Essential herbs

Plant these perennials once for years of convenient flavor

 The classic herbs no chef would be without are also the easiest to grow. They're all perennials, so you don't have to plant them every spring or summer the way you do cilantro or basil. You don't need an acre to grow them, either ― especially if you choose dwarf varieties.

GROWING TIPS 

Site: Choose a spot that gets full sun (afternoon shade in hottest areas).

Soil: Herbs can tolerate a range of soils, but they need good drainage. If your soil is heavy clay, add compost before planting.

Irrigation: Like most plants, herbs will appreciate routine watering their first year. Once established, most tolerate drought; mint, though, prefers lightly moist soil (grow it in a pot to keep its invasive roots from spreading).

Fertilizer: The herbs listed here generally thrive without fertilizers. But if you're harvesting heavily and want to encourage more growth, scatter a small amount of complete fertilizer, such as 5-10-10, among plants at the start of their growing season.

HARVEST TIPS

Chives look prettier if you snip off a few grassy stems down at the base as needed, rather than cutting across the entire clump. This technique also allows you to enjoy and use chive flowers as well as leaves.

Mint should be harvested aggressively to encourage fresh growth. Its youngest leaves always taste the freshest.

Winter savory's new side shoots make the best seasoning; harvest those first. The older stems are still tasty, but woodier, requiring more labor in the kitchen.

 


 
Thyme 

 

If you have room for only a single herb, plant thyme. Its bright, fresh flavor complements meat, poultry, soups, stews, and most vegetables. Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is the standard. Lemon thyme (B) (T. x citriodorus) is our favorite thyme with fish.

 

Chives  

 

With their mild, sweet onion taste, chives are great on not just baked potatoes but also practically every food except dessert. The flowers are tasty too, and pretty in salads or as a garnish.

 

Winter savory  

 

Delicious with fresh and dried beans, but the pepper- and lemon-scented leaves go with most other vegetables. It also perks up cream-based soups.

 

Rosemary 

 

Its piney aroma complements roasts ― lamb, beef, pork, and poultry. In small spaces, plant 'Blue Boy' (8-12 in. tall). In cold climates, go for 'Arp', which tolerates temperatures to -10°.

 

Sage 

 

Turkey stuffing isn't this camphor-scented herb's only use. Add it to sausages, meat pies, lentil soup, and bean casseroles.

 

Oregano 

 

A peppery herb for seasoning tomato-based sauces, pizza, and egg or cheese dishes. Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum) is the classic, but it can overtake a small garden. Italian oregano (O. x majoricum) is better behaved.

Info: Order from Mountain Valley Growers (559/338-2775).

 

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