If you like to cook, as I do, adding fresh herbs to your recipes is a great way to add flavor and freshness to just about anything. Fresh garden herbs also make a special garnish on party trays, in drinks, or just to spruce up your dinner plate. I get a great amount of pleasure snipping fresh herbs from the multitude of pots on my patio table, and including them in everything I make. A fresh sprig of mint livens up a simple glass of iced tea and adds a special touch.
There are hundreds of varieties of culinary herbs available by seed or transplant, especially in the Spring. I tend to stick to the basics and not get too fancy.
Because of the creeping nature of some herbs, like the various mints, thyme and oregano, I like to keep mine confined in pots, rather than in the vegetable garden. Mint will take over all space provided to it, and is difficult to get rid of, once this has occurred. If you really want to grow herbs in a garden, many herbs can share space without strangling each other out. Basil, sage, tarragon, rosemary, cilantro, parsley, dill and chives would work well together.
If you are new to herb gardening, don’t be daunted by the wide variety of herbs available. Just take a quick look at your dried herb pantry, and pick some of what you use the most. Herbs are really easy to grow, in pots, hanging baskets, or in the garden, and just require decent soil and good drainage. Most will grow best in part sun, part shade. Dappled sunlight works great. (Rosemary likes full sun).
Some of my favorites are:
Sweet Basil, annual. Basil grows easily from seed, but I prefer transplants. Pinch off flowers to preserve flavor. Basil is pairs well with tomato dishes, pizza, sauces, and with a good harvest, you can make pesto. I replant basil throughout the season, as the stems tend to get woody and reduce the flavor.
Chives, perrennial. Chives are really easy to grow, and take up little space. Just snip as needed and to egg dishes, potatoes, or wherever you’d like to impart a slightly oniony flavor.
Coriander, annual. We call this cilantro in the south. Coriander gets to be about 2 feet tall, and bolts (goes to seed) in late Spring. Use the leaves in Mexican dishes, salsas, and pestos, then gather the seeds for dishes calling for coriander.
Dill, annual. Dill is easy to grow, and can get to be 2 to 3 feet high. The leaves and seeds are great with fish, for flavoring pickles.
Oregano, perennial. Oregano is really easy to grow, and doesn’t even need good soil. It can get to be 2 feet tall if you don’t cut the flowers, and will spread. I prefer to use fresh oregano leaves, but it can be dried easily. Oregano is perfect for Italian dishes, pizza, pasta, is is great chopped with garlic and rubbed on beef or lamb.
Parsley, biennial. I prefer curly leafed parsley, and use it mostly for garnishing dishes. Just snip the curled leaves and top just about anything.
Peppermint, perennial. P is for prison. Or pot. Remember this. Keep peppermint out of the garden or it will take over the garden, the yard, the keys to the car. Use fresh or dried, in teas, on ice cream, or as a garnish. Middle Eastern dishes sometimes call for mint. And let us not forget Mint Juleps and Mojitos.
Rosemary, evergreen. Rosemary needs lots of sun, more than some of the more tender herbs. Rosemary can be contained in a pot, or grown as a shrub, although it it highly flammable, due to its oiliness, and not be grown in the ground near wood decking. Rosemary adds great flavor to meats, and makes a great garnish on a cheese plate.
Sage, perennial. Sage can grow 2-3 feet in height, and can sprawl out, so it is best in a pot or container. It is a slow growing plant requiring full sun. Best known for its use in stuffings, although also tasty fried and used on pizza.
Tarragon, perennial. Tarragon is best grown in part shade. It can grow to be 2 feet tall. It is best used fresh, as it loses flavor when dried. I love the anise flavor of tarragon in egg dishes and chicken salad.
Thyme, perennial. Thyme is a low growing plant, with a tendency to spread. Thyme can be used fresh (yes!) or dried. It is great with just about anything, but certainly chicken dishes, stews and soups.
Experiment with some herbs this season and spice up your cooking. Growing your own herbs is much more economical than buying fresh at the grocery store, where often you have to buy a bundle, when you only need a spoonful. Just snip off what you need!