Aaron’s mom is so good about sending little notes in the mail, and with the age of e-mail not slowing anytime soon, we always appreciate getting cards and notes from her. On occasion, however, she’ll log on to the computer and shoot a note off to us: “Hi and Happy Spring(?), I want to grow some herbs this year and need to know what to grow besides basil and oregano. You always have such tasty food and I want to learn how to do that.” Short, sweet, and to the point. My response was as such:
As far as herbs are concerned, we’ve grown quite a few over the years, with some more successful than others. I have a little time, so I will give you a run-down of our experiences for each one.
THYME – I think that this is a must for the kitchen; I use it in pretty much everything, from scrambled eggs and roasted chicken to beef stew and bolognese sauce. It also dries very well. It is relatively easy to grow, and harvesting it encourages growth. If you grow it outside, it will winter well and come back in the spring with vigor, especially if you get it into the ground for a full summer. Be sure to get the herbal variety and not creeping thyme, which is a beautiful ground cover, but has no taste.
SAGE – I think this is one of those love-it-or-hate-it herbs. It has a pretty strong flavor, so you have to be judicious with it; my mother hates it, but I find it irreplacable for turkey stuffing, chicken saltimbocca (remind me to make that for you next time we make dinner together), and certain cream sauces for pasta. It is a beautiful silvery-green plant that, like thyme, is encouraged to grow when you trim it and winters well after a full growing season. Dried sage is very interesting because the flavor is more mellow, but still very green; I generally dry it whole, then rub it between my hands into whatever I think might need it (like chicken soup); is just turns to dust and melts!
ROSEMARY – Strong, almost pine-y flavor, which makes sense since is is basically an evergreen. I love it with lamb dishes, in minestrone, and with roast beef; it pairs well with anything that itself has a strong flavor, or anything mild that you want to season well (like plain cheese pizza). It grows like an evergreen with strong new shoots in the spring and not much growth throughout the rest of the summer season. Unlike the above, harvesting does not really encourage growth, and I think you need to have a plant for several years before it really loves you; I know they winter well in some instances, but we’ve had bad luck, so far. For this one, it is probably best to start with a plant and not try to begin from seed.
DILL – Dill is a suprisingly versatile herb that goes well with seafood and tomatoes, and is essential for making homemade vegetable dip with sour cream and mayo. It tends to get a little leggy in direct sunlight, but grows like a weed (because it essentially is one). Careful at the end of the growing season, as the seeds will drop (from flowers that look a lot like Queen Anne’s Lace, only yellow) and you’ll have tons of need dill plants in the spring – a good thing if you love dill! The seeds are great for pickles, by the way. Dries well, retaining a deep green color for well over a year.
CHIVES – Chives are insanely easy to grow and will multiply like crazy, if left to their own devices. Their subtle onion flavor is great in vegetable/chip dip, homemade ranch dressing, on baked potatoes, and anything else that could use a pop of green flavor. Unlike the herbs above, chives are best added at the end of cooked dishes, or left uncooked, as in dressings and dips. Their purple blooms are quite pretty and make nice cut flowers for a few days – until you walk into the room and wonder what smells so much like onions. =)
PARSLEY – We’ve not grown this one yet, but we usually have a bunch on hand to add color and green flavor to pasta dishes, beef goulash, and hearty soups. The leaves of flat leaf parsley make a good salad on their own when dressed with lemon and olive oil, but Aaron isn’t a big fan – what does he know? HA.
LAVENDER – Though you may not think of it as an herb, dried lavender flowers are suprisingly good in certain dishes like roasted chicken, and add great flavor to marinades. I also use it in combination with honey in an ice cream called “bees and flowers,” which is pretty delicious, if I say so myself. As a plant, I think that lavender belongs in every garden (Aaron would agree) – it is beautiful, needs little maintenance, smells amazing, and encourages honeybees to flourish (which we need to do, if you’ve heard the reports of dying bee populations!).