Grow Your Own Herbs: Keep Flavor at Your Fingertips

Story by Amy Grisak, for Montana 55

There’s no need to be relegated to the feeble taste of dried herbs in jars when they are so easy to grow in your own kitchen garden. Growing culinary herbs in containers or in the garden provides
a world of exceptional flavor at your fingertips.

As a general rule, the majority of the herbs thrive in Mediterranean climates and do their best when offered similar conditions. Give them plenty of sunshine, well-drained soil and water them only when dry. Don’t allow them to sit with soggy feet. They all grow well in the garden among flowers and vegetables, and many people plant them to attract beneficial insects that eat the pests we don’t want on our plants.

To raise herbs in containers, be sure to choose at least a gallon size for nearly any variety. Use new planting medium and avoid garden soil because it is possible to introduce diseases, including various
fungi that like the protected and coddled container life. Also be sure there are holes in the bottom of the container so water can run through, but never put gravel in the container. This was formerly thought to aid drainage and prevent the roots from sitting in the water, but in reality, it’s proven to effectively drown them instead. For herbs in containers, give them a feeding using water soluble fertilizer every 10 out of the soil.

Choosing what herbs to grow depends on how you use them. From sweet tones to savory flavors, their bright tastes boosts nearly all foods.

Basil: The queen of summer is best grown within easy reach of the kitchen so you can use it often. From the well-known sweet basils’ spicy-sweet flavor enhances salads to desserts. Try the giant “Lettuce Leaf” basil for impressive foliage and mild flavor, or go with a purple variety to add gorgeous color along with intense flavor to your foods. Pinch off leaves frequently and, if at all possible, don’t allow the basil to flower as it stops growth and degrades the flavor.

Parsley: This green superfood is so much more than a plastic looking garnish on the side of your plate. Besides boasting healthy levels of vitamins A, C and K, parsley has terrific antioxidant benefits and is often used to aid digestion. Choose Italian flat-leaf parsley for the best flavor, and if you are growing it in a container, use a deep pot as it has a long taproot. Cut parsley as you need it since more pruning spurs vigorous growth.

Rosemary: With its pungent, almost pine-like taste, rosemary is a perfect companion to heavier meats and meals. Use it on pork, potatoes and chicken. Rosemary is a tender perennial so it will live throughout the winter if you bring it indoors. Either keep it in a pot on the patio during the summer or gently dig the plant in the fall before the first frost nips it.

Lemon verbena: It’s sometimes shocking to have a plant with such a strong lemon fragrance, but this is precisely why lemon verbena a fantastic choice. Lemon verbena makes a refreshing tea, and is used in chicken dishes, as well as desserts. Unlike many of the other herbs, lemon verbena is slow growing, so be conservative when cutting leaves.

Oregano: A staple in multiple cuisines, oregano is full of flavor and a must-have in the kitchen. If you’re growing this hardy perennial in the garden, plant it where you can maintain control over it as it has a tendency to spread. For containers, look for compact varieties such as Greek oregano. Snip
stems and leaves as you need them, and be sure to cut some to dry to use during the winter months.

Thyme: With hundreds of thyme varieties in this large family, some of the most popular for the kitchen are French (or common) thyme along with lemon thyme. Strip off the tiny leaves directly into salads, soups or any foods as they’re cooking.

Herbs pack a lot of flavor. Pick a few that best suit your cooking style and be sure to plant them where you can readily run out to pick off a few leaves to brighten your meals.

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