Cooking with fresh garden herbs from your own garden can transform any dish into something truly special. Herbs add wonderful aroma, flavor, color, and texture to food. Growing your own herbs is easy and rewarding. Plus, it saves money compared to buying herbs at the grocery store. This article will explore some of the most popular garden herbs for cooking and provide tips on how to grow, harvest, store, and use them in delicious recipes.
What are Garden Herbs?
Herbs are plants that are valued for the unique flavors, aromas, and health benefits they impart. Herbs come from the leaves, stems, flowers, roots, seeds, and fruits of plants. Popular culinary herbs include basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, mint, dill, parsley, cilantro, and chives. Herbs are very versatile – they can be used fresh, dried, or frozen. Fresh herbs have the best flavor but dried herbs work well too.
Benefits of Cooking with Garden Herbs
Cooking with fresh garden herbs offers many benefits:
- Herbs add lots of flavor without extra calories, fat, or sodium.
- They allow you to cut back on salt.
- Herbs make dishes more aromatic and appetizing.
- Fresh herbs contain antioxidant, antiviral, and antibacterial compounds.
- Herbs aid digestion.
- Certain herbs have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Using herbs and spices may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
- Herbs impart subtle flavors not found in spices.
- Fresh herbs make dishes seem lighter.
- Cooking with herbs allows creativity and experimentation in the kitchen.
How to Grow Your Own Garden Herbs
Growing your own culinary herbs is easy, fun, and cost-effective. Follow these simple tips for success:
- Choose a sunny, well-drained spot in your garden. Most herbs thrive in full sun and fertile, sandy or loamy soil.
- Amend the soil with aged compost before planting. This provides nutrients for strong herb growth.
- Start herbs from nursery transplants, seeds, or cuttings from other plants.
- Give herbs adequate space to grow. Refer to spacing guidelines on seed packets or plant tags.
- Water herbs regularly until established. Mature herbs are fairly drought tolerant.
- Weed and mulch around herbs to reduce competition. Organic mulch helps retain soil moisture.
- Fertilize herbs occasionally according to product instructions. Too much nitrogen can diminish flavor.
Now that you know the basics of growing garden herbs, let’s explore some of the most popular and easy-to-grow herb varieties for cooking.
Common Garden Herbs for Cooking
Many culinary herbs thrive in backyard gardens. Here are some of the most essential:
This fragrant herb is indispensable for pesto, marinara, salad dressings, and herbal vinegars. Grow basil in full sun. Pinch off flowers to prolong harvest.
Mild onion-flavored chives are perfect for soups, dips, fish dishes, and savory baked goods. Chives are a perennial that can be grown indoors during winter.
The fresh, pungent flavor of cilantro is popular in salsas, chutneys, Indian and Thai cuisine. Cilantro bolts quickly in heat, so make successive plantings for continual harvest.
Dill complements fish, chicken, eggs, potatoes, and vegetables. Use dill weed for its flavorful leaves and flowers. Harvest dill seeds to use in pickling recipes.
This ornamental herb has a sweet, floral quality. Use lavender to flavor syrups, ice cream, loaf cakes, and biscotti. Excellent for tea. Dry lavender buds for sachets and potpourri.
Subtly lemon-scented leaves are used in fish dishes, with fruit, tea, and desserts. Fresh leaves skewer well with chicken or shrimp. Grow lemon balm in partial shade.
Spearmint and peppermint add flavor to salads, beverages, jellies, candy, and lamb dishes. Mint thrives with ample moisture and partial shade. Grow mint in containers as it’s invasive.
Robust oregano seasons pizza, pasta, meats, vegetables, and Greek and Mexican foods. Useful dried. Thrives in hot, dry conditions. Excellent for containers.
Curly parsley dresses up dishes as a garnish. Italian flat-leaf parsley has more flavor for cooking. Use parsley in tabbouleh, salads, soups, and Mediterranean food. Cut often to prevent bolting.
Fragrant rosemary complements poultry, meat, fish, beans, and grains. Use fresh or dried. This versatile Mediterranean herb thrives in warm climates, enjoying full sun and little water.
Earthy sage enhances poultry, stuffing, pork, sausage, and rich meats like lamb or duck. Other uses include beans, vegetables, and cheese dishes. Sage goes well with rosemary and thyme.
This Mediterranean staple complements poultry, fish, meat, stews, soups, tomatoes, and eggs. Lemon thyme imparts citrus flavors. Use fresh or dried thyme in cooking. Cut often to prevent woody stems.
How to Use Garden Herbs in Cooking
When cooking with garden herbs, keep these tips in mind:
- When using fresh herbs, add them at the end of cooking to preserve their flavor and color. Exceptions include thyme, sage, and bay leaves – these can be added earlier.
- For full flavor, chop or tear herbs instead of cutting them.
- For dried herbs, use about 1/3 of the amount you would use for fresh. Add dried herbs at the beginning of cooking.
- Herbs pair well with oils and vinegars. Infuse your favorite herbs into olive oil or make an herb-infused vinegar.
- Make herb butters, herb-infused salts, pestos, and herb-based rubs and marinades.
- Freeze extra herbs in ice cube trays with olive oil or water for later use.
- Make herb simple syrups to sweeten beverages like iced tea and cocktails.
- Air-dry excess garden herbs to use when fresh herbs aren’t available.
Cooking with fresh garden herbs is an easy and delicious way to add immense flavor to everyday meals. Growing your own herbs saves money and allows you to control quality. Many popular culinary herbs like basil, oregano, thyme and cilantro are simple to grow at home. With proper care, your herb garden will thrive and provide you with nature’s finest seasonings at your fingertips.
When harvesting garden herbs, use them fresh immediately or preserve them by air-drying, freezing, or infusing into oils and vinegars. Introduce herbs at the end of cooking for the best taste and color. Herbs lend complexity and aroma to simple ingredients like chicken, fish, vegetables, eggs, grains and more. With so many varieties to explore, cooking with herbs allows for limitless creativity and enhancement to your dishes.
Start experimenting with new herb combinations, and you’ll discover how to transform the flavors of all your favorite recipes. Your taste buds will thank you, and the nutrients, antioxidants and health benefits of fresh garden herbs will boost your meals as well. So get ready to deliciously spice up your cooking with the vibrant, fresh flavors of homegrown herbs.