Herbs love me!Well, not really me--but my soil.Since
many herbs originally grew in Greece or other parts of the Mediterranean, they
feel right at home in my well-drained sandy and extremely alkaline soil.
When growing herbs, the most important requirement is good drainage.If your soil is heavy clay, you may want to consider building a raised
bed.I don't recommend adding
sand to your soil because it would take a tremendous amount to make a real
difference and more importantly, you can inadvertently accomplish the opposite
result and end up with a hard layer of homemade cement.
Add lots of compost to your
planting hole and use it as mulch around each herb--but apply fertilizer
encourages rapid plant growth at the expense of the essential oils, which are
what give herbs their flavor and scent.
Drying herbs is as simple
as using the microwave.Just lay a
single layer of clean, dry leaves between plain white paper towels.Place them in the microwave for one to two minutes on high power and then
remove them and let them cool down.If
they aren't brittle you will need to rearrange them a bit and then stick them
back in for another thirty seconds.Just
keep repeating these steps until your herbs are completely dry and crumble
easily.Don't try and speed up
this process or the herbs may become overheated and start on fire.
Annual Culinary Herbs
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)--An herb or kitchen garden would not be complete
without at least one variety of basil.You
can try a few new varieties every season and never come close to growing
them all. There are purple varieties ('Dark Opal' and 'Purple
Ruffles'), lemon ('Sweet Dani') and cinnamon flavored varieties and
basils with extremely large leaves such as the AAS winner 'Thai Siam
Queen' or the old favorite 'Lettuce Leaf.'
Just a breath of frost will turn basil leaves to useless black mush. For that reason, don't get antsy and set your young plants
outside until you are absolutely sure that it will not frost.Like tomatoes, they will only languish until warmer weather comes anyway.
Celery (Apium graveolens 'Amsterdam')--A little known herb that I have found useful for cooking is leaf or cutting celery.It is difficult to grow real celery in the
North so this plant makes it easy to add the same celery flavor to soups and
stews.The dark green, glossy
foliage dries easily and somewhat resembles flat-leaved parsley.I have never seen cutting celery offered at nurseries, but it is
easily started by seed indoors (see below).
Summer savory (Satureja hortensis)
--This is called the bean herb because it is used so often in bean dishes. I
think it tastes a bit like peppery thyme with a little sage kick at the end.
It is one of the easiest annual herbs to grow. Just throw the seeds out when
the ground warms up, and you will have more summer savory than you know what
to do with. Plus, it is a reliable self-seeder, so you will have it popping
up in your
herb garden for many seasons to come.
Parsley (Petroselinum)--Connoisseurs prefer the taste of the flat-leaved
Italian parsley (P. var. neapolitanum) to that of the curly-leaved parsley
(P. var. crispum) more commonly sold in nurseries. I am not that discerning so I still prefer to use the curlier type. The bright green foliage complements any nearby flowers and as an
added bonus it is a host plant for swallowtail caterpillars.A common fallacy is that parsley can not be transplanted and that it
should be seeded where it will grow.I
won't go into all the folklore behind this gardening myth; suffice it to
say that I have replanted many a parsley seedling with no ill effects (to me
or the plant).
marjoram (Origanum majorana)---Marjoram is one of the traditional herbs used
in "Bouquet Garni.(see below)" Usually grown as an annual, marjoram resembles oregano, but has a
milder flavor.Grow it just as your would most tender herbs--lots of
sun and very good drainage.
(Anethum graveolens)--I am not much of a "pickler" but I do include
dill in my kitchen garden.After
all--what kind of a vegetable garden would it be without a few dill plants?The seeds are a little strong for most dishes, but try using the
feathery leaves on salads or in sauces.'Bouquet' is a much fuller, more attractive plant then the common
(Rosmarinus officinalis)--I like to grow my rosemary in a container so I
can move it into the house when cold weather comes.It is not the easiest houseplant, but it seems to appreciate my
"benign neglect" approach to plants that dwell inside.Although a member of the mint family, do not over water rosemary or
you will soon lose it.
Chives(Allium schoenoprasum)--Onion grass is one of the easiest and most low-maintenance
of the hardy culinary herbs. It blooms in the Spring with lovely little
purple flowers and is wonderful chopped and sprinkled on top of many dishes.
It isn't fussy about soil or light so it can be located almost anywhere.
There is also a garlic flavored variety which has white blossoms in late
summer. I use both around the whole perimeter of my herb gardens where
they make a very tidy edging.
Oregano(Origanum vulgare)--The best oregano for cooking is
Greek oregano, unfortunately; it isn't hardy here. I grow the common oregano
wherever I need a flowering groundcover because it has very aromatic
leaves and small purplish flowers the bees love, almost all summer long.
You can use it on your pizza and other dishes, but you may want to grow
some of the Greek variety in a pot on your deck for those "special"
French Tarragon(Artemisia dracunculus)--I've had good luck with my tarragon. It is often
rated only to zone 5, but mine has come through five winters here in zone
4 in good shape. Tarragon has a licorice smell and taste and is best known
for its use in salad vinegar. When picking out your plant at the nursery
make sure you crush a small leaf and smell it. There is a wide difference
in tarragon plants so if you find it hard to catch a licorice fragrance,
it may be an inferior type--or even Russian tarragon which has no flavor
Winter savory (Satureja montana)
--The perennial version of the bean herb (see summer savory above). They
both have a peppery flavor which is good in both stews and soups. The
perennial savory is harder to find in nurseries, you may have to order it
from one of the herb catalogs (see below).
Lemon Balm(Melissa officinalis)--This is a
member of the mint family--but isn't invasive like its relative. I rarely
have a plant make it through the winter but I've included it on this list
because it always abundantly self-seeds. The leaves have a wonderful lemon
smell and taste and you can use them in almost any recipe that calls for
lemon juice. My favorite use is several leaves in iced Earl Grey tea.
Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis)--Sage is
temperamental in the North.Sometimes
it will come back for few years and then one spring--no sage.Worth replanting when necessary, garden sage is a very attractive two
to three foot, gray-green plant best known for its use as a stuffing herb.If you have never used fresh sage, it is worth growing just to see
the difference it makes in your favorite sage recipes.
Mints (Mentha)--Most of the mints are very hardy with the exception of the
variegated varieties, such as pineapple. Always plant your mints either
in a bed by themselves or sink an old pot or can up to its rim and plant
your mints inside. They will cross-pollinate so if you have a variety that
you really like--don't plant other mints nearby. I found a wonderful new
mint last summer called 'Chewing gum,' which has a nice spearmint
fragrance and taste and hasn't proven to be too invasive--yet!
Garni is used to garnish (garni) soups and stews.Use string to tie 4 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf, and 1
sprig marjoram into a bundle.Add
one bouquet for every two quarts of soup about 20 minutes before the soup is
Medicinal Herbs Video
Learn about medicinal plants and what they
can do, but please check with your doctor before self-medicating.
Renee's Garden Seeds 7389 W. Zayante Rd. Felton, CA 95018 1-888-880-7228 or FAX 1-831-335-7227
This is the book that I always go back
to when I need no-nonsense cultural and medicinal information on over
140 different herbs. "Rodale's
Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs" by Claire Kowalchik (Editor),
William H. Hylton (Editor) Paperback - 545 pages (January 1998) Rodale
Herbs for Short-Season Gardeners" by Ernest Small, Grace Deutsch. Paperback -
181 pages (April 2002) Mountain Press. This book brims with practical tips
to help herb growers make the most of a short growing season. The illustrated
"Culinary Herbs Compendium" includes more than 50 species and 100 cultivars and
provides descriptions of individual herbs, cultivation and harvesting notes,
culinary and medicinal uses, and herbal trivia.