There’s something about cooking with fresh herbs. It says healthy; it says gourmet; it says price is no object. Fresh herbs are expensive, but they don’t have to be. You can grow your own and have a regular supply of your own herbs to cook with. Now that’s really gourmet! Whether you have space to dedicate to an outdoor herb garden or just room for a few pots in south-facing windows, you’ll find herbs are surprisingly easy to grow. Best news of all? Herbs thrive on being harvested regularly, so you’ll always have a ready supply of your favorites.
For traditional Italian-style basil you want sweet, large-leaf or Genovese basil seeds or plants. If Thai food is your favorite, you’ll find Thai basil is just as easy to grow and it’s perfect in a green curry. Basil is ideal for container growing and a good choice to start from seed. Fill a decorative planter with good potting soil from a reputable supplier like your local nursery. Cover the seeds with ¼ inch soil, and keep the soil moist. Your basil seeds should sprout in about a week.
If you’re growing basil for the first time here’s a good thing to know about this annual herb. For a healthier, more productive plant, you want to harvest early and often. Picking off the top leaves, pinching back the tips, regularly prevents the plant from getting leggy. A more compact basil plant has more branches and more leaves to harvest.
The great garnish parsley is often overlooked and left on the plate just for looks, but this tasty herb offers an excellent source of nutritional value. When making soups or stocks parsley adds complexity and depth, and parsley sauce is the perfect complement for fish. Flat or curly, parsley plants like rich soil and plenty of water, but they don’t like sitting in water. To grow indoors, you’ll want to fertilize every other week and water lightly (spritz) daily for best results. Seeds can take several weeks to sprout so you may want to buy plants.
Onion and garlic chives both are easy to grow. In an outdoor garden they self-seed and spread like a weed, so select your planting spot carefully. Members of the allium family, like chives, when planted near apple trees can keep away pests. Chives will also grow back every year and are easy to cultivate.
Chives offer the ultimate instant zing of flavor to most dishes, but they’re irresistible when paired with sour cream in a simple dip. In a serving bowl, combine ½ cup sour cream, 4 Tbsp. cream cheese, 6 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, and salt to taste. If there’s any left after serving, refrigerate it.
Sage plants make the prettiest silver-leafed blue-flowered border you’ve ever seen. Edible landscaping with sage or growing it in containers, this perennial herb will need to be renewed every 3–5 years with young plants. Older plants start to look woody and awkward. Check your local nursery for fresh sage plants that come in easy to plant peat pots. Common sage is the ultimate herb for thanksgiving stuffing, but that’s not its only friend. Try a sprig or two of sage in your pot roast. You’ll be glad you did.
Homemade spaghetti or pizza sauces need oregano. Black bean soups are also delicious with this flavorful herb. Ask at the nursery to be sure you are getting a Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare) for a proper culinary oregano. Milder ornamental varieties of oregano are also available for ground covers. Oregano is in the mint family, so this perennial herb spreads rapidly if not kept in check.
Consider planting herbs and flowers together for a cottage garden look. Extra herbs make fragrant greenery for flower arrangements too. Most herbs are sun-loving plants, so be sure to choose a sunny south-facing window or garden spot. Keep the soil moist but not too damp, especially in container plantings, and remember to keep them trimmed back to encourage more growth. Soon your own supply of fresh herbs will be the essential ingredient in all your meals.
Dixie Somers is a freelance writer and blogger for business, home, and family niches. Dixie lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and is the proud mother of three beautiful girls and wife to a wonderful husband.