Sunday, February 21, 2016

Culinary Herbs Part 2: Herbs Best Grown from Transplants.

This is the second part in a two part series of creating a culinary herb garden.  Culinary herbs are both useful and beautiful.  They are easy to grow and have both culinary and medicinal value for you and your family. 

If you are venturing into the world of herbs for the first time then culinary herbs are a good place to start.  The herbs discussed in this part are those best grown from transplants or cuttings.  Part 1 of Culinary Herbs focuses on herbs you can grow from seed. Although they are easy to grow from seed, culinary herbs are usually easy to find potted at your local nursery.

Herbs Best Grown from Transplants

Sage, oregano, thyme, tarragon, and mints 

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Sage is an essential herb in stuffing for chicken, turkey and pork. It is a strong flavor. Whether used in cooking or not, it is worth saving a spot in the garden for sage.

Sage is a perennial that needs full sun.  When established it is drought tolerant and is not partial to feet feet.  It needs a well drained soil.
Most sage will not grow true to type if planted from seed so purchasing transplants is recommended. Sage can be propagated from cuttings.

There are ornamental types with variegated leaves but for culinary purposes be sure plant to the plain grayish leafed variety.  All sages are a great addition to any garden because bees and pollinators love the flowers.  

Prune sage each spring.  Leave the old wood and remove the top half of each branch.  This encourages new growth from the base.

To harvest cut 6-8 inches of leaves above the woody growth before the plant flowers.  They can be air dried in bundles or in a dehydrator.


Oregano is a culinary favorite. Finding the right type for culinary use is important.  Wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare) will be a culinary disappointment. It has mild, bland flavor. It is a beautiful flowering perennial but not a good choice for culinary use.  Unfortunately it is often sold for that purpose at the garden centers and nurseries.  

Best Culinary Oregano

Greek (O. vulgare subsp. hirtum). Vigorous and very hardy. Grows to 3 feet tall with green, slightly hairy foliage. Greek oregano is generally best for most culinary uses, with 'Kaliteri' (a strain within the species) delivering the truest of oregano flavor (see below). Zone 5

'Kaliteri' (O. vulgare 'Kaliteri'). This Greek strain is truly among the best (kaliteri means "the best" in Greek). Grows to 18 inches tall with silvery gray foliage. Spicy and flavorful without being too bitter. Zones 6 & 7

Italian (O. 5 majoricum
). Also sold as Sicilian oregano or hardy sweet marjoram. Italian oregano is an exquisite blend of sweet and spicy, without the bitterness of more intense types. That characteristic flavor varies, however, as Italian oregano is a hybrid resulting from crossing sweet marjoram with oregano. Plant form, leaf size, and color can vary depending on the parents, but most plants are upright in growth to 2 feet tall, with small pale green to gray-green leaves. Wonderful fragrance and gourmet flavor. Zone 7
(Rodale's Organic life)

Oregano makes a nice ground cover.

Sweet Marjoram is more delicate than oregano.  I purchase seeds and grow it in pots.  The seeds are very fine so just barely cover.  It is easier to find transplants to enjoy sweet marjoram.
  Oregano is a low growing compact herb.  It will need to occasionally be divide to prevent it from sprawling.  Do not over water and plant in soil that drains well. 

Harvesting:  Cut stems as you need them using the leaves in cooking.  Since oregano dries well you can make 2 large harvests by cutting it back to 2-3 inches before it flowers and then again in fall. 

You can air dry by bundling the stems and hanging in a dry, dark place or use your dehydrator.  I store the leaves on the stem in mason jars and crumble the leaves as I need them.

You can also preserve by making an infused oil or putting leaves in ice trays covering in broth, oil, or butter. 
A designated herb box in my veggie garden with salvia, catmint, and thyme.


Mints share certain characteristics:  they are perennials, with square stems, paired leaves, and whorls of small flowers.  They spread by seed and by underground rhizomes.  Because of this they are very invasive!!  They need to be contained.  I only plant them in pots.  They will seed rhizomes under raised beds and spread so you have been warned:  Beware of the square stem!

Chocolate mint in a pot with petunias.

I like to plant peppermint, spearmint,  and chocolate mint.  Pick the chocolate mint leaves and rub them between your heavenly!

Mint leaves should be dried quickly or can be enjoyed fresh in lemonades, mint waters, on vegetable dishes and fruits.

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)

French tarragon is the herb for culinary use.  It is a mix of anise, licorice, pepper, and basil flavor.  Russian tarragon which is sometimes sold as a culinary herb in seed is a bad choice.  It has a repugnant, bitter flavor.  Rub the leaves and smell your fingers to be sure you are purchasing French Tarragon. Do not purchase seed even if it is labeled French tarragon.  The French variety is only propagated by cuttings or root division.

Pick leaves and use fresh.  It does not dry well.  If you are unfamiliar with tarragon it is often blends with other herbs.  

Fines Herbs
Chervil leaves minced
Chives chopped
Parsley leaves minced
French Tarragon leaves minced
Use equal parts

Fines herbes are good on scrambled eggs, in salads, mayonnaise, butters, vinaigrette, and on vegetables.  (Herb Companion May 2012)

 Bonnes Herbes
Basil leaves minced
Chervil leaves minced
Chives chopped
Dill sprig
tarragon leaves minced
fresh ground pepper

Very good in potato and egg salads, pasta, rice, and in salad dressings. (Herb Companion May 2012) 
It is best to enjoy this herb fresh.  Drying results in a lose of flavor.  Freezing is a better options for preserving.  Chop the leaves into ice cube trays and cover with broth, melted butter or  your favorite oil.  The leaves can also be preserved in oils and vinegar's.

Culinary Uses:  creamy soups, egg dishes, fish, asparagus, cauliflower, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini or mushrooms.  


The best culinary thyme is Thymus vulgaris.  It is a perennial small woody shrub.  It has similar growing conditions to oregano.  

Harvest the leaves when the flower begins to bud.  Cut the stems to 2 inches above the ground.

Thyme retains its aroma very well when dried and in cooking.
Lemon thyme

Lemon thyme is one of my personal culinary favorites.   I prefer to use it fresh or infuse in cooking oils.  It is delicious on vegetables, chicken, fish, and eggs.  It is propagated by cuttings so purchase transplants.

There are other landscape thyme's such as creeping thyme and wooly thyme which make great ground covers or are beautiful in rock gardens.  There are golden and variegated varieties which all have a purpose in landscape but not culinary use.

General Care:
 Keep weeded
Mulch lightly
Pinch back flowers,
Stake if necessary
No fertilizers just a good soil amended with compost.


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