Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Culinary Herb Garden

Herb gardens come in many forms. You can plant a very formal, "old english" style garden with paths, designs and form, you can grow your herbs in pots, intersperse them with your vegetables, plant them around your garden plot, plant them in your flower beds around your home or grow them on your windowsill.

Most herbs like full sun and are very easy to grow and have little to no pest or disease problem. It is very important to grow them organically - this is not negotiable if you are using them for medicine. You also do not want to fertilize your herbs. When you use fertilizer (even the natural, organic fertilizer) it causes a spurt of lush growth - they will be beautiful ....but....they will have grown so fast that the oil content will not have kept up with the rate of growth. The oil is what provides us with the delicious aroma, taste and the medicinal benefits.

What herbs to start with? On the culinary side, that varies from person to person. What do you use when you cook or flavor foods? What do you have on your shelves that you might grow and dry yourself? Basics I would start with: Basils: Purple Ruffles for color, Sweet Basil, Pesto Basil, Lemon, Lime are some of my favorites although there are many other basil flavors! Cilantro - gotta have that for my salsa....if you let some of it go to seed and collect the seed, that is Coriander. Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme. French Tarragon for making vinegar (do not grow Russian Tarragon - little to no taste!) and Greek Oregano (make sure the label says true greek oregano....what they sell in the USA labeled oregano is really wild marjoram!). Parsley, caraway, cumin, fennel, dill (lots and lots of dill for pickles, cheese, cooking!)

Chives for those baked potatoes...did you know that the chive flower is edible? Look closely and see that the flower bud is actually lots of tiny flowers - pull them apart and sprinkle them over a always wows people and the taste is a very mild onion flavor! Garlic chives is another favorite - just adds a touch of garlic taste. Garlic itself is a wonderful herb to grow - make sure you plant the variety that stores well - don't use a garlic bulb from the store for planting...most of those are a California short season variety - they will not store.

The list is endless! There are no wrong choices. Try picking a handful of herbs that you haven't grown before and start there. Harvest all year - I pick basil all summer, lightly rinse the leaves, lay on a paper towell to dry for an hour or so and then place them in zip lock baggies in the freezer. I pack them in 2 cup measures which is exactly what I need for my delicious creamy basil dressing!

Some herbs I dry....rosemary, oregano, parsley, sage do well dried. Cilantro I freeze - it tastes horrible dried! Each year add another handful. Learn to use what you grow each year. I found that I could do 5 or 6 new herbs each year. Go slow! If you plant 25 new herbs this year, chances are you won't do anything with is too overwhelming!

One more "must have" plant would be stevia. Stevia is called the sugar is 100 times sweeter than sugar. It has no calories, no carbohydrates and tastes delicious. It is harder to start from seed and the seed is expensive but it is well worth the effort! Grow it all summer - it does much better outside! Pick the leaves and leave on a plate covered with a paper towell to keep the dust off - when completely dry (brittle) throw in a canning jar and keep it in the dark. When ready to use, I run it through a food processor until it turns into a fine powder and use it to sweeten drinks, baked goods etc. A very little goes a long way!

What to do with all of these herbs? Cook with them, can with them, make herbal vinegars, herbal oils, flavor cream cheese or butter and serve with crackers! Throw a handful of chopped herbs into your buttermilk biscuit recipe and serve herbed biscuits, put them in your bread recipe....lay a few sprigs of lemon basil over a chicken when you roast it....put some herbs in your soups and stews. The flavors of homegrown herbs far outweigh those bottles of dried herbs on the grocery store shelves.

I hope you will try at least one of these suggestions with some of the things you grew this year....let me know how it turns out!

Tomorrow lets talk about the varieties of herbal medicines and some basic medicinal herbs!


  1. Wonderful post. I will keept his for future reference. Oh, I did find out the chives heads were edible but don't eat the whole flower head at once. Stupid fool, I am. That was HOT!

  2. Yikes....the whole head at once!!!
    I also decorate the tops of my soft cheese with these flowers - helps me identify the cheese (chive and garlic) and looks pretty too!


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