Healthy Cooking Thursday – Grow Your Herb Garden

By Chef Lisa
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Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the gardening season in Vermont, so I thought I would dedicate this week’s post to the easiest edibles you could grow. After all, I don’t pretend to have a very green thumb, and even I haven’t killed too many herb plants!

Why grow herbs? For one thing, herbs can be thrown into nearly anything you make, and by growing your own, you need only take what you need, and yet always have them on hand. Fresh herbs are the pixie dust of the culinary world, and truly can make a dish more magical, not to mention delicious. For inspiration, consider using them in vinaigrettes and grilling marinades, added to fruit or veggie salads, steeped in tea, or tossed into cooked grains or pasta. I like to use leaves of different herbs tossed with baby greens to make a salad a little more interesting. And basil doesn’t hold the monopoly on pesto; when fall comes around, cut down all your herbs to make varieties of pesto to freeze and enjoy when winter rolls around.

Fresh herbs aren’t just great flavor enhancers: many are ingredients in homeopathic and conventional medicines. The flavor of fresh is definitely superior to dried. And once winter approaches, it is easy enough to dry your own herbs, which yields more delicious results than the stuff you find in the grocery store.

Many herbs are perennials, even in our chilly Green Mountain growing zone, as you can see in our healthy weight loss spa‘s kitchen garden. Oregano, peppermint, spearmint, chives, thyme, and catnip spread like weeds. (Catnip isn’t just for the felines in your family; it makes a lovely tea that’s good for a sour stomach.) I’ve even had a sage plant return for four years before it finally was done in by a nasty winter. In southern areas, rosemary is a lovely and aromatic perennial, which has the added benefit of being a natural bug repellant. That’s reason alone to keep a rosemary bush on your deck!

I like to plant established young plants from local organic farm stands in pots. That way, it is easy to move annuals, such as basil, parsley, and cilantro, inside when the weather chills (although my cats love to mow all of them down).  Also, this keeps perennials from spreading and intermingling, which can make for interesting cross-breeding.  They really do not require much (if any) attention beyond planting them properly and making sure they get water in dry, hot months.

Most herbs have very pretty flowers, which are nice additions to salads. You will want to try to use your herbs before they flower, however, which causes them to taste less sweet.  If you know what they look like when they are beginning to bud, you can pinch the baby flowers off to prolong use of the plant.  Give it a shot and see how yummy, easy, and pretty an herb garden can be.

What is your favorite use of fresh herbs?

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