Kitchen Basics: Kitchen Herb Garden, Part 1
This is my new herb garden location Hubby created for me. I know he did it because he loves me, but my constant whining may have had a little something to do with it as well. Either way, I’m tickled pink and really looking forward to nursing it through its first year. This particular spot provides both partial shade and full sun which is good since different herbs have different light requirements.
Just as in real estate, there a 3 basic rules for the placement of your herb garden: location, location, location.
- First: Put your herb garden as close to your kitchen as you can. You’ll want to have it just as handy as your spice cabinet. This will ensure you will actually use and take advantage of your herbs on a daily basis.
- Second: For the most part, herbs thrive in full sun. Partial shade is okay in areas of intense afternoon heat. Full sun will promote fuller foliage
- Third: A kitchen herb garden, I believe, has to be one of the most useful gardens you can grown. But, it needs to be located where you will access it frequently. With just a little maintenance, you herb garden will reward you with an abundant and steady supply from spring through much of fall. In fact, my parsley, sage and rosemary typically winter over outside just fine.
I’ve grown herbs for years. In pots and pans, in garden and flower beds — wherever I could find a spot to stick a plant. I love the little surprise and sensual pleasure they bring when you walk by and brush your hand across them. Or when they bloom and the butterflies and bees hover over by seemingly by the hundreds (Just indulge me with that stretch of hyperbole, won’t you?).
Some ideas for you to consider:
- Start simply. It’s easy to get a little too excited and overplant. Trust me. I’ve been there. Lots.
- Choose what you will use. If you don’t like the taste of licorice, don’t plant tarragon. And if cilantro is the very last flavor you want in your salsas or pico de gallo, for heaven’s sake, don’t waste your money and precious space growing them.
- Contain the wanderers. Do you absolutely adore mint? Well, it probably will adore you right back and spread all over the garden unless you hinder its little journey. The same with oregano, marjoram and chives. They are aggressive little fellows that love to spread their wings — and roots—everywhere. And I do mean EVERYWHERE. Plant these fellows in containers unless you have room to let them spread rampantlyPersonally, I love have oregano as a large ground cover in my front shrub and flower bed. It makes for a VERY ample supply and it’s a great conversation starter.And I let my mint and garlic chives have free reign in an area below the garden where not much else grows except rocks. So why not. They love the area and I love having them around.
Some recommended favorites from my garden:
- Basil. I grow copious amounts of basil, especially Genovese basil. In my opinion, it is the best overall variety for cooking. It is certainly the best for pesto, caprese salad and other tomato dishes. I keep bottles of basil-infused olive oil and basil compound butter in my refrigerator and freezer year round.
There will also be Greek or spicy globe basil just because it’s such a cute little plant, and I do like the little kick it brings to some dishes. It has a peppery aroma and is very easy to grown in the border or planter.
I’ll also have a purple variety, usually called Fluffy Ruffles, just because it looks so bright and cheery in summer salads and it makes a gorgeous purple vinegar (so, so easy to make — come back later and I’ll show you how to do that). The flavor of purple basil warm and similar to licorice.
I also include Thai basil and Cinnamon basil as well. I use the Thai basil for stir fry dishes. Thai basil has a peppery, sweet aroma with a sweet, anise-licorice flavor. Cinnamon basil, a native of Mexico, has a lively sweet cinnamon aroma. Serve it with spicy, stir-fries, beans and other legumes.Other varieties I really like are Lettuce basil and Lemon or Thai lemon basil. I haven’t located any plants this year, but hope to do so soon. Thai lemon basil perks up noodle and curry dishes when added just before serving. Lettuce basil, with its big, floppy and wrinkled leaves is excellent in any dish where you would use Genovese basil. It’s a gorgeous variety, I think.
An annual, basil is best used fresh. Heat will dissipate the flavor, so wait until the end of the cooking time to toss it into your dish. And it doesn’t like cold either so keep it out of the refrigerator.
Simply store it in a glass of water, changed daily, on the countertop and it should last a few days. In fact, it may even decide to sprout roots.
Keep basil pinched back to encourage bushy growth and cut off any flower heads that show up.
- Chives. I mentioned that I have garlic chives growing along a hillside below the garden. Those babies have been there for years, and I didn’t legitimately plant a single one of them.How did that happen? Well, when your chives take over the garden, you pull them up by the roots and toss them down the hill. They rebel and start multiplying like jackrabbits.Chives have a mild onion flavor and are perennials. Garlic chives have, as the name suggests, a subtle garlic aroma and taste as well. It’s easiest to grow chives from plants, but you can grown them from seeds if you have the time and patience. Trim them on a regular basis to encourage growth and divide and replant them every few years. Or share a starter plant with a neighbor or friend.
Go ahead and use the lightly purple edible flowers which make a lovely addition to salads. Toss chives into your savory dishes at the end of the cooking time. Otherwise, they will become bitter. Plus, you don’t want them to go to seed unless, of course, you want a yard full of errant chive plants.
- Cilantro. This is one annual I don’t really have in my herb garden anymore. It’s certainly easy enough to grow from seed, but don’t try transplanting because it doesn’t usually transition well.
Cilantro bolts so quickly in our Arkansas heat, I find it’s just cheaper and easier to buy it in the grocery now. However, if you live in a cooler climate or are prone to fall gardens, plant a patch. The entire plant is edible—well, maybe not the roots;) My preferred variety of Santo if you can find it.
- Parsley. I do love me some parsley, and I almost always grow it from seed. However, it is readily available each spring as plants. I plant both flat-leaf (also known as French or Italian parsley) and curly varieties. The Italian variety is what I use most often in cooking while the curly variety makes a beautiful garnish or addition to mayonnaise or soups.Flat-leaf parsley is a key ingredient in bouque garnis, fines herbs, Italian gremolata, salsa verde and tabouleh. It pairs very well with eggs, lemon, lentils, fish, rice, most vegetables and tomatoes.
Many sources agree that parsley is the world’s most popular herb. Its name comes from the Greek word meaning “rock celery” (parsley is a relative to celery). It is a biennial plant that will return to the garden year after year once it is established and allowed to go to seed.Did you know that parsley roots are actually edible? They resemble carrots when you pull them up, and you cook them in the same way you would carrots.
Parsley is highly nutritious and can be used in a multitude of ways: gremolata (parsley. olive oil, garlic and lemon), compound butter, salad just to name a few. I like to fresh it in ice cubes to use for winter soups, stews, casseroles and sauces.
Be sure to store it correctly once harvested, and it should last several days after cutting.
Each fall, I plant parsley seed in a pot and let it winter over outside or inside under my grow light when the temps are extremely cold. By doing so, I have a big pot of fresh parsley ready to go in the spring.
The pot from the previous fall’s planting will be allowed to go to seed so that it reseeds in the same pot. I usually have good results, but I always have parsley seed on hand and routinely start plants throughout the year that grow under our basement grow light.
COMING NEXT: Part 2: Oregano, Marjoram, Mint, Thyme, Fennel
I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the new herb garden. Thanks for stopping by.