I love herbs. I love them for their culinary uses as well as their medicinal aspects. Consider adding these herbs to your herb bed this year.
Dill isn’t only for making dill pickles although you do need it for that purpose. Almost all of this plant is edible. PLUS it’s a butterfly magnet!
Choose a sunny, well drained location with rich soil and you’ll be rewarded with an abundant supply all season long. You can use the leaves in salads and marinades, when cooking fish and as a garnish. The seeds can be used whole or ground and make the ultimate pickling spice but you’ll also like them sprinkled on salads or the top of home-baked bread. Even the flowers are edible although I tend to leave them for the birds and butterflies.
An abundance of dill can be dried, or preserved in olive oil, vinegar or by freezing in oil or water.
Mint is SO easy to grow that it can escape and overtake your beds so it’s best when planted in a pot. Mint prefers full sun and moist soil. Mints come in many different varieties and flavors. Choose one that you’ll use the most. Peppermint and spearmint are the most popular.
Clip the leaves as needed for adding to teas, desserts and even in salads (use sparingly a little goes a long way). A good harvest can be preserved by drying, or freezing either alone or in water.
Cilantro looks a lot like parsley but has a distinctive flavor frequently used in Mexican dishes such as guacamole and salsa. Cilantro is a fast grower and easy to start from seed. In fact once planted you’ll often have cilantro to cook with in a month!
Plant in full sun and well drained soil. When harvesting cut back leaving at least 2/3rds of the plant so that it can regrow. Cilantro does best when added towards the end of the recipe or when used in cold dishes such as salsa or guacamole.
Use when fresh or store in the refrigerator. For longer storage add to olive oil and freeze in ice cube trays.
Sage while native to the Mediterranean it’s spread far and wide. The French grew sage for tea while we ‘mostly’ use it when making turkey and dressing. Stuffing just isn’t stuffing without sage!
The warmer zones, 5-8 can treat sage as a perennial. Sage is a member of the mint family and likes full sun and well drained soil.
You can use it in many dishes besides stuffing! Yummy with pasta dishes! Sage can be used fresh, dried or frozen and even preserved in butter for later use.
Used to be that everytime you ate ‘out’ that you got a sprig or two of parsley on your plate. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, unless maybe you’re dining ‘fancy’. These days I’m more likely to find it sprinkled over the top of a baked potato than as a garnish. I keep dried parsley on hand to add a pop of color to many a dish.
You can easily start parsley from seed or you can get it at your local plant nursery in a little pot. Parsley tends to like rich moist soil.
To harvest just snip the fresh leaves as needed. If you’re used to dried parsley you might be surprised at the delightful ‘light’ flavor of parsley. It’s worth a spot in your herb bed. Parsley is a vital component of ‘bouquet garni’ used in making soups and stews. You’ll need sprigs of parsley, thyme and bay leaves tied together for adding to your broth base. It’s then discarded after cooking.
You can freeze parsley too. Drying works too but you loose a lot of flavor.
Oh… basil. So lovely, so fragrant, so many kinds. Genovese, lemon, lime, purple and Thai. Try growing different varieties! I’ve found purple Thai basil likes the afternoon shade outside my front door although most basil prefers full sun. Easy to grow from seed.
It’s best used straight from the garden and is delicious in many dishes or in a salad. When you have a large harvest make pesto! Combine the basil leaves with olive oil, toasted pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese then add to ice cube trays and freeze for later use in soups and stews.
There’s always time for thyme! Thyme is aromatic and lovely planted where you’ll brush it as you walk by (similar to rosemary). Thyme is related to mints and therefore likes full sun and well drained soil.
To use fresh just snip a few sprigs and strip the leaves. Thyme likes to be added early to a recipe to give it time to release all it’s delightful flavor. You can also sprinkle fresh leaves into your spaghetti sauce and is a necessity in ‘bouquet garni’ seasoning. When combined with rosemary and sage you’ll find it’s a great addition to a marinade and perfect for adding to roasting root vegetables.
Thyme can be dried, frozen or preserved in olive oil or butter for later use.
I’ve a small pot of oregano sitting in my kitchen window ready to go into a bigger pot and then outside. Oregano is often used in Greek, Italian and Mexican dishes. (Mexican oregano is actually a different variety!) Oregano is also part of the mint family and therefore likes full sun and well-drained soil.
Can you imagine cooking an Italian dish from scratch and NOT including oregano?!? Fresh leaves can be used in an herb butter, or in home-baked breads and even in salads, vinegars and marinades. Add towards the end of cooking as it doesn’t hold up well to heat.
You can use dried oregano in sauces soups and stews or dishes that require longer cooking. Did you realize that dried oregano flavor is actually stronger than fresh? Keep that in mind when cooking.
Oregano can also be preserved by freezing in oil or water and in herb butter.
While these eight herbs are really just a splattering all the herbs and spices available, it is however a good start to a usable herb bed.
Growing your own herbs puts you in a little more control of what you feed your family. It just feels good to walk out the back door and snip off what you need for a good meal and be able to harvest for later use.
Food security is a part of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.