Cooking with fresh herbs can make a good dish great and also add flavor which reduces the need for extra salt. Having fresh herbs at your fingertips in your own herb garden makes using herbs in cooking practical and easy. No longer will you have to make special trips to the store just for fresh herbs when you have an herb garden just a few steps from your kitchen.
Recently scientists have found that herbs, both dried and fresh, are high in anti-oxidants, which reduce the risk for cancer and heart disease.
When you grow your own herbs, you can choose to use them fresh, dry them for later use or even freeze them. In all instances, your herbs will probably be fresher than not only what’s sitting in the little bottle in your spice rack, but also what is sitting in the little bottle at your grocery store’s spice aisle.
To decide which herbs to grow, consider your most common cooking needs and tastes. If you don’t enjoy the taste or smell of rosemary, don’t grow it in your garden. On the other hand, if you find yourself using lots of fresh parsley in your cooking, make sure you plant a lot in your garden.
Herb gardens do very well in containers. Some herbs like parsley, but especially mint, can take over a garden in just a season and will be difficult to get rid of entirely. By planting your herbs in containers, you will be able to control their growth.
When substituting fresh herbs for dry in a recipe, use 3 times the amount of fresh herbs as you would dry herbs. Here are a few popular garden herbs to consider.
Basil – Basil is almost synonymous with Italian cooking. It will taste great whenever you pair it with tomatoes, but especially in fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil salads, tomato sauce and pizza sauce. When growing basil, be sure to pinch off flowering heads when they appear and the basil will grow bushier. If the flowers are allowed to grow, the plant will go to seed and the leaves will stop producing.
Parsley – This versatile herb can be used as a garnish, a breath freshener, but also as a delicious addition to almost any meal. When using parsley in cooking, add it towards the end of cooking so that it will retain more of it’s bright green color and delicious flavor. Parsley will not weather a winter where temperatures drop below freezing, so if you have an abundance of parsley left over in the Fall, consider freezing it to use later.
Chives – Chives are a member of the onion family and have a light onion flavor with out causing onion breath after eating or teary eyes when chopping. To use chives, simply cut of a few of the green, hollow stems and cut using kitchen shears or chop with a kitchen knife. They go well when added to eggs, potatoes or fish.
Sage – A popular addition to meat, vegetable and stuffing dishes, fresh sage often has a less bitter taste than dried sage. However, add fresh sage early on in the cooking process to as it stands up well to long cooking.
Oregano – Oregano was one of the most popular herbs in cooking after 1940, when returning GI’s wanted to experience the kind of pizza they had in Italy. Oregano is often paired with basil in Italian cooking. Purchase a few oregano plants and start them in your containers, rather than growing oregano from seed and you will be ready to use your oregano in your cooking much sooner.