How to Grow Olive Herb

by Corinne Mossati

It looks more like rosemary and tastes of olives, the olive herb plant makes a great addition to the edible garden. Here’s how to grow and harvest the olive herb, and use in cocktails and the kitchen.

How to Grow Olive Herb

How to Grow Olive Herb – Photo © The Gourmantic Garden

As seen on Botanical Beverages: My Segment on Gardening Australia

The olive herb, santolina rosmarinifolia, also known as holy flax and wadi tops is a perennial, hardy and woody plant that’s very low maintenance. It grows as a small and compact shrub up to 30-50cm high which makes it ideal as a hedge and in borders. If you’re short on space like I am, it’s is well suited to growing in containers which means it can easily go on a sunny balcony.

The culinary plant has dark green needle-like leaves which have the flavour and aroma of olives. Come summer time, it is known to produce small yellow button flowers though mine hasn’t produced any blooms yet.


How to Grow Olive Herb

The olive herb can be grown from seed but they’re not easy to find. After the plant flowers, it produces achenes (source), a type of nut fruit which can be sown in early spring. You’re more likely to find it as an established plant or a seedling at a garden centre. I bought mine as a little plant, put it in a container and forgot about it until it needed transplanting to a larger pot.

In spring, it can be propagated through cuttings, much the same as you would do for propagating rosemary.

Olive Herb Plant Care

The plant is so low maintenance that you can simply plant it and forget it. Like most woody herbs, it likes full sun and well-drained soil. Make sure you don’t overwater it as it doesn’t like wet feet which can lead to root rot. It seems to be tolerant of most diseases and garden pests. Once a month during spring, feed your plant with a liquid fertiliser and that’s all there is to it.


How to Grow Olive Herb

Needle-Like Leaves – Photo © The Gourmantic Garden

The best way to harvest the olive herb is to snip with scissors which has the benefit of pruning the plant at the same time.

Tips for Growing Olive Herb

Although the herb likes full sun, during the hot Sydney summer days (and the drought and water restrictions), my potted plant was scorched and started dropping its leaves leaving patches of bare stems. I moved the plant to a location that gets a couple of hours of shade and the slow regeneration started.


Culinary Uses of Olive Herb

The olive herb adds a savoury flavour to dishes. Once you start using it, you’ll find it to be so versatile in the kitchen. You can add it to salads, pasta, marinades, pesto, mushroom dishes and pizza. You can use it in place of rosemary, with fish, roast meats and make flavoured salts. The little branches can be cut and hung to dry for later use.


Olive Herb in Cocktails

The Olivia Cocktail

The Olivia Cocktail – Photo © The Gourmantic Garden

The olive herb can be used in cocktails when you want to add a savoury note to the drink. Get the recipe for the Olivia cocktail  in my book GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN.

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