I must admit many years ago, I never really gave a thought to growing my own herbs. I honestly believed that I did not have a “green thumb”. But as prices soared at the store for spices, and I became better acquainted with all the advantages of having my own fresh herbs on hand, I took that leap and am proud to have an herb garden outside my door.
Whether you start from seed, clippings from a friend or nursery plants, the key is to just get started.
Living in the northeast and missing fresh herbs during winter, I was thrilled when I received an Miracle-Gro AeroGarden 6 LED with Gourmet Herb Seed Pod Kit as a present. I started with the seeds received with the gift and was able to grow basil, chives, parsley and thyme in my home while the snow blew outside. What a treat to have fresh herbs available, until it was time to harvest from my outside herb patch. The sweet basil did far better than I could have imagined, and was very well received, when I made a Caprese salad as a side for guests at Christmas time. (Added bonus, very appropriate festive colors, red, white and green!)
I try to add a new type of herb from time to time to expand not only my herb patch, but my taste buds too! The list that follows are the herbs I have so far and some suggestions on how to enjoy your fresh grown herbs.
Basil – The leaves of the sweet basil plant are highly fragrant and used as a seasoning herb for a variety of foods. Combines very well with rosemary and thyme in many meat dishes and pasta sauces. Great for an added essence of taste and fragrance to soups, vegetables, eggs and cheese dishes. Basil is a main ingredient in making pesto which serves well as a dip, spread or to toss pasta in and top with fresh grated parmesan cheese. Of course, add to a Caprese salad for a delicious summertime treat anytime of the year!
Chives – A perennial that is very easy to grow and related to the onion and garlic family, with a flavor that is not too strong. The green stems of the plant are hollow and are chopped to use as a garnish. They are also wonderful to top dressed baked potatoes, and a flavorful enhancement in soups, salads and sauces. The mild onion flavor is a great addition in egg dishes as well. Mix with softened cream cheese for a delicious spread on bagels. Create a compound butter with chopped chives to serve with roasted poultry or to top grilled steaks.
Cilantro – An herb with wide delicate lacy green leaves that have a sweetly pungent flavor. Also a perennial, that is very easy to grow. The seed of the cilantro plant is known as coriander (another spice) and if you let them reseed, you will have new plants next spring. My sons go to is chopped cilantro, a great addition in salsa and guacamole. It goes well with chicken, fish, lamb and pork dishes. Mix it with yogurt to dollop over lamb kabobs. Cilantro may not be for everyone, but give it a try and you may become a fan as well.
Curry – I’ve been growing curry for three years and love having the added touch of India at my fingertips. Use in Indian recipes you enjoy or make a wonderful curry infused olive oil. Place your favorite fish or seafood in a foil packet, add butter and fresh chopped curry with garlic and grill. Make a paste with garlic, curry, sage, a dash of salt and some olive oil, spread on pounded chicken tenders, roll, secure and sear in additional olive oil with a splash of Chardonnay and then finish on the grill. Fresh curry leaves also blend well with vegetables, other spice mixes and try making chutney with them.
Dill – This beauty, although an annual, is truly easy to grow, as it self-seeds. True story: one year while doing our pickling outside on the “datio” (not quite a deck and not quite a patio!) we had laid a bundle of harvested dill to use, on the stones nearby. Needless to say, with the scattering of seeds, this area has become a new bed of dill for us! The light feathery leaves are used not only for pickling, but great on fish or add to salads. May also be used in stews and soups. Dill is also great for mixing with sour cream and garlic powder to spoon over smoked salmon as an appetizer at your next gathering. Also easy to freeze for later use or you may infuse an oil for a great flavor additive while cooking.
Mint – A perennial that is a nice addition to have in your herb selection, which prefers a cool and shady spot. Mint is more than an additive to tea and other cold drinks, it is great in savory dishes and adds a fresh brightness to salads. I have learned that it is also great for reducing the gamey taste in venison. Sauté baby artichokes with fresh chopped mint, garlic and pancetta in olive oil for a delicious side dish.
Oregano – Another herb that is easily grown, comes back year after year, and it’s name means “mountain joy”. This herb is pungent and peppery, similar to marjoram or thyme. Great for Italian dishes, fish, eggs, tomato dishes, vegetables, marinades, sauces and pizza. Fresh oregano adds a nice flavor enhancement to beef, cheeses, and salads. While cooking with fresh oregano, I would suggest that you add it toward the end of the cooking process, as heat may cause a loss of its delicate flavor. If using oregano that you have dried, that is best added at the beginning of the cooking process. You may also freeze oregano, either whole or chopped, add it to stock in ice cube trays for added flavor when preparing sauces, soups and stews.
Parsley – A very nutritious herb, that is easy to grow and best to purchase nursery plants. I have learned that starting from seed, takes quite a bit of time to mature, as last year’s planting did not produce in the span of our too short summer. Curly parsley is mild in flavor and flat leaf Italian parsley has a sweeter flavor. Did you know that the stems actually carry more flavor than the leaves? Whether you use curly or flat leaf, parsley is a favorite flavoring for tomato dishes, fish, eggs and potatoes. Parsley also blends well with other seasonings. Remember the adornment of parsley on our plates while dining out? I’ve enjoyed expanding the use of parsley as more than a plate decoration!
Rosemary – This is a woody, perennial with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves. Great in sauces or a nice compliment to beef, pork and chicken dishes. Use the woody stems as kabob skewers, for meat or vegetables on the grill. The stems also double well as grilling pins in place of toothpicks for recipes featuring meat stuffed with cheeses, veggies, or sauces. An added bonus to having rosemary plants in your garden, the oil in the leaves is a natural mosquito repellant.
Sage – This Mediterranean herb has fuzzy, long oval, gray-green leaves that are pungent and slightly bitter taste and aroma. Sage pairs well with poultry dishes and is great in stuffing. Fresh is less bitter than dried sage, but use both sparingly, as the flavor of sage can easily overpower your dish. Try using sage in your recipes calling for fish, pork, roasts, tuna, eggplant, peas, tomatoes and ravioli. Add to an apple and cheese platter for added garnish and flavor.
Thyme – A delicate looking herb with a penetrating fragrance, thyme is a wonderful addition in your herb garden, as well as a fragrant ground cover.Thyme, either in its fresh or dried form, should be added toward the end of the cooking process since heat can easily cause a loss of its delicate flavor. Fresh thyme adds wonderful flavor to pasta sauce, fish, vegetable dishes, omelets and scrambled eggs. Use thyme to enhance bean dishes, soups and stocks.
I enjoy seeing what wonderful recipes I can create with the added flavor of fresh herbs, and hope the same for you. What it all comes down to, is to just have fun “playing with your food”!
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