The most common questions I get are usually related to the use of fresh herbs. Lots of people have never cooked with them, or even seen them, outside of an occasionally limp piece of parsley on the plate next to their meal at a steak house. Thankfully, people are becoming more and more aware of herbs and their incredible flavor and wide range of culinary uses. (Also, their medical uses, but I really don’t know a lot about that. Yet.)
I have discussed with several of my readers as well about their desire to grow fresh herbs. They want to know how to do it, how/when to harvest them, and what to do with them once they get them into the kitchen. My first garden was not a vegetable or flower garden, but a tiny collection of herbs grown in little clay pots on a picnic table in the backyard. I really love herbs. As the summer progresses, I’m going to try my best to show you how I use my herbs, including even the most basic of recipes.
I killed my first sad little herb seedlings from lack of water. If you really want to grow herbs, do yourself a favor, go buy some herb plants. Don’t mess with seed starting until you are a little more well-versed in gardening. It will make you feel a lot better about yourself if your first gardening experience is a success rather than a failure. It will make you brave and you will want to try new things next year. Yes, plants are more expensive than seeds, but one plant can be bought for the price of the expensive herbs you buy in the store—either dried or fresh. So, you won’t be losing money in the long run.
For year one of herb growing, I would probably recommend that you plant chives, basil, parsley, dill, and cilantro. If you are feeling really adventurous, go for some rosemary and thyme, too. The chives, rosemary, and thyme will all come back next year (if you don’t manage to kill them off). Basil and cilantro are annuals (which means you have to plant them every year) and parsley is a biennial (which means you have to plant it every other year). Dill will self-seed almost like a weed, so it will always be hanging around the garden after the initial planting. This is only seven plants. Seven is the perfect number, you know. So just go for it. Herbs also make great window plants, so you can grow them indoors or on a sunny patio.
Be forewarned that herb growing can be extremely addictive. I think I am approaching 20 different types of herbs. Not 20 different plants, mind you, as I have multiple plants of the basic herbs listed above. I actually would not want to number how many herb plants I have, as it might make me a little dizzy.
The quickest and easiest way to use fresh herbs is to throw them in a salad. Everyone has different flavors that they like in their salads, so the best bet is really just to try them out and see what you like. I add new things to salads one at a time so that I can be sure to taste each flavor and see what I like and don’t. (In the spring, I have a salad nearly every day, so that provides for many different combinations.) The flavor of fresh herbs can be strong, so don’t overdo it.
I was cutting up things for a salad today and thought I would let you peruse the toppings I chose. Clockwise from the top, we have green onions, diced radishes, chive blossoms, dill, raw asparagus, and tarragon leaves.
All went into the salad, which was a mix of various lettuces, kale, swiss chard, and spinach. A salad like this really doesn’t even need dressing.
I like things like carrots and cucumbers in my salad, but I really believe in eating seasonally. This is what is in season in my garden right now. I obviously don’t eat seasonally 90% of the time, but when I can, it is a nice feeling to know that the contents of the entire bowl have been grown in your backyard.
Don’t be discouraged if your own salad is suddenly looking a little boring. Five years ago, I didn’t even eat salad. It’s an evolution. Gardening has a steep learning curve, and the failures and the overwhelming volume of information that needs to be learned can keep you from every trying. But this yummy salad is proof that eventually all the hard work does pay off. But you have to start somewhere!