Today’s lesson on Gardening is all about Herbs. Without Herbs, you would be eating food that tastes like baby food ~ which is fine if you have no teeth I guess…but most of us prefer the food we eat to wow our taste buds. For this we can thank Herbs.
There are Herbs that are easy to grow. Then there are Herbs that make life difficult for you. Worse still, there are Herbs that can strangle your tomatoes and wreak havoc on the neighbourhood ~ ok, just kidding on that last part, but you have to admit it got your attention.
Gardening on the Homestead can be quite entertaining at times. From groundhogs mowing down my lettuce to deer doing me a favour by eating the poison ivy shrubs that menace my hubby. But there are certain herbs that if left to their own devices, would creep around your garden, snuffing out every other living thing in its path.
Today we will be focusing on the Top 5 Herbs to Grow in your Garden. Counting down from Number 5 to Number 1, so I can be all suspenseful and stuff.
Number 5 ~ Mint
I love Mint. Mint in Mojitos, mint in chocolate cookies, mint in ice cream, mint in tea, these are just a few of the things I love mint in. Growing mint is the big issue though. It grows with such vigor that if left unchecked, it would soon envelope the world in its minty branches. For this reason, mint is best corralled and grown in a pot. If you ever plant mint directly in your garden, you will be sorry. Trying to get rid of mint from the garden is a task that can span several growing seasons because if you leave one teeny speck of a root or runner, it will spring forth anew and continue on its merry path of destruction. Mint is best grown from a cutting, one of the easiest actually. Just take a snip from an existing plant, about 6″ to 8″ long and strip off the leaves from the bottom 3″ of the stem and place in a glass of water. Within a week, you will see little roots growing. Change the water every few days and once the roots are well developed (or it is crawling out of the glass), remove and plant in a large pot filled with a good potting soil.
Number 4 ~ Thyme
Thyme is one necessity I like to have on hand, and it also is very easy to grow. Its delicate little leaves are perfect in savoury dishes from roast meats and vegetables to soups and stews. A sprig of Thyme makes any dish pop with flavour. The best way to preserve Thyme is to dry the sprigs and then remove the leaves by grasping the tip (not the cut stem end) of the dried sprig and running your fingers and thumb down the stem, all the leaves will come off in one swoosh, then store in an airtight container. Thyme is a fairly slow-growing, ground creeping perennial. It will spread if allowed to, but is easy to keep in check by regular haircuts. Thyme is best grown from seed. The seeds take a while to germinate, so be patient. Fill a 4″ pot with moist potting soil, sprinkle a good amount of seed over the top of the soil, then spread a thin layer of potting soil over top. Mist with a spray bottle until damp, then cover with plastic wrap until sprouts appear.
Number 3 ~ Cilantro
I love Cilantro. Some people say it tastes like soap, but not me, I love the stuff in all things Mexican. Salsas, guacamole, soups, to the many different types of enchiladas and egg dishes. All get a big handful of chopped leaves thrown in. Cilantro (also known as Coriander) is an annual and is also very easy to grow from seed. Fill a 4″ pot with damp potting soil and using the eraser end of pencil, poke about 25 holes randomly around the pot. Drop a seed in each, cover with soil, mist until damp and then place a layer of plastic wrap over top. Seeds sprout in about 6-8 days. Cilantro bolts quickly (goes into flower production) in the heat and I have learned to start a new pot of seeds every 3-4 weeks during summer to enjoy it well into the fall. Cilantro doesn’t dry very well, but cut stems keep in a glass of water in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Number 2 ~ Oregano
If you love Italian food, then this is one herb that is a necessity in your garden. Pasta sauce isn’t pasta sauce without this herb. If you are Italian and don’t use Oregano, you can expect a beating from your Nonna. A perennial, Oregano is easy to grow from seed, just follow the same instructions as for the Thyme. It grows well in the ground, but also does well in pots. I keep mine in a pot to curb its somewhat wayward ways. It is also notorious for dropping seeds everywhere. If you don’t keep cutting the flower heads off, you end up with little oregano sprouts all over your yard. Oregano dries well too, just follow the drying instructions here.
Number 1 ~ Basil
Basil…next to Mint and Rosemary, is one of the most flavourful herbs (and most used) to be found in the kitchen. Basil is found in bruschetta, pasta sauce, alfredo sauce, and who doesn’t love a good pesto? An annual that can be very prolific and grow to a good height if left unchecked, it is very easy to start from seed. Like Cilantro, it bolts quickly in the heat, so keep lopping off the heads to spur new leaf growth. Basil, just like Cilantro, doesn’t dry well either, so use fresh. Cut stems will keep in a glass of water for up to a week, but do not place it in the fridge as it doesn’t like the cold and will turn black if exposed to chilly fridge temps. In late summer, I will leave the flower heads on for the fuzzy-butts (bumblebees) that are desperate to stock up on nectar before winter sets in. Once the first frost hits though, it is Goodnight Irene for the Basil until next year.
There you have it, my Top 5 Herbs that are a MUST-have in every garden this year. I do grow others, namely Parsley, Chives, Lavender and Rosemary, but the top 5 above are what I use most in the kitchen. So instead of relying on expensive, stale little jars of dried twigs, grab some seed packets, potting soil and pots and grow your own fresh herbs.
Your taste buds will thank you!