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There are many local sources for common herbs, such as Home Depot and Walt Anderson's Nursery. For a further step into exotica, look into Mission Hills Nursery, where I've bought some really strange stuff, e.g., a black Peruvian sage with sticky leaves that eventually made itself unwelcome as it shot up, exuding a funky odor.

You really have to be careful about herbs. My cardamom plant, described as "a handsome house plant," once set in the garden turned into something huge and invasive. It's never given me any cardamom, but occasionally flowers prettily. And lemon grass (with sharp edges, perhaps the feared jungle grass of the Vietnam war) will also spread and grow excessively here. It's a jungle out there! To my surprise, San Diego (officially zone 10) will also grow plenty of zone 11 tropical plants, even to excess. Want something like basil year round? Perennial African blue basil, a pretty bush, survives our winters with ease. It doesn't really taste like normal Italian basils, though -- more like thyme or oregano.

The best source I've ever found for herb plants is a catalog from Canada, Richters.com. They have everything you want, incuding your ordinary favorites, plus stuff you've never heard of. After many trips to Trinidad and Tobago, I desperately wanted "Spanish thyme," a necessary herb in Trini (and Jamaican) cooking. (Its actually a flavorful relative of coleus.) Got it at Richter's, and it's been thriving for years in a planter at my front door, The company ships quickly and carefully. This is a good time to order, since "May gray" and "June gloom" are actually optimum times to set out young herbs.

If you want to buy your herbs and spices already dried, the company that a lot of chefs use is Penzey.com. Huge selection of freshly-dried spices grown wherever they grow best, with a full choice of sizes for your order. "Trendy" spices may be available at much more moderate prices than at gourmet stores. Penzey's is in it for the long run, not for the moment's profit.

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