Cooking for your family and friends is a labor of love, a love that shows up in the flavor of the meal. Imagine the taste of the meal when it features fresh herbs, cultivated in your own herb garden. It is not only possible but probable that no matter where you live you may enjoy your own homegrown herbs fairly easily.
Herbs are not picky and make friends easily with other types of plants, can be tucked into vegetable gardens, flower borders or around shrubs and trees. Some perennial herbs, like mint, can become invasive in the garden. Plant these herbs where they can spread comfortably, or try planting them in large pots to contain them.
Sharing with friends is one of the joys of gardens, and herb gardens are no exception. With an herb garden it is fairly easy to propagate the entire plant to share. Try rooting basil cuttings in water, digging up and breaking apart a mature chive or oregano plant and replanting the sections, or rooting a tip cutting from a lavender or rosemary branch in moist potting soil.
The plants were chosen because they would provide a gardener with beautiful, fragrant plants that work well in landscapes or containers and they offer the “broadest range or usefulness, from cooking and preserving to teas and cocktails.
Featured in Italian and Asian dishes and even in cocktails, basil is one of the most versatile and useful herbs in the garden. It is treated as an annual in most regions of the country. Thriving during the summer months, basil loves full sun and well-drained fertile soil.
As well as adding flavor to caprese salads, basil also adds beauty to the garden. You’ll find a dizzying array of choices, from basils tasting of lemon and licorice to ruffled, purple and striped varieties.
With a mild onion flavor, chives may be used to top baked potatoes, salads, eggs, cheese breads and biscuits. Garlic chives are also popular as an onion/garlic substitute. In the garden, chives are pretty, flowering perennials that grow reliably from earliest spring to late autumn. The flower buds and lollipop-shaped purple flowers are edible, too, and also attractive to beneficial pollinators” such as hummingbirds and bees.
Lavender offers its scent to everything from the garden to the stovetop to the bathtub. “Use the flowers fresh or dried to add a subtle floral flavor to drinks, baked goods, soups and meat dishes. Dried flowers also make wonderful sachets for drawers, closets, even in the clothes dryer. Lavender is a perennial, but it dislikes wet winter weather. The silvery gray, mounded foliage supports long, elegant flower stalks in nearly every shade of purple, pink or white.
Mint is quick and easy to grow. The only difficulty lies in choosing which variety to grow and add to herbal teas, cocktails, jellies and baked goods. Apple mint is a personal favorite, but gardeners may also enjoy ginger mint, chocolate or orange mint, pineapple mint, and of course, versions of peppermint, spearmint and even the dwarf ornamental Corsican mint. Mint is a perennial and may be grown in containers or allowed to roam free in the garden.
The flavor of oregano spans Greek, Mexican and Italian cuisine because its earthy, complex flavor is perfect in sauces, soups, pasta, beans and meat dishes. Oregano is a perennial herb that grows easily and reliably in many parts of the country and is one of the few herbs that does not lose much essential flavor when dried.
More than a plate decoration, parsley adds a lemony kick and bright-green finishing touch to salads, soups, roasted meats, vegetables, potatoes or fish. In the garden, parsley likes a cool season, is easy to grow and attracts butterflies. It’s a great-looking plant as an edible ornamental.
Although not as easy to grow as some of the other herbs, rosemary’s culinary uses make it worth the extra effort. Fresh rosemary adds flavor to chicken, pork, beef, potatoes and other vegetables. Branches are often used in place of skewers for lamb kabobs. In the coldest parts of the country, many gardeners shelter their pots of rosemary, which is a perennial, indoors during winter. The plants also serve as landscaping with their beautiful blue flowers. Some varieties have white or pink flowers.
Cilantro is a staple of Mexican food. The seeds of the plant are the source of coriander, another essential element of the spice rack. It always grows back. An annual plant, it can grow well from seeds but unlike the other must-have herbs, it should not necessarily be grown among flowers, vegetables and other herbs. Cilantro may be grown closer together than the foot-apart spacing that other herbs require.