Three Culinary Herbs to Grow
There’s nothing like cooking with fresh herbs from your own garden. Here are three herbs that you can grow for the most flavorful and aromatic additions to your cooking.
One of the most popular herbs is sweet basil. Often called the king of herbs, basil can be grown indoors or out. The name basil means “be fragrant.”
Sweet basil has inch-long, oval-pointed, dark green leaves and a clove-pepperish odor and taste. Sweet basil makes a bushy small plant, growing to a foot or more indoors. Do not let basil bloom, or it will go to seed. Instead, pinch out the plant tops and they will grow into compact little bushes.
It is popularly used both in the fresh form as well as the dried. The longer it simmers in a dish the more the flavor intensifies. Normally in pasta sauces basil is used in combination with oregano.
Basil is related to the mint family. Medicinal uses for basil: for ailments such as stomach cramps, vomiting, constipation, headaches, and anxiety. Basil is generally made into a hot tea for drinking when it is used medicinally.
A nice hot cup of basil tea can contribute greatly to a good nights sleep. Purchase basil capsules as well if you do not care for the taste of the tea.
Basil is still one of the most common household herbs used today. When used in its freshest form, basil is torn from the plant and then just minced up with a knife.
Basil Planting Tips
Basil is very easy to grow as long as the temperature does not fall below 50 degrees and is in full sunshine. Basil does not tolerate cold.
Considered an annual, basil grows 12 to 24 inches. The height varies according to the variety. Basil needs full sun, and well-drained, nutrient-rich, slightly acidic soil. It also requires frequent watering—but don’t waterlog the plant. Pinch off flower stalks for a longer season of leaf production.
Basil requires at least five hours of sunlight a day to stay healthy and flavorful. If you are growing basil on the windowsill, turn regularly to ensure every side receives light. Don’t let basil leaves touch the cold glass. Basil grows under fluorescent lights in the winter. Hang the lights 6 inches from plants and leave lights on for 14 hours a day.
Basil can be easily started from seed or can be brought indoors at the end of the growing season. Before the first frost, dig them out of the garden and pot them up in fresh potting soil. Check for insects and if there is an infestation, spray with a soap and water spray. Keep the pots out of direct sunlight for about a week until plants become acclimatized to the lower light conditions they will experience indoors. Bring them inside and provide the conditions they need to continue growing.
In the garden, basil can be planted with tomatoes as it helps to overcome both insects and disease. Basil also repels flies and mosquitoes.
In the kitchen, use basil in tomato dishes (both raw and cooked), pesto, sauces, salad dressings, soups, mushroom dishes, rice dishes, mixed with other herbs, pasta dishes, vegetables such as carrots, eggplant, cabbage, squash, and zucchini. Use fresh leaves in salads and add fresh leaves to vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Basil can be used fresh, frozen, or dried. Use basil with discretion, as it is one of the few herbs that increase in flavor when heated.
Known as common garden chives, they can be grown indoors and out. Chives are grown for the flavor of their leaves, which is reminiscent of onion, although much milder. Both the stems and light purple flowers are used in cooking. The snipped leaves are an addition to many dishes. Chives lose their flavor with long cooking so it is best to add them to dishes at the last minute. For chopping stems, a pair of scissors is the best tool.
Chives can be frozen or dried. They are less flavorful when dried rather that frozen, so they are best used when fresh and snipped, or snipped and frozen. In both cases sort them carefully, removing any yellowing leaves and shoots, and keep only the plump green ones.
Chives Planting Tips
Chives are a perennial in the garden and grow approximately 12 inches tall. They are extremely easy to grow, are drought tolerant, rarely suffer from disease or pest problems, and don’t need fertilizer.
Chives require at least five to eight hours of sunlight a day. Grow them on a southern or eastern exposure to the light. If you are growing them on a windowsill, turn regularly to ensure every side receives light. They also grow well under fluorescent lights. Hang lights 6 inches above the plants and leave lights on for 14 hours per day.
They grow best in well-drained, organic, fertile soil. Keep soil moist and use mulch, and water during periods of drought. Chives tend to get overcrowded so dig and divide every three to four years.
Chives are easily grown from seed or can be brought indoors at the end of the growing season. When bringing chives indoors, divide a clump, and pot up in good houseplant soil. Leave your chive plant outdoors for a month or so after the first frost to provide a short period of dormancy. Bring them indoors and provide the requirements needed for them to start growing again. To harvest, snip leaves 2 inches from the base of the plant. Cut flower stalks off at the soil line once they have finished blooming. This prevents the plant form forming seed and keeps it more productive.
In the garden, plant chives with carrots. They are good companion plantings for tomatoes and fruit trees. Chives or garlic planted between rows of peas or lettuce reported to control the incidence of aphids when planted between roses.
In the kitchen, use chives in omelets (or Just Egg), scrambled eggs, casseroles, rice, dips, and gravies. Chives can be added to soft cheese, salads, sandwiches, sour cream, vinegar, and baked potatoes. Chive blossoms can be used for garnishing and are particularly attractive in salads. Chive stems can be used for tying up little bundles of vegetables for appetizers.
The ancient herb, fernleaf dill as it is commonly known, has feathery leaves that make dill a pretty foliage plant. The fragrance of dill on fingers evokes a comfort smell for many people as the leaves smell of homemade dill pickles. Old-fashioned dill water or gripe water as it is commonly known (made by infusing crushed dill seeds in hot water), is still used as a remedy for indigestion in adults as well as children.
Dill is an annual but self-seeds so once planted you will have it forever in your garden as long as you allow some of the plants to go to seed. Dill has yellow flowers and grows 1 to 4 feet tall outdoors. In pots indoors, dill will be less tall. Dried dill leaves are known as dill weed. If you need dill seed for your fall pickles, plant some dill in mid-July to ensure you have ripening seed.
Dill Planting Tips
Dill grows best in deep, well-drained, fertile, sandy loam, and likes compost. Dill must be grown in full sun and watered during dry periods. Dill is easily grown from seed and grows well indoors. When thinning, use the seedlings you pull up, as they are tender and delicious.
If grown under fluorescent lights, hang the lights 6 inches from plants and leave on for 14 hours a day. Dill does not transplant well and it needs a deep pot for its long taproots. Pinch out the tops to prevent flowering and seed setting to keep plants growing longer.
In the garden, dill can be planted with cabbages but not near carrots.
In the kitchen, use dill for pickles, cabbage, turnips, cauliflower, sour cream (or vegan substitutes), stews, cream cheese, and dips. Use fresh with green beans, potato dishes, cheese, soups, salads, sauces, and snipped on vegetable dishes. Zucchini can be sliced thin and sautéed in olive oil and fresh dill leaves for a nice side dish.
Fresh dill can be kept in the fridge for a few days by submersing the stems in a glass of water. Cover loosely with a plastic bag and make sure the leaves are above the water. Fresh leaves can be frozen in resealable bags and used in dishes. Seeds can be stored in a closed container and used as needed. You can eat the leaves, seed heads, and seeds. Dill can be dried or frozen.
Try growing these three herbs in your indoor or outdoor garden for a robust trio of delicious and tasty accents to your recipes.
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