The connoisseurs among the hobby gardeners have known for a long time; Olive herb belongs in a well-stocked herb and kitchen garden. The spicy plant with the botanical name Santolina viridis from the genus Heiligenkraut, also known as cypress herb, grows between 10 cm and 60 cm high, forms beautiful yellow flower heads and is hardy. Therefore, it is also often cultivated as a container plant or planted in a flower box. Since olive herb is an excellent habit, the plant can also be found in the rock garden and cottage garden. The name may suggest it, but olives don’t grow on it. Instead, the delicate needle leaves smell and taste like pickled olives, which are an indispensable part of Mediterranean cuisine.


The evergreen subshrub with the unusual, finely stalked leaves, which are opposite on the stem, provides the aromatic olive spice for several years if the following care instructions are heeded:

  • The plant thrives particularly well in a warm, sunny location.
  • Well-drained, slightly sandy soil is preferred.
  • Water only in dry periods.
  • The olive herb does not get waterlogged at all.
  • Add some liquid fertilizer to the irrigation water once a month.
  • Flowering period July to August.
  • Cut back vigorously after flowering.
  • Frequent pruning promotes growth.

If the cypress herb is cultivated primarily for consumption, organic fertilizer should be used instead of liquid fertilizer, such as well-rotted garden compost or horn shavings.


The holy herb has indeed proven to be quite frost-resistant; will appreciate some protection from fir branches or twigs in winter, especially if planted in the garden. In the tub or flower box, the plant is simply brought inside the house, where it spends the winter on a south-facing window. In this way, the garden lover always has fresh olive herb to hand for his dishes, even in the cold season.

If there is no space in the house for winter quarters, it is advisable to place the planter on the sheltered south wall of the house. So that the root ball does not freeze through, the bucket is placed on a styrofoam or wooden block and wrapped in bubble wrap. The cypress herb should be protected from intense winter sun. Outdoors it is sufficient if a garden fleece is pulled over it. In winter, the location in the room is either chosen in such a way that it cannot be exposed to direct sunlight, or shading is available if necessary.


For the propagation of the olive herb, the garden lover has the choice between different methods:


In the spring, 15 cm to 20 cm shoots are cut off the mother plant, which are only slightly woody and do not bloom. In the lower half, the cuttings are freed from foliage. 3 to 5 of the shoots are placed in each cultivation pot that is filled with nutrient-poor substrate. To ensure that no waterlogging can occur, the pots should have a crack through which excess water can drain. To improve the permeability of the substrate, some sand is mixed in.

If enough new roots have formed after about 10 to 14 days, the cuttings are pricked out and placed in their own pot. Until next spring, they spend the time in a warm place while they diligently form more, strong roots. They are constantly kept slightly moist, but not fertilized. As soon as the frost has pulled out of the ground in spring, the young plants can be planted in a sunny spot in the garden. The potting soil should not be too heavy and, if necessary, be loosened up with sand. If a dose of compost is added, the olive herb gets a good start to grow quickly and safely.


Since holy herb is one of the robust perennials of the garden, the most uncomplicated method of propagation is by division:

  • Dig up a vigorous mother plant in spring.
  • Break up with a spade or knife.
  • Each part must have at least one drive.
  • Cut off diseased and damaged roots.
  • Cover wounds with wood ash.
  • Plant and water the parts in their new location.
  • Planting distance 30 cm to 40 cm.

In this case, too, the enrichment of the potting soil with compost and horn shavings before planting the olive herb should be gratefully accepted.


When the seeds of the Santolina viridis have ripened in the flower heads after flowering in summer, they can be removed from them. In the following days they dry in a warm place and are then stored in an airtight container until February or March. Before sowing, the seeds are placed in a bowl of water for a day so that they will germinate better later.

Since holy herb is a cold germ, a cold stimulus is required. To achieve this, the seeds are placed in a plastic bag filled with sand, twisted into a sausage and tied at the ends. So they spend the next 4 weeks either in the fridge (not in the freezer) or on the balcony when the temperatures are between 5° and 7° Celsius. The seeds are then placed in a seed tray filled with nutrient-poor soil and lightly pressed. As light germinators, they are not covered with soil.

In the following weeks the seedlings will develop their first leaves, can then be pricked out and further cultivated until they are strong enough to be planted in beds or containers. If you do not have a cold frame with a lid, you should refrain from direct sowing, because birds, snails and other animals will undoubtedly feast on the seedlings.


Since the olive herb develops both upright and prostrate shoots, propagation by lowering is an option. With this approach, a strong branch is pulled to the ground where a trough has been dug in the soil or substrate. There the sinker is fixed with the help of stones. The tip of the shoot must still stick out of the ground. Before that, experienced hobby gardeners take a thin, sharp knife or a razor blade and lightly carve the shoot in two or three places. The aim of this measure is faster root formation. Only when the sinker has formed its own robust root system is it cut off from the mother plant and planted in its new location.

Related species and varieties

Gardeners who enjoy aromatically scented plants should consider cultivating the following related perennials and companion plants:

Rosmarinheide – Santolina rosmarinifolia

  • Growth height 30 cm to 50 cm
  • yellow flowers July to August
  • upright and bushy
  • spreads the typical rosemary scent
  • hardy
  • perennial

Silverleaf Sage – Salvia argentea

  • Growth height 50 cm to 100 cm
  • silvery rosettes of leaves
  • goes well with gray olive herb
  • wintergreen
  • needs light winter protection

Dwarf White Sage – Salvia officinalis ‘Nana Alba’

  • Growth height 20 cm to 40 cm
  • white flowers
  • Flowering time June to July
  • hardy

Garden Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia ‘Jamlitz’

  • Growth height 50 cm to 60 cm
  • also copes with rough situations
  • blue-violet flowers
  • Flowering time June to July
  • hardy

Duftende Nachtkerze – Oenothera odorata ‘Sulphurea’

  • Growth height 60 cm
  • large pale yellow flowers
  • Flowering period June to August
  • gives off a heavy perfume scent
  • needs winter protection

Santolina ‚Compacta‘

  • Growth height 20 cm to 30 cm
  • beautiful foliage plant
  • suitable as a cut flower
  • aromatic, spicy fragrance
  • ideal for the rock garden

Purple Bells – Heuchera hybrid ‘Cappuccino’

  • Growth height 30 cm to 50 cm
  • milky white flowers
  • delicate purple leaves
  • Flowering time June to July
  • also bears colorful foliage in winter

Heather cypress herb

  • Growth height up to a maximum of 40 cm
  • stocky, compact growth
  • yellow flowers
  • small green leaves
  • aromatic kitchen spice
  • hardy

Gray Holywort – Santolina chamaecyparissus

  • grey-leaved stems
  • yellow flowers
  • very similar to olive herb
  • Growth height 30 cm to 50 cm
  • Flowering time July to August
  • cut compatible
  • hardy

Graugrünes Heiligenkraut – Santolina rosmarinifolia ssp. canescens

  • particularly distinctive hybrid
  • Growth height 30 cm to 50 cm
  • grey-green, needle-like leaves
  • Flowering period June to August
  • Cut back after flowering
  • evergreen and hardy

In general, dark-leaved plants are particularly suitable as companion plants for the olive herb.

diseases and pests

In the case of aromatic herbal plants such as the olive herb, the saying ‘What one’s suffering is another’s joy’ applies in particular. The garden lover and gourmet is happy about fresh olive herb for his southern dishes. Snails and other pests, on the other hand, give the sacred herb a wide berth in disgust. If the plant is not doing well, this condition is usually due to mistakes and omissions in care or an unsuitable location.

Since this perennial is a true sun worshiper, too dark a location has fatal consequences. Either the olive herb sadly languishes or it withers away in search of more light. Waterlogging is a deadly danger for the semi-shrub, because if the roots are permanently wet, they will rot within a short time, causing the entire plant to die. Therefore, it is important to ensure that there is a drainage hole for excess irrigation water, especially in planters, which is covered with a drainage made of gravel or broken pottery.

This is how olive herb becomes durable

Anyone who cultivates olive herb in the garden does not want to miss out on enjoying the herbs in winter. It’s easy to freeze. Ice cube trays, in which you can remove and thaw the finely chopped needle leaves, are ideal for dividing into portions in the freezer. A popular method of preserving holy herb is drying. In this case, cut the stems as long as possible, tie them loosely together in small bouquets and hang them upside down in a dry, dark place. After a few weeks, the olive herb will be dry and you can store it in an airtight container until ready to use. It is only cut just before it is used, because otherwise the beautiful aroma is lost.

Olive herb is increasingly found in herb gardens, rockeries and cottage gardens. Even as a container or house plant, olive herb is not only beautiful to look at with its bright yellow flowers, but with the right care, provides fresh herbs for the kitchen all year round. Although even frosty temperatures cannot harm the Santolina viridis, a little protection from the cold in the form of fir branches or brushwood will certainly be gratefully accepted.

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