The growing season is upon us. Gardeners, wrist-deep in the dirt, are planting vegetables and herbs from sea to shining sea. Here in Austin, most of my herbs winter over quite well, so my rosemary plants are either hedges planted in the ground or if in pots, trimmed back regularly into lovely shapes. The trimmings come inside to be dried or used fresh in stocks or other cooking.
Herb plants can grow in the ground or in pots, which can be brought inside during the colder seasons, making them an economical way to cook with fresh ingredients.
The herbs I cook with the most grow in my garden. It saves money. They taste better, and I can harvest them fresh any time I want. Here’s a list of the herbs I grow:
- Basil (multiple varieties)
- Oregano (multiple varieties)
- Thyme (multiple varieties)
- Mint (multiple varieties)
- Cilantro (seeds are Coriander)
Herbs like to be pruned regularly, as pruning encourages growth. Pruning the lower leaves of basil and sage allows the plant to give energy to the new growth, while letting in sunshine that can’t make it through a dense plant. This is also a good way to keep pests from moving into your plants or root systems.
Psst…See that pumpkin in the photo? It has decomposed in that little hole and now the seeds have sprouted and will grow into a little pumpkin patch! Try it next year with gourds or pumpkins!
When you prune your plants, have a plan for using them fresh or a good place to dry them for storage and later use. Herbs that dry well include sage, oregano, thyme, oregano, mint, rosemary and lavender. Chives, basil and parsley can also be dried, but are trickier.
When your cilantro goes to seed, some of the seeds will re-seed in the soil and grow more cilantro, but if you cut some of the stocks and place them in a bag or container, you can collect the seeds (coriander) by shaking the container. Remove the stocks and sort the seeds to store for use in dishes or stocks that call for coriander.
Pesto is a wonderful way to use fresh herbs. When I don’t have enough fresh herbs for pesto, I puree them with garlic and olive oil plus a pinch of salt and squeeze of lemon. I then store the mixture in the freezer until the next harvest/pruning. Once I have enough herbs, I can supplement the stored mixture, and add the remaining ingredients for my fresh herb pesto. Pesto is not limited to basil. Try adding sage, chives, parsley and oregano. Make notes about what combinations you like for your next batch.
Another way to keep up with the pruning or harvest of your fresh herbs is to use them in stocks, which can be stored in the freezer or used in your weekly cooking (rice and grains can be cooked in stock rather than water). Add vegetables from your veggie drawer such as onion, celery, carrots and parsnips, plus a few peppercorns and spices to your liking. For more information on making stock or bone broth click here.
Herbs can be used in salads, cocktails, infused waters, lemonade and other beverages. Try them on a sandwich, add them to garlic butter. Fresh herbs from the garden to your kitchen will up your game no matter how you choose to use them.