Any seasoned gardener will tell you that growing your own herbs is an essential part of having a well-balanced garden. Not only will freshly picked herbs provide the perfect touch to a grand variety of dishes, but the benefits of herbal tea have long since been proven. Even if you don’t have a huge vegetable garden, growing a selection of herbs will add a fun splash of color and texture to your flower beds or that little container on your balcony that just needs an extra something. Herbs can also work well as companion plants to several types of vegetables, working as a natural form of pest control. Whether you have a large vegetable plot in the backyard or simply a respectable collection of planters, you can effortlessly grow the herbs that will provide you with a rich combination of flavors and aromas.
While it is relatively simple to grow herbs, there are still a few basic guidelines that every gardener should adhere to in order to produce the best results from their herb garden.
- Ensure that you grow your herbs in an area that receives a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight every day.
- Avoid planting the herbs in an area where water tends to pool or run heavy during a rainstorm.
- Grow the herbs in a quality soil that includes a fair amount of organic matter, as this will help to improve the drainage capabilities of the soil.
- If you will be growing in raised beds or containers, then consider adding compost to the soil as a means of compensating for the poor drainage that often accompanies these types of growing areas.
- Fertilize the herbs sparingly, as the majority of fertilizers tend to contain large quantities of nitrogen, which actually works to lower the concentration of the essential oils that are contained within the leafy herbs.
- Consider planting the majority of your herbs from seed. They usually grow fast and can establish a much better root system than if they are transplanted from nursery bedding plants.
Deciding which herbs to grow depends entirely on you and your personal culinary preferences. Here are just a few of the best herbs that every budding gourmand needs to have at their fingertips.
Also called aniseed, anise has a strong scent and flavor that is very similar to fennel and licorice. This makes anise perfect as an addition to a variety of dishes. The leaves can be used to season salads, soups, and stews. The seeds can be used to season several types of delicious baked goods. Anise is also a popular additive to several types of liquor. Best grown from seed, anise does not transplant well, and it grows best in loose, well-drained soil; it needs up to six hours of sunlight to thrive.
There are several types of basil, with sweet basil being one of the more popular varieties. Basil is an excellent addition to pasta dishes, soups, stews, and is also a popular ingredient in both Italian and Thai cuisine. When cooking with basil, it is best to throw it into the dish towards the end, otherwise the cooking process will diminish that rich basil flavor you love. Basil can certainly be transplanted from bedding plants from your local nursery, but it grows so quickly that it is often recommended that you grow it from seed. This will establish a much stronger root system and give you more choice in variety from seed packets. Basil is not very cold tolerant and prefers to receive at least six hours of direct sunlight; it also makes a great windowsill herb throughout the winter months.
The fruits from caraway plants have a very rich scent that is similar to anise, which makes it an excellent addition to breads, desserts, stews, and soups. Caraway can also be added to sauerkraut and cheese and is even often found adding flavor to curries. The oil extracted from caraway fruit is often used to add exquisite scent to perfumes, lotions, and soap. The roots of the caraway plant grow hardy and can also be cooked much like a carrot or parsnip. Caraway thrives in direct sunlight, with well-drained loose soil that is rich with compost. Often used as a companion plant in vegetable patches, the strong scent that caraway has can fend off pests, while the pretty flowers lure in the predatory beneficial insects.
A member of the onion family, the chive is a perennial herb that adds a fresh touch of flavor to a variety of dishes. Chives can be added to your scrambled eggs, poached salmon, mashed potatoes, stews, soups, and so much more. Easy to grow in containers, chives can also be great companion plants in your vegetable and flower gardens, as they are excellent at repelling a variety of pests. Their pretty purple flowers also make them an attractive addition to your windowsill or your herb garden. Chives can be very fragile for the first few weeks so it is often recommended that they be grown from seed versus transplanting them. They prefer full sun and loose soil that is rich in organic matter. The plant leaves can be snipped as needed, as the plant will regrow the leaves and allow you an almost continual harvest.
Cilantro is a excellent dual-purpose herb, as both its leaves and seeds can be used. (The seeds are usually known as coriander.) Either was, it is a fresh and pungent herb that adds fantastic flavoring to soups, stews, sauces, and can add a fresh smell to your homemade potpourri. Used in Asian and Mexican cuisine, cilantro is a must-have for any home gourmet to have on hand. The plant grows very quickly from seed, but typically also transplants well. The plants tend to bolt rather swiftly, regardless of what the temperatures are, so it is recommended that gardeners continue to plant throughout the season in order to ensure a solid year-round harvest. This great herb is partial to sun but can tolerate a fair amount of shade also. Loose and well-composted soil will ensure happy and thriving plants.
What is not to love about dill? Delicate leaves make it a pretty addition to your garden and a delicious addition to a selection of dishes. Dill can be used when you are pickling your bumper crop of cucumbers, or it can be added to salads, soups, stews, homemade breads, and even homemade butters. Dill has also been known to ease colic in little ones, and it is thus found as an ingredient in many brands of gripe water. Partial shade could reduce your yield, so it is best to plant your dill where it can receive full sun. Preferring rich soil, dill is also a great companion plant for cucumbers, with its flowers also luring in numerous beneficial insects once the plants have bolted.
Nasturtium has a rich peppery flavor, which makes it a super addition to soups and salads. The leaves, seeds, and flowers are all delicious and edible. Closely related to mustard and a part of the cabbage family, the pungent aroma of the plant is a superb deterrent to aphids and other types of pests that would turn your vegetables into a feast. Plant nasturtium around your radishes, cabbages, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, and even plant it under your fruit trees in order to deter pests and lure beneficial bugs. Best grown from seed, nasturtiums are not that finicky about the soil that they are grown in, but they do prefer at least six hours of sunlight each day.
Gardeners often say that oregano is one of those herbs that you can freely throw seeds out and stand back as they virtually explode with rapid growth. Thriving during the hottest months of the year, oregano is a must-have for any kitchen. Adding rich and strong flavors to soups, stews, sauces and an ideal choice for any Italian-themed meal, oregano is a very versatile herb to have in the kitchen. A lot of chefs find it to be a great addition to their olive oil, creating their own oregano-infused olive oil that offers up rich aromas during cooking. Oregano does prefer the full sun and loose, rich soil, which makes it ideal for growing in large planters on your patio but not so much for growing indoors.
One of the easier herbs to grow, parsley is also available in several varieties. Used to add a fresh flavor to soups, homemade breads, stews, soups, and salads, parsley is a must-have for your outdoor herb garden or for your indoor windowsill herb collection. Parsley thrives in rich soil that is kept damp, especially during the hottest parts of the year. With full sun and plenty of room to spread out, your parsley is going to simply thrive under your care.
There are many types of mint, each with its own distinctive aroma and taste. Chocolate mint is an incredible addition to cookies and cakes, while pineapple mint can give a fresh boost to your iced tea. Mint is incredibly easy to grow and will effortlessly take over any space that it is planted in, making it a good choice for a contained herb garden. If you plant it in your flowerbed, there are good chances that you will be digging up peppermint for the next ten years! Mint does make an excellent repellent for aphids and several other types of pests, so it can be a good idea to set a few planters out in the garden near your vegetables and even your prized roses. Mint tends to do well in partial shade and is particularly fond of loose soil that contains a good amount of organic matter. Mint transplants well and is also easy to grow from seed.
These are just a few choices: some other great herbs to consider include thyme, rosemary, lavender, fennel, sage, catnip, echinacea, chamomile, lemon balm, marjoram, and tarragon.
Drying your herbs in bunches hung upside down in your kitchen will give you plenty of delicious homegrown herbs throughout the year. You could also add some of the more pungent herbs to potpourri, giving a fresh and vibrant smell to your home!
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