Spring is upon us and it is time to plant. If you want to expand your gardening skills and your culinary skills and tickle your taste buds, think about growing more herbs. As we try to season foods while controlling salt intake, herbs can help.
If you are not familiar with growing herbs, here are some basics. Whenever you try growing untried plants in the garden make a mental checklist. Where does it grow, what conditions does it require and probably most important, what are you going to do with it after you grow it?
This checklist applies to growing herbs. People often buy herbs because they know people who grow them, because they think they are trendy or because they want to try something new.
All these are good reasons if you learn how to grow and use them. The National Garden Bureau suggests 10 common herbs to try. We will cover five this week and five next week.
1. Basil plants come in many different varieties each with distinctive fragrances such as lemon, cinnamon, anise, clove and camphor. In addition to the green-leaved varieties, there are red or purple leafed ones available. Plant basil in rich, well-drained soil in full sun and keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Mature plants can have the leaves and flowers harvested repeatedly but do not let them flower. Once that happens, leaf production declines and the flavor of the leaves deteriorates. Harvest basil frequently to encourage bushy growth and slow the flowering. The most desirable type for culinary use is Ocimum basilicum, which is used in pesto, spaghetti and lasagna.
Experiment with growing several different cultivars in your garden such as All-America Selections (AAS) Winners 'Sweet Dani,' 'Thai Siam Queen,' and 'Purple Ruffles' as well as 'Genovese,' 'Spicy Globe,' and 'Mrs. Burn's Lemon.'
2. Chives are very showy in early spring with their pink, globe-shaped flowers. This hardy perennial has had a corner in my garden for decades. It loves the sun and thrives with little care. The leaves and flowers have a characteristic smell and taste of onions.
Chive blossoms add color and flavor to vinegars and are excellent for garnishing baked potatoes. Garlic chives are no longer welcome in my garden because they reseed and spread so badly but they have a mild taste and smell of garlic that can also be used for cooking.
3. Coriander and cilantro are the same plant. The leaves of Coriandrum sativum are called cilantro, while its seeds are coriander. These dried seeds are a principal ingredient in curry powder and the ground seeds are also used for making desserts and baked goods.
Chopped cilantro leaves are used to flavor salsa and guacamole. Cilantro is an annual and can be difficult to grow. Sow cilantro in the garden in successive plantings to ensure a continual supply of leaves throughout the growing season. For good results, plant the seeds in well-drained soil in a sunny location and make certain it has adequate moisture. Excellent cultivars to try are 'Calypso,' 'Santo,' 'Longstanding' and 'Slow Bolt.'
4. Dill is most commonly associated with dill pickles but it has many other uses. It can be grown as a biennial but it is more commonly grown as an annual. It thrives in moist, well-drained soil with full sunlight. Look for the more compact cultivars that don't take as much garden space. These include 'Bouquet,' AAS Winner 'Fernleaf' and 'Dukat'. Traditional taller types include 'Long Island Mammoth' and 'Vierling'.
Young dill leaves, called dill weed, are used to flavor salads, soups, casseroles, eggs, pasta, fish and other meats. Ground dill seed is a useful condiment to add zest to meat, onions and cabbage. The groups of small yellow flowers borne as umbels or flat-topped flower clusters are sometimes dried and used for crafts.
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