you should definitely try growing catnip if you have the space. This member of the mint family has the fascinating effect of being completely irresistible to cats. Some take a sniff and collapse into a puddle of cuteness and fluff, while others enter into a psychedelic new headspace for a little while, writhing about the place with dilated pupils.
However your cat responds to this plant, it’s a nice experience to share together. And what’s more, the gentle purple flowers will look fantastic in your garden, whether alone or nestled up against other purple herbs.
The first time I saw purple flowers on chives was by accident. I left my chive plant unattended for a while, and then came back to little pink-purple orbs balanced delicately on the top of each strand.
The flowers are not only visually intriguing, but they’re also edible. Pick one off and plop it onto a salad or any other dish where a garnish tasting faintly of onions will contribute, and you’re good to go.
No dish of lamb is complete without a sprig of sage, and in fact this herb lends itself so well to a selection of hearty, warming winter foods that we almost insist that any gardener with space should grow it. Each summer your sage will erupt into a lively purple bloom, and it’s a real treat to behold.
6. Anise hyssop
With this herb, we’re entering the realm of herbs that most people may not be overly familiar with. And that’s alright! It’s a good opportunity to learn what’s available in addition to the regular contenders we see in the supermarket herb section.
Anise hyssop looks a little like lavender to the untrained eye. It boasts purple sprigs atop long stalks and grows in dense bushes. The scent and flavour are subtly different though: expect something a little like liquorice (hence the name), and ideal for using as garnishes or working through recipes.
This herb packs a very strong flavour punch, and is a common feature in Italian cooking. Often you’ll find dried oregano in herb mixes on the table in pizza restaurants, but the fresh leaf also makes a great addition to cooking.
Oregano also boasts purple flowers, as you may have expected when you found it in this list. Pinky-purple petals erupt forth from darker purple, almost red bases, giving this herb a real stunning colour profile.
We’ve written elsewhere on this site about the vast number of pun opportunities presented by thyme. On the off chance that you’ve read one of those articles, we’ll spare you the onslaught of dad jokes here, and will suffice to say that thyme is another herb commonly found in supermarket which, in the wild, sports attractive purple flowers.
If you’re trying to identify a herb with purple flowers, or you’re looking for purple-flowered herbs to grow in your very own herb garden, we definitely recommend taking the thyme to familiarise yourself with this one.
Loved by grandmas everywhere as a remedy for pretty much any ailment, echinacea has a long and proud history in traditional medicine circles. It also has purple flowers, too, making it a suitable entrant for this list.
While some of the other herbs here have small and dainty flowers, echinacea’s bloom is big and bold. The centre of the flower is surrounded by big oval-shaped pedals that flirt with pink and purple in equal measure.
If you’re interested in the medicinal properties of echinacea, we recommend making an infusion from the petals and leaves. Add a couple of teaspoons of dried plant matter to at least a cup of boiling water, and let it stew for 15-20 minutes.
“A garden of purple is always in bloom!”
This adage, common among gardeners, points to the wide range of plants that have purple flowers. If you incorporate a selection of these into your garden, it’s likely that their combined flowering season will extend across quite a large swathe of the year.
Adding herbs to your garden brings so much to the space. Not only do you give yourself a ready supply of tasty herbs to liven up your cooking (and, if the mood takes you, to expand your traditional medicine capabilities), but you tap into a whole new seam of flowering potential.
When growing herbs take care to familiarise yourself with the growing requirements of each. While an untended (or even forgotten) herb box will hold its own for a little while, they’ll definitely do a lot better with the TLC that any plant deserves.