by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
When we are considering what to plant in our gardens, we often forget to include herbs. Have you tried cooking your favorite dishes using fresh herbs? Nothing smells or tastes more wonderful than homemade pasta sauce with fresh basil simmering on the stove. Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow, in pots or in your vegetable garden, and they have so many uses! They can be used fresh or dried for cooking in your recipes all year long. Here are several varieties for you to try!
Basil (Ocimum spp.) is a favorite in Asian and Italian cooking and it grows wonderfully in containers. You can grow basil from seeds or plants, both of which are readily available at your local garden center. To harvest, just pinch off the tips of the stems; be sure to do this regularly to encourage the best growth, and at the end of the season, simply freeze or dry what is left. Very common in almost any Italian dish, you can also make a wonderful vinegar. Simply heat white wine vinegar and pour over fresh basil; after 24 hours, strain and discard the leaves, and use as vinaigrette or marinade...delicious!
Thyme (Thymus spp) has lovely purple, pink or white flowers and silvery foliage; it likes containers at least 6 inches deep. Be sure to avoid overwatering and pinch back the tips to encourage bush growth; thyme does well in full sun and well-drained soil. For cooking, try using thyme with sweet corn: simply add snippets to the butter before putting it on a freshly cooked or grilled ear for a wonderful taste.
Thyme is a lovely in any garden or pot, with its delicate flowers; mix it with butter to rub on sweet corn ears for a real treat!
Sage (Salvia officinalis) does equally well in borders, beds and containers. Its gray-green, chartreuse or dusky-purple foliage is an eye-catching accent to any planting. While we usually add sage to turkey or chicken stuffing during the holidays, it is also a great addition to couscous, quinoa and many other grains.
One of the easiest herbs to grow is Apple Mint (menthe suaveolens); it is a natural for containers or small spaces, but be sure to keep its wandering stems in the pot or a controlled area, as it can be invasive. Mint flavor is refreshing, and the fruity tones in apple mint add to the overall taste. Add crushed mint leaves to ice water for a refreshing summer drink, or steep the leaves in hot water for a very tasty tea.
Apple mint is easy to grow and makes a delicious addition to ice water on a hot summer day.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is an edible yet substantial shrub which will fit beautifully into any yard. Grow it in containers or in the garden; in our area, it can even be trimmed as a hedge. If you plant rosemary in containers, use pots that are at least 8 inches deep. In the kitchen, add rosemary to any poultry dish for a real crowd pleaser, or use the edible flowers in salads, herb butters and cream cheese spreads. Rosemary stems also make a wonderfully fragrant herb wreath; simply tuck stems in a small grapevine wreath and hang to create a lovely scent.
Rosemary is very tasty in any poultry dish, but it also makes a wonderfully fragrant wreath!
While Dill (Anethum graveolens) grows well in the garden next to your tomatoes and sweet peppers, it does need space to flourish. It is easy to grow in full sun, but likes to reseed itself, so keep that in mind when you plant it. Of course, our favorite use for dill is to make pickles, which are a delightful summer treat on a hot day.
All of these herbs grow well in containers, but make sure you use ones with proper drainage; place a coffee filter over holes to prevent the soil from spilling out. Use any potting mix available at your local garden center, but don’t use garden soil in your pots as it does not provide good air circulation and drainage for your herbs. Place your plants in their pots, water, and watch them grow. Then line up your favorite recipes and get ready to cook with fresh herbs!
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