Growing Herbs: The Right Kind
Herbs are simple to grow, but there are so many kinds & varieties that one should start slow and from a good idea about just why you want them. The reasons may be many but they can be overdone. You don’t want to do that because they are a valuable part of your nutrition, and you don’t want to hate them because they become hard to harvest or make a mess in your kitchen or elsewhere. You’ll want to grow enough to meet all your needs. In my case that means 5-7 different kinds of herbs that are easy to care for and harvest at intervals but not all at once.
You’ll have plants that you can harvest leaves as you go along and wash before you throw them into today’s salad. You’ll have some that you will harvest in small amounts and mixed into a dish you are going to bake. Then whatever you don’t use in salads or baked dishes you’ll harvest usually in more sizable amounts and dry or freeze. The herbs you dry you will package separately for use over the winter while whatever you freeze you can put into sauces or other dishes that you’ll cook. In either case the frozen herbs used later will taste or indeed smell just as though they came from the garden that day. Over the course of the season I fill up a metal shaker with a mixture of dried herbs that I can sprinkle over eggs or almost anything. Freshly dried herbs or even a mix that’s been sitting around for a few months are invariably better than what you can buy — mine are just fresher. Even dried herbs will enhance the flavor of most cooked food. You won’t need much if any pepper and very little salt.
In every season I grow basil, dill, cilantro, oregano, parsley, rosemary. The basil dill and cilantro I pick a few leaves at a time for each day’s salads — picked just as the salad is made. Of course, I have tomatoes and lettuce right from the garden as well (and while they’re not herbs, they are the place to start with the salad).
The basil, dill and cilantro keep growing all season long while I keep harvesting little bits at a time for salads. At the end of the season when growth may be getting out of hand I harvest all the leaves or sprigs before they get tough or the stems woody. For the big harvest I just put the washed and cut up springs or leaves on cookie sheets and dry them in the oven preset to about 170 degrees. Alternatively the basil, dill or cilantro can be frozen in small packages, but then when you use it you’ll take it directly from the freezer and put it into whatever dish you are cooking — sauces, omelets, soups, or vegetables like stewed tomatoes –the list of specific dishes is endless.
The oregano I just dry at the end of the season, and use it in an assortment of dishes over the year. The parsley gets used in salads sometimes or in assorted dishes in which fresh parsley is called for — like parsley potatoes (little olive oil over peeled and cut-up Russert potatoes baked in an oven at 350 degrees for about an hour). You can also make this dish with fresh rosemary as well as fresh parsley or you can have it with a combination of parsley and rosemary.
The parsley can usually be harvested twice during the season. Cut it right down to the ground and then process the leaves all at once (dry at 170). You can also freeze some and then use in cooked dishes. Later you can harvest again when the parsley grows back again. The rosemary can be cut off the bush in some quantity and put in the refrigerator or simply on the pantry shelf and used over the next several weeks — or you can send a bunch of it to friends in a tight postal box. The rosemary generally oozes volatile oil of rosemary. It is very aromatic and very slow to dry. If you like the smell and most do, you can cut sprigs from the plant and place them all over the house. They smell great to humans but insects don’t like the odor and generally leave the house at the first sign of rosemary.
As you become accustomed to growing herbs you can add more to your list. Thyme and sage are good choices. You can use sprigs or thyme or leaves of sage in various dishes over the course of the season or just harvest and dry at the end of the season. Tarragon is also a good choice to add and can be harvested along the way or simply at the end of the season and dried like the thyme and sage.
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Richard A. Hudson is a writer, reader and blogger committed to exercise, proper nutrition and health. He’s interested in politics, economics, alternative energy, gardening and sustainability and has written brief essays on many of these topics on his bloghttp://richlynne.wordpress.com. Despite his generally positive and optimistic views about globalization, he wonders whether we will survive current destructive forces that increasingly promote warfare among political and social classes. He is also beginning to think about the declining influence of the know-it-all baby boomer generation just as the next generation born in the 60s begins to slowly stumble into a dominant position in the U.S.
He received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago (1966) and subsequently spent 42 years in academics, gradually developing all sorts of interests well beyond his basic training. He ended his academic career in 2008, having published about 100 scientific papers, reviews and commentaries. In his last several years in the academy, his role as Dean of the Graduate School afforded him many opportunities to interact with students from all over the world seeking graduate degrees.