Our vegetable garden is so rewarding, but there is something special about the herb garden that is absolutely delightful. It’s location is right outside the back door, which makes picking a few leaves or cutting a couple sprigs a breeze. Culinary, edible, and medicinal, there are countless benefits to delicious herbs. Even if you don’t enjoy them as ingredients, the fantastic fragrance is revitalizing.
If you’re thinking that vegetable gardening seems too laborious or overwhelming, or perhaps that you don’t have enough space or skill, herbs are the perfect, happiest place to begin. They really are no-maintenance. Herbs are mostly perennials which is always a win/win in my book. Plant it once and enjoy it every summer after that.
They also thrive in full sun and in soils that many vegetables won’t tolerate. Because of their strong scent, pests leave them alone, and they require no fertilizing. Herbs are also pretty drought resistant, but they look and taste better when well watered.
They can be harvest as needed by either cutting some stems or plucking a few leaves. Always leave a minimum on the plant to support regrowth. I have read that cutting herbs in the morning is best when aromatic oil concentrations are highest.
Walking through the herb garden is energizing, and their aroma livens my day. Our family cooks mostly with sage, rosemary, chives, basil, and thyme, but all the herbs are delightful to cut and bring indoors in little vases to revive any room. We’ve planted a few of our herbs (yarrow, hyssop, salvia, echinacea, bee balm, lavender, and chives) with the wildflowers because their blooms hold such beauty and color!
Oregano was the first herb I ever grew. It was a transplant given to me by a friend wrapped in foil many years ago. We now enjoy dill, bee balm, echinacea, marjoram (an annual in our zone 5), tarragon, basil (an annual), peppermint, spearmint, salvia, sage, hyssop, chives, rosemary, yarrow, lavender, thyme, lemon thyme. Parsley didn’t come back this summer. Parsley is an annual, but the seeds have kept the herb coming back in previous years. Another self-seeding herb is dill. Dill is not technically a perennial, but, if allowed to seed, it should come back every year.
The girls pick small bunches of most herbs to chew on and are teaching Samuel to do the same. They all have green teeth when coming in from playing outdoors : )
I only have experience with drying sage, rosemary, and thyme. These are very easy to preserve and retain their flavor and scent for months after being dried. Fresh parsley is a classic garnish, but it’s moistness makes it difficult to dry. We use peppermint and spearmint in fruit salads, garnish on dessert, but mostly a few leaves in the pitcher of brewed tea. I haven’t experimented with drying them yet.
Simple steps for drying herbs:
Place one kind of herb in a large basket or drying rack, outdoors but not in the sun. Toss a few times until crispy-dry, typically a week. Run your fingers along the stem to remove leaves. Discard the stems. Store dried leaves in a clean, dry glass jar away from heat and light. Label and date.
Another easy method is to bundle with a rubber band and hang upside down in a dark area with good air circulation until crispy-dry (a week or two). Hang the dried bundle to freshen a room, or remove the leaves from the stems. Store in a jar. Label and date.
Dried herbs should be stored out of the light and in a cool, dry place.
Using Fresh versus Dried Herbs in Cooking:
When cooking with fresh and dry herbs, there is a general rule when it comes to the ratio of fresh to dry. Because dried herbs are generally more potent and concentrated than fresh herbs, you’ll need less. As a rule of thumb, you’ll need three times less dried than fresh. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, you need only 1 teaspoon of dried (since 3 teaspoons equal a tablespoon). Fresh-cut herbs can be wrapped in a paper towel, stored in resealable plastic bags, and then put into the refrigerator. Store dried herbs in a cool, dark, dry place.
Growing herbs is certainly one of the purest joys of summer. Using fresh leaves as needed throughout the summer brightens any meal. It’s not too late to grab a couple of herbs that you enjoy cooking with or better yet, get a transplant from a friend!
Which ones are your favorite fragrant herbs?
with love. Damaris