Herbs are an easy and healthy way to add flavour to any meal. Although both fresh and dried varieties are readily available in almost any supermarket, why not try growing your own? Most are not hard to grow and you will be greatly rewarded by your efforts. You will also know if they are pesticide and herbicide free if they have come from your own garden.
Here is a list of a few of the most popular herbs and the conditions they prefer:
Basil likes warm, dry weather. Place in a location that will receive a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day after night time temperatures are above 10° C. Water thoroughly as needed, being sure not to get water on the foliage. Basil likes moist, well drained soil. Do not fertilize. Remove flower heads as they form. Do not let your basil flower and produce seeds until the end of the season.
You can harvest your basil once three sets of leaves are growing on one branch, but you may want to wait until four to six sets are growing. Harvest by cutting the stem under one of the sets of leaves or by pinching off leaves individually. Either way will encourage even more leaves to grow.
Basil is used in many types of cooking, but is especially popular in Italian dishes. Try adding some to pasta sauce, salads, and pizzas.
Mint prefers a sunny location with a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day. Mint likes water, so be sure to keep the soil moist. There is no need to fertilize mint. One of the easiest herbs to grow, mint can spread very quickly. For this reason, you may choose to plant your mint in containers and not directly in your garden.
Use scissors to cut a stem off of your plant when it is ready to harvest. This will cause it to branch out and produce even more leaves. When possible harvest in the morning. Be sure to leave at least 1/3 of the plant.
Mint can be used for cooking, desserts, and drinks. Try adding some fresh mint to couscous and tomato salad, or dry some to make tea.
Rosemary loves hot and dry locations. Place in an area that will receive as much sunlight as possible. Ensure the soil it is growing in is well draining. Water only when the soil becomes dry. Fertilize once a month throughout the summer.
Cut individual stem tips or leaves to use as needed.
Rosemary is especially popular in Mediterranean cooking. It is great for seasoning lamb, pork, and chicken. Rosemary has quite a strong taste, so it should be used sparingly.
Thyme likes sunny, dry conditions. Plant thyme where it will receive as much sunlight as possible with a minimum of eight hours per day. Water only when the top ½” of soil is dry. Fertilize once or twice throughout the summer.
Cut stems as needed for fresh use or for drying. To dry thyme, tie it in small bunches and hand upside down to dry. Thyme dries quickly and retains its flavour well.
Thyme is used in many different types of cuisine, but is another herb that is popular in Mediterranean cooking. It pairs well with poultry, lamb, tomatoes, and lemon.
Sage is another herb that likes as much sun as you can give it. Plant sage in soil that drains well. Only water when the soil is dry- sage does not like to be constantly moist. Fertilize once at the beginning of the season and once mid-season.
Harvest the young, tender leaves for the best flavour. Try to harvest during the morning when the plant is dry. Avoid harvesting during the hottest part of the day. Also, do not harvest after flowering as the leaves become bitter.
Sage is used in numerous dishes, but is probably most often paired with poultry. Try adding some to stuffing next time you cook a chicken or turkey.
Cilantro likes to grow in sun, but prefers soil temperatures that are not above 23°C. When it gets too warm, it will go to seed more quickly. It is best to keep it in shade during the hottest parts of the day. Cilantro grows well in Manitoba during the spring and fall, but you may find it hard to grow during the summer. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Fertilize once a month during the growing season.
When ready to harvest, cut stems as needed. Discard the thicker, tougher stems and use the fine stems and leaves. The seeds of cilantro (coriander) have a unique taste of their own and can be used in many dishes. Once the plants have gone to seed, cut the stems and dry upside down in a paper bag. The seeds will dry and fall off into the bag.
Cilantro has a strong, pungent taste. It is used in Mexican and Chinese cuisine, just to name a few. Try mixing with salsas and soups. Coriander seeds can be sprinkled on salads or used as a natural breath freshener.
Once you have started on these herbs, you can expand your herb garden with different varieties suited to yours and your family’s tastes!