Growing Herbs In Your Garden
Herbs From Your Garden to Your Table
Growing an herb garden is one of the easiest and most productive ways to start a gardening quest. All you need is a small to medium-sized space, proper sunlight, healthy soil, and a little tender loving care. It is inexpensive and the best part is you can start using your herbs in dishes you cook, ice tea you brew, as mosquito repellent, and for beauty (many herbs flower). We enjoy using our dried herbs in the winter months when the fresh herbs are not available from our garden.
How Does Your Herb Garden Grow?
Let's start with the basic herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme - just kidding! Actually not really. These are four herbs that are used throughout many recipes. We will add basil and oregano to this list for starters.
You will want to get plants that are small and have been started in a 4" pot. You may also elect to start herbs from seeds. We have always found starting with a good base product (preferably organic) will get the best results. This will cost more than a packet of seeds but you will harvest your herbs earlier than if you started with seeds. No more plastic packages of "fresh" herbs from the grocery store. You are going to be growing fresh herbs!
Next, have your herb garden spot picked out and have a good soil mix including compost. Herbs need to have 6 hours of sunlight a day in order to do well. Remember, some herbs are perennials so make sure you have prepared the soil well as you won't be able to change it year after year.
Use the directions given on each herb plant as a guideline for spacing the plantings. We prefer to put things a little closer than suggested to give that full bodied look in our herb garden. The plants all seem to get along so well, and it's a rich look to have them close together.
Growing along, most herbs start to flower after the peak of their growth. If you pinch off the flowers (preferably before full bloom) they will continue to grow - this is especially true on basil. The plant will get fuller and fuller if you control the flower growth. You may choose to have plants with flowers, like lavender, known for it's aromatic smell, to enhance the look and smell of your herb garden. Rosemary also gives a very delicate lavender colored flower that is adored by the bees. This year I grew bergamot and the flowers were extraordinary!
Health Benefits of Thyme
Thyme is antibacterial which means it can help kill bacteria clinging to raw vegetables. It can also inhibit bone resorption, a breakdown that can lead to osteoporosis.
Methods of Drying Herbs
Your herb garden is lush and green and you are ready to harvest some of those herbs for drying and use in the winter. Dried herbs will do their best if used within 6 months of drying. It is essential you chose the proper method for drying different types of herbs.
Some herbs need to be hung to dry, some need to be laid out, most need to be in a dark, dry place. Here we will sort out the main varieties and the methods you should used to get great dried herbs.
BASIL needs to be hung. Cut off several good sized (8" or more) lengths of the plant. Tie together with a string (we use the cut off strings from women's dresses that the dresses are hung from on a hanger at the store) and unwind a paperclip, placing one end under the string and the other end, still shaped like a hook, on your hanging device.
OREGANO needs to be laid flat. Using a piece of cheesecloth over a screen stretched on wood (drying tray) is ideal. However, a breathable paper plate also works! Hanging also works in a dry, dark place.
DILL seed can be saved by cutting the main branch off when the seeds are dry and placing it upside down in a paper bag. When the seeds continue to dry, they will fall in the bag and you can put them in a container for use. We have also cut the tender branches off of the dill plant and hung them the same way as basil and love to use them in Greek Tzatsiki Sauce recipe. (See recipe below)
ROSEMARY is a very hardy plant and in some areas, can be grown year round and for many, many years at that. If you want to dry some rosemary, it is important to chop it into small pieces otherwise, you will just have hard, dry needles to cook with. It is also a very strong herb and should be used lightly in cooking.
SAGE leaves are dried individually. Harvest by snipping off a leave, always before the plant has flowered, and place on a drying tray and put in a cool oven preheated to 90-100 degrees. Leave the oven door slightly open so the moisture can escape. Most leaves take about an hour to dry using this method, but check them from time to time. When the leaves are crisp, take them out immediately. Your should be able to crunch them up for storage. Sage is also known to be a memory enhancer.
Success and Failure - Call It an Experiment
Keep in mind the old adage, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again! Some herbs will do well in your soil and some will not. We can never get parsley to grow no matter what we have tried, year after year. You will just have to be diligent and see what works for you.
Do not give up just because you planted sage once, it got eaten or withered and you declared it will not grow in your garden. Try planting in another season, in a different area, maybe starting the seeds indoors, or trying another variety.
If I have repeated trouble, I try again a few seasons later.
This perennial herb looks great, smells great, and wins a spot in my herb garden. It is prolific and has spread many places. If that happens, dig it up and share it with someone. My daughter gave me this tip on how to use lemon balm: put a good amount of leaves only, say 12-15, in a tea cup. Pour boiling water over them and let sit for 15 minutes. You will have a smooth, light-tasting cup of what tastes like lemon tea.
Making Dried Herb Flakes - Putting your Oregano to Use!
Watch this quick video on the flaking process of your home-grown, dried oregano. After cutting off some sprigs and laying them to dry (for weeks), simply roll them back and forth in your hands to turn them into flakes which you can put in your oregano container in your spice cabinet. My teenage son uses the flakes on sandwiches to add extra flavor.
Health Benefits of Oregano
Did you know that oregano has been used for relief of inflammation in joints? Increase your intake of fresh oregano by adding it to dishes you are cooking, dried oregano on sandwiches and salads, or try an herbal supplement that includes oregano, for cases of tennis elbow or tendonitis.
One of our favorite herbs to add to ice tea to give it that extra flavor is lemon balm. Just a few fresh leaves of this easy to grow herb, can put that zing into a fresh brewed glass of ice tea. Just snip off a few leaves, wash them and put them in a cup of ice tea. We have tried putting them on the bottom first and putting them on the top last - our preferred way is to put them on the bottom, add ice, then pour the tea. The flavor is infused best when using this order. Of course, you can make lemon balm tea itself. Pour 1 cup of boiling water on 5-7 leaves of fresh chopped lemon balm. Infuse for 10-15 minutes, strain if desired. Using honey as a sweetener is perfect! Lemon balm tea is said to be good for nausea and for settling the stomach. It is also helpful for menstrual pain.
Another favorite herb to grow and to infuse as tea is Chamomile. It is known for settling the stomach. It is also known as an aide for sleep.
And don't forget mint! Add this to a freshly brewed glass of ice tea for the cool taste or make yourself a mint julep!
Health Benefits of Mint
Tea is the most common use for mint as it aides in digestion and settling a nervous stomach. Mint is used in mojitos and with many lamb recipies.
Use this sauce as a dip with pita bread, on a Gyros sandwich, as a salad dressing, or on anything you like!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: overnight
- 2 cups plain yogurt low fat
- 2 -3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 Tablespoon fresh dill chopped or 1 teaspoon dried
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium cucumber peeled and seeded
- salt and pepper to taste
- Night before (or at least 4 hours before): pour yogurt into a large strainer with a bowl underneath to catch the liquid. Peel, seed, and shred the cucumber. Place in a colander with a bowl underneath to catch the liquid.
- Next day (or 4 hours later): Put strained yogurt and shredded cucumber into a large bowl. Blend in the remaining ingredients and stir well to incorporate the flavors.
- We prefer to make the sauce the day before serving so the flavors have more time to blend.
Garden Hod - This New England basket is ingenious!
How many times have you put harvested vegetables or herbs into a basket only to have to unload that basket, use the hose to rinse your harvest off, then clean, cut or trim your harvest? This basket eliminates the middle step and is a fantastic item to add to your gardening tool arsenal.
Made this recipe in 10 minutes flat from the cutting of the basil, to the last whir of the food processor! The flavor this pesto gives to a bowl of pasta is unbelievable. We also used it on fresh, warm bread.
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- generous pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup fresh cut basil leaves
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- Put the garlic, pine nuts, basil, and a large pinch of salt into a food processor or blender and process until combined and pasty. With the processor still on, add the parmesan cheese and slowly add the olive oil. Process until smooth and creamy. Scrape into a bowl and enjoy!
- Use as a bread spread or toss with pasta!
Learn when to pick your basil leaves
Health Benefits of Basil
Basil is good for reduction of inflammation in the body. It is also antibacterial.
Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
This simple "recipe" using rosemary and thyme will guarantee a delicious turkey!
Remove any insides from turkey and rinse out cavity. Salt and pepper the cavity and place rosemary springs and 8 quartered lemons (2 whole) inside cavity. On outside, rub with olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and add fresh thyme leaves on top of entire turkey. Cook as stated on turkey instructions using weight as your guide. The aroma this recipe gives off during the cooking will make your senses come alive.
Growing Herbs in Containers
Container herb gardening is just like vegetable container gardening but you get more for your space. It is ideal for those who live in an apartment, condo, or patio home, as all you need is a medium to large sized container, some good soil (and compost!) and lots of sun or direct light. Once your herbs get growing, you can just step outside the door, snip off the amount you need and cook up something delicious with fresh herbs!
Don't want to grow them outside, well you can try an indoor herb garden on your windowsill or in your sun room. There is also the EarthBox gardening system (shown in a few photos above) that allows you to move your container around.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2011 Joanie Ruppel