Do you have a spice rack full of dried herbs? How old are they? Did you know that dried herbs begin to lose potency after a few months? So that 3 year old jar of basil isn’t doing your marinara sauce much good.
Why not grow your own? Fresh herbs add so much more flavor and aroma to your cooking, not to mention they can be beautiful and add a wonderful smell to your home or garden. Many fresh herbs have health properties as well as culinary, and you can also grow medicinal herbs to replace some of the synthetic things lurking in your medicine cabinet.
Growing herbs indoors is a good choice if you have limited outdoor space. You can get small planters or use a window box. Growing them outside works just as well; you can grow them alone in pots or a garden, but they make great companions for flowers and vegetables! When growing with vegetables, they can enhance the flavor of whatever vegetable they are planted with! Try a pizza garden, planting basil and oregano with tomatoes and peppers. Chives can enhance the flavors of carrots. Herbs can also attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. For example, lavender and rosemary are helpful when planting in a flower garden. Some herbs come in different colors, such as sage, thyme and mint, so that can add to your flower garden’s beauty!
Whether planting in the window or outside, take the sun into consideration when deciding what to plant. If your area is sunny and hot, try thyme, coriander, lavender, basil, lemon verbena, dill, sage and rosemary. If the area is shady and not so warm, better choices would be mint, parsley, lemon balm, chives and oregano. It would also be helpful to know which herbs are annuals and perennials:
Don’t forget to plant those medicinal herbs! Many culinary herbs can be used medicinally. Basil is anti-inflammatory and great for joint pain. Tarragon is good for toothaches and tummies. Sage can help with hot flashes and sore throats. Rosemary is full of antioxidants and helpful for heart health. Oregano and thyme are useful for infections, especially respiratory; and do you know why parsley is often used as a garnish at restaurants? It’s because it’s great to freshen breath! You can snip a piece off and chew on it! Other medicinal herbs would be an awesome addition to your garden. They can be used in holistic preparations as well as brewed into teas. Echinacea and astragalus for the immune system, burdock and dandelion for detox, lavender and valerian for relaxation and insomnia, and calendula is a wonderful used topically for wound healing.
Frequent harvesting will help with a thick, hearty growth. Harvest in the morning after dew has evaporated but before the sun gets too hot and dries out the leaves. Be gentle; you don’t want to bruise your herbs. Use immediately or store for later. To keep them fresh, rinse off any dirt under cool water, shake off the excess and pat dry. Treat as you would fresh cut flowers by trimming off excess stems and storing in a vase of cool water, keeping the leaves from being submerged. Store in the refrigerator (except for basil, which should be stored on the counter). Change the water if it becomes cloudy and clip off any yellow, brown or slimy leaves. Drying and freezing are other ways you can store your herbs, especially if you have more than you can handle. I once had a client whose greenhouse was overgrown with enough mint to last a lifetime! If planning to dry and/or freeze, do so soon after harvesting while the herbs are their freshest.
When cooking with your freshly grown herbs, remember than if a recipe calls for dried herbs, you would use three times the amount of fresh. Use them at room temperature for the best flavor. Chop or tear them into small pieces for more even distribution, and add them towards the end of the cooking time. Try making a “bouquet garni “– bundle your whole fresh herbs together and tie with culinary string, or better yet, another herb (chives work well). You add this to your pot and remove before serving.
What are your favorite herbs? Let me know and I’ll get you some recipes!