September 22, 2016

Getting your hands dirty in the garden is a lot like getting your hands dirty while cooking--it's a lot of fun. Getting down and dirty in a home garden can provide new opportunities for connecting with and understanding your food, as well as exploring new flavors. If you live in an urban environment or only have a tiny space to work with, an herb garden is a great place to start. Herb gardens, no matter where you live, are totally maintainable and provide a constant source of fresh flavor inspiration. Not to mention, adding green to your living space is one of the simplest ways to cultivate some positive feng shui energy into your home.

 

Drying Herbs / Getty Images

 

I know this seems like the easy part, but when I first started an herb garden, I quickly ran into the problem of not having a ton of ideas on how to use the herbs. Once you get going and growing, you end up with a constant supply of fresh herbs to work with... and for me, it was a little overwhelming. I was new at it and mostly just happy that the plants were alive and looking good, but I didn't want all of the amazing culinary potential I had growing at my fingertips to go to waste either. That's why I've spelled out some of my favorite uses I've found for various herbs below.

Herb plants are organized into different categories, but the category of herbs that I generally like to grow are called perennials. Perennials can live and grow continually for several years, rather than only coming to life annually or biannually like a number of other plant varieties, which makes them much easier to tend to, even during the chillier months. Here are my favorite perennial herbs, their uses, flavors, and properties:

 

1.) Rosemary

Description: An evergreen bush that grows long branches with waxy needle-like leaves.

Scent & Flavor:  Rosemary has a strong and pleasant herbaceous aroma that matches it's robust flavor. Simply touching its leaves causes the sweet and almost minty smelling oils to be left on your hands (some believe these oils are a natural mosquito repellent).

Uses & Tips: This herb works well to add a distinct touch to 

 

Cultivating Your Herb Garden

If you're like a lot of people, you may live in an area where having an outdoor garden isn't feasible. This may be a second story apartment or a place where you don't have access to a plot of earth. In that case, you'll want to turn to containers that are either placed indoors in a bright and sunny area or placed out on your porch. Keep in mind that containers placed outside should be brought inside when the weather is scorching hot or freezing cold. Wherever you decide to put your herb garden, Make sure you have these three essentials:

  • Adequately sized containers with with drainage plates
  • Potting soil
  • Plenty of sunlight
Sunlight is essential, especially for indoor containers. Once you've repotted your plants into their new containers (I suggest buying plants rather than starting from seeds if this is your first garden), place them near a window, on a window sill, or on a stand where they will receive adequate light. Use a good potting soil when planting in containers. Potting soil is free of insects, tends not to compact, and promotes adequate draining in containers unlike the typical soil you'll find outside. Using containers with drainage holes and drainage plates on the bottom to catch excess water is essential to preventing root rot.

Garden Maintenance

Your herbs will require watering every other day and also some periodic pruning. Trimming and pruning your plants is an essential way to keep them healthy, contained, and consistently growing fresh leaves. Plants that are left to grow unchecked can get leggy, invasive, droopy, and can quickly overpower their containers. Periodically trimming them  also means you're harvesting fresh sprigs and leaves for your kitchen uses.

Drying Fresh Herbs

When saving your herbs to make seasoning blends or teas, simply prune your herbs, tie them in a bundle with twist ties or kitchen twine,  and then hang them upside down in a cool, dry place (like a pantry). Avoid trying to expedite the drying process by using the oven or a dehydrator, as this can impart an odd flavor and damage the oils in the herbs. One whole bundle of herbs should be completely dry in about a week.

Freezing Extra Herbs

There's a healthy chance that even after using your herbs for cooking, drying, etc, you'll still have a plethora left over. Because we're not about to waste all of that herb goodness, an easy way to preserve the rest is to freeze them. Here's what you'll need:

  • Oil or butter
  • Fresh herbs, finely chopped
  • An ice tray
  • Freezer bags
Check out the video below to see the technique.

 

 

OK, so, you feel ready to start your own herb garden? There's no day like today. And if you already have one going, let us know some of your favorite herb uses and gardening tips are in the comments below.