Are You Growing Your Own Herbs?
Are you growing your own herbs?
In my opinion, the foundation of any good kitchen is the tools and supplies you have on hand that find their way into all the cooking that you do. This includes knives, pots and pans, basic condiments–salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise–and the basic ingredients you use on a regular basis.
This includes, of course, herbs and spices.
Spices I will leave for another discussion, but what I’m about here is herbs. The ones you use all the time, and maybe don’t even think about until either a recipe calls for a teaspoon of dried cilantro or dill or oregano, you reach for the little bottle in the cupboard by the stove and there’s not enough for the recipe. Do you know where your thyme came from? Your oregano? Your sage? Did they ride in a truck for hours? How many gallons of diesel fuel did they use? Were there pesticides on them? Were they washed? What do you really know?
I say, grow your own. Many of you probably do, and if so, you know that there’s not much better than whipping up a quick mushroom and cheese omelette and snipping a few chives to complete the dish. Homemade marinara with fresh parsley and basil? A snap, and so much better than store-bought.
Growing your own herbs is: a) simple; b) cheap; c) delicious; d) interesting–there are so many varieties of herbs to try, just sticking to the basics; we’ve grown three or four different basils and at least three different thymes; and e) rewarding–both in the sense of pride you feel from adding homegrown ingredients to your food, and for the compliments you’re likely to get from company who don’t know why that red sauce tastes better, but it does.
People who do their own herbs do it in all kinds of ways–herb-garden window boxes, and setting up a section of their vegetable garden are common. We grow ours in pots outside our kitchen door. A little water every day or two in the summer–not too much, herbs like to be a bit on the dry side– and a little advance planning, and you won’t be buying expensive little bottles of herbs at the grocery store any more. Where do those herbs come from anyway?
Grow any herbs you like, most will flourish here and where you live if you provide just a little bit of care. The real trick to successful herb gardens is to harvest often. Don’t let the herb plants get too big. Like any other plant, the more you prune the bigger the plant will get, so prune them often. Cut herb plants back frequently–usually when they outgrow the perimeter of the pot or when they look just a little out of control in the garden. Cut a large bunch, tie them up with string and hang them in a warm, dry, dark place–I do it in my garage–and forget about them for about three or four weeks. When they are dry to the touch and crumble easily, place the dried bunch in a large steel mixing bowl and crumble them to bits. Pick out and discard the stems and pour the dried leaves into nice little herb bottles you got at the dollar store or saved from when you ran out of thyme (get it?).
We grow thyme, oregano, basil, parsley, sage, cilantro, chives, and mint (actually, our mint is out of control in the backyard, but it grows really well in pots). We harvest them for dried herbs to use in the winter, but here’s an added bonus: if you grow them in small pots, bring them into the house in the fall and keep them as house plants and keep harvesting. What I’ve discovered, however, is that in spite of recommendations to the contrary, most herbs overwinter very nicely in a garage. Simply put the pots on a shelf in a cold (but not freezing) garage, near a window if you have one, give them a little water about once every two weeks, and in the spring after the freeze is gone, most of them will come back, usually even stronger. I haven’t done this with basil–we use enough basil all year long that I try to keep a pot of basil growing in the kitchen– so I’m not sure how that overwinters. Or, you can just let the basil go in September, harvest a bunch just before the first freeze, and make a load of pesto, for home use or for holiday gifts.
Fresh and local. What could be better?