The Herbal Kitchen

Inch for inch, row for row, herbs pack more flavor into every square foot of a garden than just about any other edible crop.  In addition to producing amazing and varied flavors, most herbs yield over an extended harvest period.

When you’re talking BANG for your culinary buck, herbs deliver BIG.

This is the topic of my seminar tomorrow at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show this week on the DIY stage, 11am.

Ack!!! I didn’t realize how much I rely on seductive photographs or tantalizing smells – let alone flavors – to deliver one of my favorite messages.  In the absence of a visual powerpoint presentation filled with seductive photographs of lush summertime gardens and tasty finished kitchen goods – or yummy samples like I get to hand out at farmer’s market demos and small garden club gatherings I was left to paint a delectable pictures with words alone.

I went out in my garden this February day – with snow in the forecast! – and harvested everything I could to prove that there’s more to herbs than basil and cilantro summertime treats.

It’s been another mild winter here in the Pacific Northwest and I’ve got parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary and lots of bay still standing in the garden.  It appears that my family of robins are back to nest in my small standard bay tree so I had to step lightly and harvest judiciously to keep from disturbing their setting up house.  This endeavor ended poorly a couple of years ago (stern admonishing look to resident cat…)  But each new season dawns with fresh optimism and a blessed forgetfulness of past season tragedies; otherwise I might never plant another tomato.  This year I’ll try and do a better job of policing on behalf of the young winged family; maybe I’ll plant some enticing catnip on the opposite side of the garden to lure “killer” away.

The year is young; there’s much to accomplish.

Herb Cultivation & Container planting tips:

  • Site herbs where they’ll receive at least 6-8 hours of sun a day.  Parsley, mint, begonias and alpine strawberries will tolerate less light but most edibles need sunny conditions to thrive.
  • Integrate herbs, perennial edibles and berries throughout your ornamental and vegetable plantings but remember to site your favorites close to the kitchen so harvesting will be easy.
  • In a mild climate, like here in the Pacific NW, don’t forget to include sturdy evergreen herbs for a year ‘round harvest as well as attractive structure in the garden.
  • All containers must have drainage holes but beyond that just about anything goes: buckets, baskets, old kitchen tins, window boxes, terracotta, wooden crates, and agricultural troughs all make whimsical and practical herb garden containers.
  • Select a quality organic potting mix to get your container plants off to a good start – edible crops are only as tasty and nutritious as they are raised to be – this is no time to stint on budget potting soil.
  • Resist the urge to fertilize herbs; this may get you larger plants, but often at the expense of taste, as growth dilutes the very essential oils that lend the plants their zesty flavors.

herb garden

A tiny but flavorful backyard herb garden

Lorene’s all time favorite culinary herbs for backyard cultivation:
Basil –Tender green (or purple) leaves have a spicy perfume and come in a variety of different flavor profiles from clove-like, to lemon, cinnamon and spicy Thai.

Bay—Pungent, glossy leaves add a zippy citrusy/spicy aroma to savory and sweet dishes alike.

Chervil –Delicate, feathery foliage has a mild anise flavor.

Chives –Fine grass-like blades of young chives are one of the first herbs to emerge each spring offering a bright oniony snap when minced and sprinkled on foods right before serving.

Cilantro –Fragile, flat leafed parsley-like leaves have a strong flavor that is a staple of Mexican and Indian cuisines; loved by some, considered “soap-like” by others.

Dill –Feathery fronds and bright yellow flowers with a flavor strongly associated with pickles but a delicious addition to soups, fish, potato, and egg dishes.

Lavender—Pungently strong – don’t use too much or it’s like getting your mouth washed out with soap.  Delicate floral flavor is brilliant in cream desserts and herbal syrups.

*Lemon balm –Slightly fuzzy leaves on sturdy plants have a lemony-mint flavor that brews into a delicious and soothing tea, iced or hot.

Lemon verbena –Long, pointed light green leaves smell and taste strongly of fresh lemons.

Marjoram –Aromatic, small green leaves have a slightly sweet, resinous flavor that pairs well with other Mediterranean herbs.

*Mint –A large family of plants offering a wide range of nuanced flavors from the popular spearmint or peppermint to lemon, pineapple, and ginger.

Parsley –Ubiquitous, but under-rated herb with a fresh grassy “green” flavor that is packed with nutrition.

Pineapple sage –Soft, mint-like foliage with a tropical pineapple fragrance and sweet flavor makes this a favorite for teas and fruit salads.  Brilliant red flowers at the end of the growing season attract hummingbirds.

Rosemary –Dark green needled branches on a woody shrub lend evergreen structure to the garden.  Use sparingly as its strong, coniferous flavor can easily overpower a dish.

Sage –Soft, velvety leaves with a savory, somewhat cam

phorous flavor that enhances poultry, egg and cheese dishes.

Summer savory–Small bushy plant with tiny leaves that taste like a peppery blend of thyme and mint.

Tarragon –Fine, narrow leaves along tender stems have a strong anise flavor.

Thyme–Tiny, aromatic leaves compliment many foods with a peppery flavor with hints of citrus

*Mint and its close cousin lemon balm do well in separate containers on their own to accommodate their vigorous root systems.

This year, make room to tuck a few herbs and edible flowers into the garden; it’s the beginning of some very fine eating!

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3 Responses to “The Herbal Kitchen”

  1. Kathleen Leavitt Cragun February 24, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    I attended your seminar Wed at the NW Flower & Garden Show. I needed help knowing how to use herbs everyday and you provided it. Thank you!

    I posted several articles about the Garden show on our neighborhood blogs http://www.issaquahundressed.com and one in particular about your seminar on http://www.issaquahhighlandsundressed.com . These are real estate and neighborhood oriented. Don’t worry. They are G rated! Kathleen

  2. Lorene February 25, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    Cool! life is good and delicious!
    L

  3. Lorene March 1, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    Kathleen – “G” for GOOD!!! Thanks