Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Culinary Herb Garden Part 1: Spring Herbs Gown from Seed



Looking for an easy to grow, undemanding, pest free garden?  Herbs are a good place to start. An herb garden offers a combination of plants that can be admired for their decorative effects, aromas, colors, medicinal value, and culinary uses. 

Culinary herbs are familiar to most people so why not start growing your own and seasoning your favorite dishes with fresh herbs. Herbs grown for culinary purposes are also some of the easiest to grow.

Let's begin:

Herbs can be inter-planted among your vegetables but there are benefits to establishing a distinct separate herb garden.  Here are some of the benefits of creating a separate planting.
  •  It's best not to have herbs where you might need to apply an organic pesticide or fungicide.   
  • Some herbs are perennials, oregano, thyme, and need a permanent spot in the garden.
  
  • Herbs allowed to flower are a great way to attract native pollinators.
   
  • There are unique designs specifically for herb gardens.


Location:

It's beneficial to have an herb garden near your vegetable garden because it makes a good habitat for native pollinators and beneficial insects.  It can be a raised bed devoted to herbs or have a unique shape and design of its own.  Herbs need full sun 6-8 hours, and a soil rich in organic matter.  Of course you need a water source preferably not an overhead system.  And since it is a culinary garden it should be near the kitchen so you can easily cut fresh herbs for cooking. 


Herbs Best Grown From Seed

Early spring cool season annual herbs:   cilantro/coriander, chives, dill, parsley, chervil, calendula



Cilantro

Cilantro and coriander are the same plant. Leaves and stems of the plant are what we refer to as the herb cilantro and if allowed to go to seed, the seed is coriander.

Cilantro is a quick growing short lived herb so it is wise to plant every couple weeks through July to extend the harvest.  If the herbaceous parts are not used it will go to seed quickly and can reseed throughout the garden.






Chives (Allium schoenprasum)


Chives are a perennial that can be grown from seed or bulb.  Nip off any flowers to encourage leaf growth.  If allowed to flower and set seed you will have involuntary chives all over your garden.  

 Leaves are best used fresh for a mild onion flavor.  They can be chopped and frozen for later use.


Dill (Anethum graveolens)

Dill is a hardy annual that can be grown for the leaves or seed.  Warning! It will self sow abundantly throughout the garden if allowed to go to seed.  It is a good companion herb with cabbage and not a good choice among carrots.

Dill leaves can be picked fresh at anytime.  Add to cooking at the end so you don't destroy the flavor.  They are good fresh in sour cream sauces, on vegetables, and potatoes.


For pickling, harvest the flower-heads when they have both flowers and unripe seeds.  The flower-heads can be used to flavor vinegar's and  of course for dill pickles.

Harvest seeds as they begin to turn brown.  Cut the whole head and hang the heads upside down in a dry place with something under them to catch the seeds. I use dill seed to flavor dilly beans. 

 The oil from the leaves and especially the seeds is a gentle sedative and soothing digestive aid. Sucking on dill seeds calms digestive issues. 

Dill water has long been used to calm colicky babies.  To make your own dill water, steep a teaspoonful of bruised seeds in a glass of hot water for  a couple hours.  Strain then sweeten the mixture.  Adults can take 1 Tbs and children 1 tsp.  (The Complete Book of Herbs and Spices)

Parsley

Parsley is a member of the carrot family.  It is slow to germinate so plant 3 weeks before the last frost date.  Flat leaf parsley is best for culinary use.

When the leaf stems have 3 segments they are ready to harvest.  You can dry parsley in a dehydrator or cut and hang the stems upside down.

Curly Parsley:  Is both edible and decorative.

Flat Leaf Parsley:  Preferred for culinary uses. Grows 24-26 inches.  When allowed to flower it is great for native pollinators.


Parsley has a taproot so if planted in a pot be sure it can accommodate the taproot     


  Late Spring Herbs planted from seed:  Basil

Basil 

I prefer to start seeds indoors and transplant in the garden after all danger of frost is gone.  You can direct seed basil in the garden as well. 

Pruning and harvesting are important to encourage proper growth.  As the plants grow, pinch off the tops as the flower bud form to encourage a bushier plant. Cut the plant down to the second pair of leaves when the flower bud begins to form.

Sweet Basil is the  culinary herb.  There are many cultivars of basil that are fun to grow.

Dark Opal is a decorative dark purple variety with a slightly gingery taste.  It is a beautiful ornamental flowering plant.


Lemon and Lime Basils are wonderful used fresh but do not dry well. These are some of my favorite herbs to use on chicken, fish, and vegetables.

Cinnamon Basil:  Used in desserts and sweet dishes.  Try on rhubarb.




Basils can be preserved in vinegar or oil.  Bruise the leaves and cover with your oil of choice such as olive or avacado oil. Put it in a dark area for 3-4 weeks.  Strain the oil and use in cooking.  





You can also freeze the leaves in ice cube trays with oil, butter, water, or a soup base. The leaves can be frozen on trays and stored in freezer bags.



Drying is OK but the flavor deteriorates in the process.

 Harvest basil early in the morning when the concentration of plant oils is highest.  The flavor deteriorates when allowed to flower.  Try picking when the flower spikes just begin to appear then pinch back any remaining flower stalks.


 



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