When I was in the produce section of the grocery store last
week to purchase some salad greens, I stopped in front of the packets of fresh
herbs. Many years ago, I purchased some
fresh herbs from the grocery store in my desperation to try a special recipe
during a time I was without access to a garden, but most of the time I rely on
dried or fresh herbs from my garden.
At $2.49 for about ½ an ounce of herbs, or in other words, a
couple of stems of wilted basil 4 inches long, using fresh herbs in the quantity I
like to use them is expensive.
Exceptions are fresh cilantro and parsley; stores sell rather large
bunches of these herbs for a dollar or two, and because our heat usually makes
the cilantro bolt to seed before tomatoes are ready to make salsa, I buy it at
If you find yourself avoiding certain recipes because they
call for fresh herbs, or if you do buy the expensive packets of herbs that
cannot actually be fresh by the time they reach the grocery store, try growing
your own herbs. No matter how small
your garden, it is easy to grow your own for fresh consumption and to dry some
for use the rest of the year.
If you have a sunny spot big enough for a pot, grow some
herbs, even if you don’t have room for anything else. I used to have an herb garden, but now I mix
the perennial herbs in with my flowers and shrubs and I plant the annual herbs
in rows in the vegetable garden. They
are easy to grow, and with the exception of mint, behave themselves. Mint needs the confines of a pot to contain
the runners; if you ignore this advice, you will battle the runners for the
rest of your gardening career. My mint
is not in a pot, and we fight.
Rosemary is somewhat tricky to establish in the garden but
once it decides it belongs in your garden, it does not require
maintenance. In the winter or early
spring, tiny beautiful purple blooms attract honeybees. Rosemary likes hot dry sites; my mother has
tried for years to find some shrub that will grow across the front of her brick
home that the afternoon sun bakes all day; rosemary thrives where many other
shrubs have died over the years.
I water rosemary often until it is established. I make sure the soil dries some between
waterings, but I don’t let it dry out so much that it begins to wilt. Many plants tolerate this treatment, but
rosemary does not. Rosemary will also die
in soggy soil. I have killed many more
rosemary plants than have lived in my yard, but because I persevered, I have
several healthy, trouble-free plants. If
you kill rosemary in one place, move it somewhere else until you find a good
spot. If a friend has an established
rosemary bush, ask him or her to reach under the bush and remove some baby
rosemary plants that have rooted from the mother plant for you.
Sage, in my experience, is also difficult to establish and
likes conditions similar to rosemary’s preferences. My mother has a patch of sage growing in the
same baking sun the rosemary likes that is older than I am, but she gave me
several starts of her sage before I got one to grow in my garden. Using my own sage in recipes instead of that
jarred “rubbed sage” is worth the trouble.
Thyme and oregano like more consistently moist, but not soggy, sites.
After several years of letting parsley flower and go to seed
in a corner of my flowerbed, parsley returns every year without any effort from
me. I have enough plants to share with
the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly larvae when they need some food, too. Cilantro and dill also reproduce each year
without any trouble from me.
Put out transplants of rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano,
chives, tarragon, and parsley at any time of the year except summer. Water them until they are established, and
try not to put them out if temperatures into the teens are expected. Sow cilantro, dill, fennel, and parsley in
the early spring, and sow basil, the only commonly used herb that is bothered by frost, after the last frost in your area.
Perhaps one day I will have a formal herb garden, but for
now, I am content having access to some fresh herbs nearly year round and dried
herbs from my garden during times the fresh ones are not at their peak.