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The arrival of spring means a fresh new batch of herbs. Imagine walking out the back door to collect herbs for a favorite recipe. Growing organic herbs at home is a great way to control what the family takes in the body. Growing herbs is the perfect choice for a beginning gardener, as some herbs are low maintenance. Growing herbs is a fun and rewarding way to add flavor to meals without the fat, calories or sodium. Understanding the uses of different herbs makes creating meals simple, nutritious and delicious.
Fresh basil is a fragrant herb that can be hung upside down to dry for later use. Basil grows easily in a garden. Be sure to pinch the growing tips to keep the plant bushy. Basil is commonly used in Italian recipes, such as a garnishment for pizza or added to soups. The versatile herb also has other uses. Basil can be used to make fresh pesto, and added to homemade stews. Basil is a great accompaniment for poultry. When roasting a bird, loosen the skin and tuck some of the leaves between the skin and the meat to add a flavorful bonus. Try slicing the herb into thin strips and adding to a shrimp stir fry in an electric wok.
A member of the onion family, chives add a delicate onion flavor to many dishes. The secret to growing chives is to cut them within an inch of the soil at harvest. Do not leave flowers on the plant for a constant supply. Chives are a delicate herb that should be snipped with kitchen shears to prevent bruising and tearing. Add chives to sour cream or cream cheese for a great dip. Melt a stick of butter and add snipped chives, then pour on a summer crop of fresh corn on the cob. Mix chives with bacon bits and sprinkle on baked potatoes.
Fresh dill has more punch than the dried herb. Dill has long tap roots and should not be transplanted. Start dill from seeds directly in the ground. Dill has a light, mild lemony flavor. Dill is a great addition to cream based sauces. Try adding fresh dill to sour cream or yogurt and serve on the side with roasted pork and vegetables. Add to mustard and season chicken breasts before baking. Place sprigs in fish recipes and sprinkle with a dash of lemon juice.
Fresh mint is substantially more flavorful than the dried variety. Mint is an invasive herb, which means it is easy to grow. It will take over your garden if not contained. Plant in a container submersed in the ground to control spreading. Mint has a refreshing, cool flavor that compliments many dishes. Mix with garlic and basil and season chicken breasts before grilling. Chop this herb and add to fresh fruit salad for a refreshing summer treat. Chew on a small piece to freshen breath naturally.
Oregano is a peppery herb that is frequently paired with additional seasoning. By combining with other herbs, oregano becomes an extremely versatile ingredient in the kitchen. Growing this herb is best accomplished by scattering seeds directly onto soil. Do not cover the seeds with soil as the sun is necessary for germination. Oregano adds a peppery, hot taste that is wonderful in meatballs, and any recipe that uses sausage. Oregano works well with fish and shellfish if used sparingly so it doesn’t overpower the dish. Combine with basil and add to tomato based Italian dishes. Mix chopped leaves with lemon and garlic, and bake a Greek chicken dish. (Here are some great garlic presses for you!)
Fresh parsley is a delicate accompaniment for almost any dish. When growing parsley, patience is key. Germination is slow, but well worth the wait. Many varieties are available, but Italian flat leaf is more flavorful. Chop parsley, mix with butter and rub over poultry before baking. Chop and add to tomato based sauces at the end of cooking. Tie a bundle of parsley together and add to chicken based soup dishes, such as chicken and rice or chicken noodle. Parsley is often used to garnish dishes as well as in recipes.
Rosemary is an earthy, woody herb and has a slightly bittersweet flavor. Rosemary is easy to grow but requires frequent pruning. Rosemary pairs well with garlic in any meat dish. Mix rosemary and garlic, then rub on pot roast. Cut small slits into pork tenderloin and tuck garlic and rosemary mixture into slits to infuse with flavor. Stuff poultry with sprigs of rosemary, and bake. Rosemary is a great herb to use on vegetables. Cut veggies and lightly coat with oil. Then toss with crushed rosemary and roast at high heat to bring out the natural sweetness.
Tarragon has a sharp flavor with hints of vanilla and licorice. Fresh French tarragon is the preferred variety of this herb. Tarragon is easy to grow, and like mint, should be contained in a pot as it will take over a garden. If planting in the ground, use a submersed pot to control spreading. Chopped tarragon mixed with garlic adds flavor to burgers, and lamb. Saute chopped tarragon in a chicken stir fry. Added to lemon and butter, tarragon makes a super seasoning for fish dishes. Egg dishes, like omelets and quiche, come alive with a sprinkle of tarragon.
Fresh thyme has tiny little sweet leaves that combine lemon and mint flavors. Thyme is easy to grow. For maximum yield throughout the season, do not let the growing herb flower. Thyme’s minty flavor is good in beef stew and meatloaf. Season soups with a sprig of thyme. Sauteed and baked vegetables have a naturally sweet flavor when sprinkled with thyme. Sprigs of thyme delicately flavor baked fish. Use thyme to season poultry before grilling.
Growing herbs and cooking with fresh herbs are two of the many springtime pleasures that extends into a healthy and exciting summer. While many people do not have the time or space to grow and maintain a full garden, a small herb garden allows people to experience the harvesting process. Nourishing the body with what you and the land have grown is a natural, and organic interaction with mother nature.
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