While cooking has always been a hobby I’ve loved, my actual education and work experience is in Horticulture. For this reason every year around this time I get especially antsy to get planting a garden! There is nothing I love more in the summer time than a big basket of fresh garden veggies and herbs cooked with little else and there’s something really fulfilling about growing things yourself. I especially love it now that my boys are old enough to be excited about planting things and watching them grow.
One of my favorite things is the bounty of fresh herbs in the summer. Fresh herbs are SO delicious and add so much flavor to your food. They just can’t be matched by the dried stuff in a bottle. They can be expensive to buy in the stores, but can be grown literally for pennies so it makes sense to plant some because for a couple of bucks you can have fresh herbs from spring time all the way into the fall.
They’re also super easy. If you’re thinking that growing your own herbs will require a lot of knowledge and effort on your part, think again. You don’t need a big garden, you can just put some in pots and even grow them indoors on a window sill. Anyone can do it. My husband and I even had a great little herb garden in our first apartment where we got only a few hours of morning sun on our porch. And I promise, you don’t even need a green thumb. The most common culinary herbs don’t need any special conditions, and are very forgiving- even being able to withstand a little neglect.
I’ll have lots of fresh herbs this summer, so I’ll have a lot of recipes to help you use up yours if you plant some. So that’s your homework- go plant something, even if it’s just one! You can plant seeds, but you need to have room to plant (and grow, and use up) a lot
and you need to start them early so they have time to grow. Some herbs grow really well from seed, but for a lot of them I honestly I think it’s easier to just spend a couple of bucks on an established little plant. The smallest size available is great- they’ll grow fast! Here’s some of my little cuties I got in the ground this past week:
What to grow
planted a lot of things over the years, but now I only plant the ones I use the very most and I just plant more of them. There’s so many to choose from, just plant what you like! My very favorite herb is rosemary, and I also love basil, thyme, and oregano for basics. Here’s a list of the most common culinary herbs; they’re all easy to grow :
Where to plant
You can plant herbs directly in the ground, or in pots. Follow the instructions on the tag, but you’ll find that the majority of them do best in a place where they’ll receive 6-8 hours of sunlight each day. They will do fine in a partly sunny location as well, but they may not produce as much.
Most herbs don’t need any special soil conditions. Just normal potting soil. They obviously need to be watered, but have good drainage at the same time. Most can handle slightly dry soil.
Using the herbs
The great thing about herbs is the more you pick them, the more they grow! So use them often and they’ll keep producing. If you leave them alone, most will go to seed, meaning they’ll start to grow flowers- you don’t
want that to happen, so if you see it start, snip those suckers right off.
We get a lot of questions about the right way to cut herbs. With soft stemmed herbs like cilantro and parsley, just bunch them up and hold tight with one hand and slice with the other. With this type of herb, slice up the stems too. I’m always surprised how many people waste time plucking off every little leaf. The stems have just as much (if not more) flavor then the leaves, so just slice everything up! Start with the leafy ends and cut down until the main bulk of leaves stop and you start to see more stems than leaves.
With woody stems, like oregano or rosemary, just hold one end of the stem and slide your fingers to the other end. All of those leaves will just pop right off.
With either type, you can also bunch them up and tie a string around them, stems and all. Pop the little bunch into soups and stews for added flavor.
Remember when you’re cooking with fresh herbs, they pack the most punch when added in at the end of cooking time. The opposite is true of dried herbs, which do best when added at the beginning so they have time to let their flavors release.
The rule of thumb to remember with fresh herbs is this:
1 Tbs fresh herb = 1 tsp dried herb
or use 3 times fresh that you would dried.
Fresh herbs can be either dried or frozen. This comes in handy when your plants are producing at a much faster rate than you are using them! Start preserving them and you’ll have fresh herbs all year round. Always pick the younger, fresher sprigs for best results.
Freezer Method 1:
Make sure herbs are clean by washing and patting dry. Pick off any damaged leaves. Remove leaves from stem and place on a flat dish so they are not touching each other. Place in the freezer until leaves are frozen completely and then transfer to an air tight container or zip-top bag. Some herbs, like rosemary for example where I often use the whole sprig, stem and all, I just leave on the stem to freeze.
Freezer Method 2:
Chop or mince leaves and place a small bundle in each well of an ice cube tray. Fill the cubes 1/2 way with water. Try to push all of the leaves under the water if possible- some will insist on floating, and that’s okay. Freeze until water is frozen solid and then fill cubes up the rest of the way. (Freezing only half-way up prevents the herbs from all floating to the very top.) Once frozen, transfer herb/ice cubes to a container of zip-top bag. Toss a cubes into soups, sauces, etc.
Wash and dry herbs completely. Leave leaves on stems, but pick off any damaged ones and also the lower 1/3 of the sprig. Taking a few sprigs together, gather by the end of the stems. Place a small brown paper bag around the herbs so that the opening of the bag is gathered at the end of the stems and the herbs are inside the bag. Tie with a string or rubber band to secure. Cut several holes in the brown paper bag and then hang upside-down in an airy location. It will take a couple of weeks at least for them to dry completely. Once dry, remove leaves from stems and place in sealed jars.
Now to get you in the mood for herbs, here are some of my favorite recipes that are especially great with fresh ones!