Herbs, The Spice of Life

The Garden Advisor, By Lisa Ray, And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden… Gen. 2:8

There is more to herbs and spices that just salt and pepper.  People have been growing and using herbs for thousands of years for seasoning food and for home remedies.  Herb knowledge has been handed down through families, mostly by the women through cooking and healing.  Herbs have been the subject of historic storytelling and songs since ancient times.

Herbs can be grown in pots, flower beds, garden plots, and anywhere you want beauty.  An herb garden near the kitchen door is handy for the cook, and most have nice blossoms to add beauty to the garden. 

This week’s column is exclusively devoted to growing, cooking with, harvesting, and drying herbs.   There are too many herbs to mention, so I choose some favorites.

Growing

Herbs are easy to grow from seeds, cuttings, and divisions.  They are available in garden centers and seed catalog as plants and seeds.  If a friend has an established plant, ask for a division, which includes the root and top.  Plant immediately in good soil and keep well watered.  The annual (A) herb germinate, flower, set seed, and die within one year.  The biennial (B) herb is usually grown as an annual, but they may reseed the following year if seeds are allowed to fall on the ground.  The perennial (P) herb faithfully returns year after year if well cared for.

  • Basil (A), zones 4-10, full sun, height 1-2 feet, rich moist soil, sow seeds outdoors after frost danger or earlier inside and transplanted outdoors after frost, many flavors and colors to choose from
  • Bay Leaf (P), zones 8-9 may be planted in pot and moved indoors in the fall, full sun to part shade, height 6 feet, take cuttings from green shoots and keep soil moist in small pot till rooted,  or buy seedling and plant in a large outdoor pot in rich well-drained soil
  • Chives (P), zones 3-9, full sun, height 6-12 inches, rich well-drained soil, sow seeds in early spring or buy plants, divide older clumps every 3 years
  • Cilantro (A)(B), zones 2-9, full sun to part shade, rich well-drained soil, sow seeds in spring, height 1-3 feet, plant every 2-3 weeks for fresh leaves
  • Dill (A), zones 2-9, full sun, rich well-drained soil, sow seeds in early spring; height 3 feet, sow seeds every 2-3 weeks for fresh leaves, let go to seed for spice
  • Marjoram (A) (Tender P), zones 9-10 but may be planted in pot and moved indoors in fall, full sun, light well-drained soil, sow seed indoors in spring, germinates slowly, or buy plants and set out after frost in spring, height 2 feet, white or pink blossoms
  • Mint (P), zones 5-9, full sun or part shade, rich moist well-drained soil, divide or take cuttings, buy plants in spring, height 30 inches, can become a weed so it’s a good idea to plant in a container, purple or pick blossoms, many flavors and colors to choose from
  • Oregano (P), zones 5-9, full sun to light shade, well-drained soil, sow seeds outdoors or buy plants in spring, height 12-30 inches, rose to white blossoms, many flavors to choose from
  • Parsley (A) (B), zones 5-9, full sun to partial shade, rich well-drained soil, sow seeds or buy plants in spring, height 8-12 inches, curly or flat
  • Rosemary (P), zones 8-10 may be grown in pots and moved indoors in fall though some survive the winter in the ground, full sun to part shade, light well-drained soil, sow seeds indoors early spring, take cuttings of new growth in fall, buy seedlings and plant in spring, height 2-6 feet, many flavors to choose from
  • Sage (P), zones 4-8, full sun to part shade, well-drained soil, sow seeds outdoors in late spring or buy plants, height 1-2 feet, pink to purple flowers
  • Thyme (P), zones 5-9, full fun to partial shade, sandy well-drained soil, sow seed in late winter indoors and plant outdoor in spring, buy plants in spring, height 6-15 inches, replace plants every 3-4 years, lilac to pink blossoms

Cooking

   Herbs add a special flavor to food, and can be a substitute in a low-sodium diet.  Herbs can be added to vinegar, oils, jellies, honey, sugar, butter, cream cheese, and that’s just a few.  Below is a list of herbs and the foods that accent each other.  Start with just a little, it goes a long way.

  • Basil-ham, beef, fish, shrimp, cabbage, eggplant, onions,  potatoes, squash, tomatoes, turnips, eggs, cheese
  • Bay Leaf-beef, onions, squash, soups
  • Chives-salad, egg, garnish
  • Cilantro-tomato
  • Dill-shellfish, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, egg, cheese, pickling
  • Marjoram-beef, pork, chicken, fish, crab, cabbage, carrots, eggplant, beans, peas, spinach, zucchini, egg, cheese, sour cream
  • Mint-fish (sauce), carrots, peas, potatoes, spinach, cabbage, zucchini, cream and cottage cheese
  • Oregano-pork, beef, chicken, broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, lentils, eggs
  • Parsley-chicken, garnish, all vegs, egg
  • Rosemary-beef, ham, pork, shellfish, cabbage, beans, mushrooms, cauliflower, spinach, peas, turnips, potatoes, egg
  • Sage-ham, chicken, fish, beans, eggplant, onions, tomatoes, corn, cheese, egg
  • Thyme-pork, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, beets, carrots, onions, peas, mushrooms, rice, peppers, eggplants, egg

Harvesting and Drying

   Fresh leaves can be picked all through the growing season for your cook pot.  Harvest herbs early in the morning, just after the dew has dried.  In late summer, harvest and dry herbs for winter use.  Only cut ¾ of the stem, because cutting more may damage the plant. Make a small bundle by tying a spring around one end, and hang in a cool dark place to dry.  After the bundles are dried, they can be left tied and pulled off as needed, or the leaves can be stripped off and stored in a jar or plastic bag.  Large leaves may be stripped off the stems and dried by placing them on a screen.  Dried herbs can also be stored in the freezer.

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