Spring Is Coming! Time to Take Charge of Your Herbs!
Sure, you can use dried herbs. They’re there all year ‘round. And you know what you’re getting.
I feel a cheap thrill every time I pick herbs I’ve grown myself to use in my cooking. I swagger back into the kitchen with a fistful of fresh-snipped greenery and a (mostly) unwarranted braggadocio…unwarranted because they’re ridiculously easy to grow.
I recommend you try growing your own. The endorphin rewards can be pretty great. Here’s how:
If You Have a Yard
A small square, 3’x5’ to 5’x5’ is big enough to grow most everything you might want. Much more useful and attractive than grass, so just dig up that lawn. The most reliable and useful PERRENIAL (as in they will either be there year ‘round or return every Spring) herbs are:
• English Thyme
• Lemon Thyme (Definitely optional, but really great on/in so many things. I use it more often than the English.)
I have gardener friends who will howl in outrage about this, but just buy starts, dig a hole in your new herb plot, and stick them in the ground. If they don’t thrive, go spend another $1.99 on a new start. Don’t fuss. DO water them regularly till the roots take hold and they start to actually grow. After that, these don’t need a ton of water, and they won’t perish if you forget them sometimes.
You may want to consider putting the Rosemary and Sage in separate locations. They become woody bushes that can take over that little herb plot. They’re beautiful and aromatic in any part of your yard—so much so that you may forget you planted them for cooking. Again, once they become established, they’ll be fine without much water.
In addition, I always grow several basil plants. You have to get these new every year, and they will die in the fall. Again, purchase starts—the bigger the better. These can go into the ground or into a pot. (A single pot can hold several basil plants.) As long as you keep them watered, they’ll be fine either way. Basil needs more attention than the perennial herbs. Your plants or starts will probably start with big, lush leaves. As you use the leaves, the newer growth will come in smaller and paler. That’s fine! Just keep making that pesto or those pizzas or pastas or paninis, etc. You will also want to consistently pinch off the flowers and buds as the basil starts to bolt. Do this and water it whenever it droops the slightest bit, and you will have fresh basil into October. (Then you pick off all the leaves and either freeze them* or make pesto and freeze that.)
Feeling adventurous? How about adding parsley, or cilantro, or dill?
If you DON’T have a yard…
…but you do have a deck, grow them in pots. Put the woody ones in separate pots, and the tender ones in a large pot all together. Or separately. It’s all good. They don’t even need a ton of sun. Just remember to water them, and to harvest from them.
If you don’t have a yard OR a deck…
…but you have a windowsill, get a long, narrow rectangular box and plant herbs there. In some ways, that’s the best of all, because you just reach up and pluck them while you’re in the midst of a kitchen creation.
Oh, and here’s the cooking tip: Use 3 times the amount of fresh herbs that you would of dried herbs.
If you feel intimidated by the prospect of caring for plants, ask yourself this:
“If I give this a shot, what’s the worst thing that could happen?”
*To freeze Basil leaves, blanch them by dipping them in boiling water briefly, then move them to ice water to stop the cooking process. Blanching preserves the bright green color of the basil. Without it, frozen basil turns an ugly brownish black. Dry off your blanched basil, then freeze your leaves whole in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, bag them up into freezer safe zippered plastic bags. Use them as if they were fresh off the plant.