If the thought of a garden nursery or farmer’s market makes your pulse quicken, then you’re probably familiar with the intoxicating allure of the herb. Even if I never once used my herbs for cooking, I would still plant them every year, because they are literally a feast for the senses, their heavenly aromas released with a touch, stunning colors and foliage, wonderful variety of textures, and oh, the taste of fresh versus dried herbs! C’est magnifique!
Martha Stewart & the British pronounce them with a Her rather than a Ur, which always makes me laugh because I think of my Great Uncle Herbie and the 70s classic Herbie “The Love Bug”. But I digress.
Before I plant my window boxes or garden, I plant herb bowls. I can plant them early in the season, and if the temps are going to fall too low, I can easily bring them indoors or cover them to protect against frost damage. Basil is especially susceptible to damage from the cold weather, and should not be planted outdoors until all danger of frost has passed.
Another reason I love herb bowls is because I can get creative with mixing and matching complementary plants for simple aesthetics. My favorite pot would contain a variety of different colors and textures. For instance, thyme is one of my all-time favorite herbs for container gardening, because it comes in so many beautiful varieties. I love the tiny green teardrop leaves on woody stocks. My favorite thyme plants are English Thyme, Woolly Time, a wonderful fuzzy creeper, and Lemon Thyme, with its gorgeous variegated foliage and fresh citrus scent.
A good rule of thumb when planting for aesthetics is to plant one tall plant such as a silvery rosemary or chives, a trailing plant like creeping Rosemary, a small to medium-sized colorful plant, like a purple sage or purple basil, a bright lime green plant thyme, and a specialty variety oregano.
Or, I can plant for a more utilitarian theme, like a bowl containing the most common herbs for cooking (basil, oregano, sage, chives and thyme or rosemary), or, for sweets, teas, soaps and oils (chamomile, lemon verbena, mints and lavender).
When I say mint, you probably think peppermint. But there is quite a variety of mints to choose from, including pineapple or chocolate. My favorite cheap thrill of summertime is to pluck a fragrant leaf or two of pineapple mint and just inhale the deliciousness. A word of caution, though: mint is best grown in pots as it is an aggressive grower, and will quickly take over a garden, spreading year after year.
Watering – Unlike house plants, herbs need to be watered frequently. The good news is unless left for several days without water, most herbs will bounce back from wilting once watered. During hot summer days, you may have to water at least once a day. They should never be allowed to dry out, completely.
Clipping & Pruning – Using basil as an example, when clipping, start towards the top. That’s where the tender, young leaves are. The large, older leaves at the bottom of the plant absorb the energy from the sun that helps produce new leaves. With basil, and other herbs, you should never allow them to flower unless you’re growing them for decorative purposes only. All of the plant’s energy goes to the flower instead of producing new leaves. You want your basil growing out, not up.
Storing Fresh Herbs – Most cut fresh herbs will keep for at least a week, wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Cooking – One tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs will equal approximately one teaspoon of dried herbs. Or you can simply remember you’ll typically need 3 times the amount of fresh herbs as dry.
I have to share two of my favorite ways to use fresh herbs, beyond pizza and bruschetta.
I could eat Italian food, seven days a week, 365 days a year. A hearty red sauce is my favorite. However, every home chef should have at least one classic summertime pesto recipe. Here is one from The Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten. While many know her now from Food Network, I have all of her cookbooks. She is a true icon! http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/pesto-recipe.html
Another summertime staple at my house is Herb Butter, which can be made sweet or savory. You can’t go wrong with a lemon thyme herb butter, which is fabulous on pasta, fish or hot, crusty bread. And, it couldn’t be simpler to make, so you’ll spend less time in the kitchen and more time outdoors.
Lemon Thyme Herb Butter
½ cup softened butter
2 tsp. flat leaf parsley (finely chopped)
½ tsp. lemon thyme (finely chopped)
2 tsp. lemon zest
Roll on wax paper into a tube shape. Refrigerate until hardened. Slice off a round pat when ready to use. Garnish with a thinly sliced lemon half or a sprig of curly parsley.
However you use them, from salads to steaks, I hope you enjoy a summer full of delicious herbs!
For a free download of this darling watering can cross-stitch from Country Living visit http://bit.ly/20bD3Hp.
Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie B., enjoys fresh herbs for their scent as much as their taste!
All uncredited photos taken by Mary Haehn.