IMPORTANT KITCHEN HERBS
There are hundreds of varieties of herbs to grow and enjoy, but only about fifteen varieties are regularly used in most kitchens.ANGELICA
Considered a biennial because it usually flowers, goes to seed, and dies in its second year. However, it sometimes takes three or four years to flower.
The plant is majestic, with large, light green, serrated-edged leaves and thick, hollow stalks. Early in the summer, angelica blossoms with huge clusters of white flowers.
Culture: prefers rich, moist soil in a partially shady location. Be sure to plant it in the back of the garden as it often reaches five or six feet in height.
Propagation: by fresh, viable seed. Once a planting is established, it will re-seed itself. Harvest the leaves and stems early in the season while they are still tender and colorful.
Uses: as an aromatic used to flavor liqueurs and wines. The candied stems decorate many fancy pastries. The tips and stalks may be cooked with tart fruit to impart a natural sweetness.
History: Angelica blooms in its native Lapland on the eighth of May, the feast day of Michael the Archangel. Legend has it that the angel proclaimed angelica a cure for the plague.BASIL
Basil is a tender annual, very sensitive to frost. It is easily propagated by seed sown directly in the garden after the soil has warmed up. Basil likes a soil rich in organic matter and thrives on an extra dose of compost. Plant it in full sun and be sure to water it weekly in dry weather.
Culture: This fast-growing plant reaches about two feet in height and has large, egg-shaped leaves that curl inward. In midsummer, small spikes of white flowers shoot up from each stalk. Pinching out the blooms, or the tips of each stem before they flower, will make the plant bushy. The leaves can be harvested throughout the summer from the growing plant.
There is a "Dark Opal," or purple, variety of basil that beautifully offsets the greens and the grays of the kitchen herb garden. It also imparts a rich magenta color to white vinegar.
Propagation: Collect seed when flower heads have dried on the plant;.
Uses: Basil has a pungent flavor that superbly complements all types of tomato dishes. Pesto, a green sauce served on pasta, is made from ground basil leaves, garlic, olive oil, nuts, and cheese. To dry basil, harvest just before it blooms. Hang, screen dry, or freeze.
History: In its native India, basil is a sacred plant, and its culture supposedly brings happiness to the household. In Italy, a gift bouquet of basil is a sign of romance.CATNIP
A member of the mint family, this herb is a feline favorite. Cats love to roll in it, rub on it, chew it, play with it, and otherwise hamper the growth of your patch. But to watch them frolic is sheer delight.
The plant is a hardy perennial growing about two to three feet tall. Fragrant, velvety, gray green, heart-shaped leaves on squarish stems are characteristic of the plant. Pink flowers bloom off the terminal ends of the shoots from midsummer on. If you keep the flowers pinched off, the plants will be bushier.
Propagation: by seed or root divisions.
Uses: Cut catnip just before the flowers open and hang to dry. Store in airtight containers to preserve the volatile oils. Sew little cloth pillows or fancy mice and stuff with the crushed herb. These make wonderful gifts.CHIVES
The plant is a hardy perennial, reaching twelve to eighteen inches in height. The leaves dark green, hollow spears poke up through the soil in early spring, almost before anything else. Mauve blue flower balls bloom on hard, green tendrils from midsummer on. These should be cut to keep the plant growing but can be left later in the season to keep foraging bees happy.
Culture: Chives prefer full sun, rich soil, and plentiful water. Mulching around the plants is helpful to keep competitive weeds and grasses at bay.
Propagation: by seeds or root divisions. A small plant will quickly enlarge and should be divided every three or four years to keep the plant healthy. Simply cut through the plant with a shovel or sharp knife in the early spring, allowing at least ten small, white bulbous roots per new clump. Set the divisions ten inches apart.
Uses: Harvest chives as soon as the spears are a few inches long. Snipping out entire spears encourages tender new growth. Chives do not dry well. Freeze for winter use. The delicate onion flavor of chives is used extensively in cooking. Chives can be added to omelets, soups, cheeses, salads, or fish. Sour cream and chives fattens up many a baked potato.
History: Chives are native to the East, and for centuries they were used to ward off evil and promote psychic powers.DILL
Dill is a hardy annual that closely resembles fennel. However, it usually develops only one round, hollow main stem per root, and the feathery branches are a bluish green. Yellow flowers bloom in clusters of showy umbels. The dill seeds are dark brown, ridged, and strongly flavored. Dill grows two to three feet tall and can be planted in groupings to keep the plants supported in windy weather.
Culture: It does best in full sun in sandy or loamy, well-drained soil that has a slightly acid pH (5.8 to 6.5). Enrich your soil with compost or well-rotted manure for best dill growth. Once you have grown dill, it will re-seed in the following years.
Propagation: By seed sown directly in the garden.
Uses: Dill weed and dill seed are both used in cooking; the weed is mild and the seeds are pungent. Dill weed can be harvested at any time, but the volatile oils are highest just before flowering. It adds a delicate flavor to salads, vegetable casseroles, and soups. The seed heads should be cut when the majority of seeds have formed, even though some flowers may still be blooming. Whole dill heads look striking in jars of homemade pickles and flavored vinegar. Dill seeds add zest to breads, cheeses, and salad dressing. The seeds may be threshed from the heads after drying.
History: Dill has been used in the culinary arts for centuries.FENNEL
There are two types of fennel grown: the herb fennel, grown for its leaves and seeds, and Florence fennel, grown primarily for its bulbous leaf stalks.
Herb fennel is a hardy biennial that often becomes a perennial in favorable climates. The plant reaches three to four feet tall and has thick, shiny green, hollow stalks; feathery branches; yellow flowers that bloom on showy umbels; and sweetly flavored, ridged seeds.
Culture: Fennel prefers a rich, well-drained soil in full sun. Add lime if the pH is below 6.0. Propagate by seed in the early spring to give it sufficient time to flower and go to seed. The leaves should be harvested just before the plant flowers. Fennel is closely related to dill and the two should not be interplanted because they may cross-pollinate, resulting in dilly fennel or fennelly dill
Uses: Fennel is favored in all types of fish cookery and is often used to flavor sauerkraut.MARJORAM
Majorana hortensis or Origanum majorana
Marjoram is a tender perennial native to the warm Mediterranean. In colder climates, it is grown as an annual. The plant reaches eight to twelve inches in height and has short, branched, squarish stems. The small, oval leaves are grayish green and covered with a fuzzy down. Little balls or knots grow out of the leaf clusters and the end of the branches in the midsummer. From these, white or pink flowers emerge.
Culture: Marjoram thrives in a light, rich soil in full sun. It prefers a neutral pH. Since it has a shallow root system, mulching around the plant helps to retain soil moisture and keep the weeds down.
Propagation: Marjoram seeds can be sown directly in the garden after the soil has warmed up. Germination is slow - usually about two weeks. Keep the seedbed moist until the plants have sprouted. Marjoram can also be started from cuttings, layering, or division. Set transplants about a foot apart.
Uses: Marjoram is highly aromatic and its flavor improves with drying. Harvest just before the flowers open. Marjoram is traditionally used in sausages and stuffing's.
History: Throughout history, marjoram has symbolized sweetness, happiness, and well-being. Shakespeare called it the "herb of grace."MINT
Peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, and curly mint are but a few varieties of the fragrant mints used in gum, jelly, and liqueur.
Mints are hardy perennials often attaining three feet in height. They are notorious spreaders and will invade the surrounding garden territory if they are not confined. Mint is known by its squarish stems and its tooth-edged leaves. Clusters of white or purple flowers bloom off the terminal ends of the shoots.
Culture: They prefer a moist, rich soil and will do well in full sun to partial shade.
Propagation: By seed or divisions. Older mint plantings can be divided up every four or five years. Separate the roots into foot-sized clumps with a sharp shovel. These divisions are a nice present for a gardening friend.
Uses: The leaves may be harvested and enjoyed fresh throughout the summer. To dry mint, cut the stalks just above the first set of leaves, as soon as the flower buds appear. Hang to dry for ten to fourteen days. Mint jelly is a favorite accompaniment to lamb roasts and chops. Minted peas are a summertime treat.OREGANO
Some confusion has arisen about the relationship between oregano and marjoram. They are close relatives and oregano is often called wild marjoram.
Oregano is a hardy perennial growing eighteen to thirty inches tall. The oval, grayish green, hairy leaves grow out from the nodes. White or pink flowers make their showing in the fall.
Culture: The plant does best in a well-drained, sandy loam soil. If the pH is below 6.0, add lime before you set out the plants; oregano likes a sweet soil and a plentiful supply of calcium. Oregano thrives in full sun in a location sheltered from high winds. Mulch over the plant if winters are severe.
Propagation: Oregano may be propagated by seed, divisions, or cuttings. Because the seeds are slow to germinate, you will get best garden results by setting out young plants spaced fifteen inches apart.
Uses: Oregano's fame bubbles from the flavor it imparts to pizza and other Italian specialties. To dry oregano, cut the stems an inch from the ground in the fall, just before the flowers open. Hang to dry.PARSLEY
Parsley is a hardy biennial, often grown as an annual. There are two main types of parsley: the Italian flat-leaved and the French curly.
During the first growing season, the plant develops many dark green leaves that are grouped in bunches at the end of long stems. Italian parsley leaves are flat and fernlike; French parsley leaves are tightly curled. Umbels of yellow flowers are borne on long stalks. The plant reaches twelve to eighteen inches in height.
Culture: Parsley thrives in rich soil, endowed with plentiful organic matter. it prefers full sun for optimum growth, but it will survive in partial shade.Propagation: Parsley can be planted from seed sown directly in the garden. However, since it takes three to four weeks to germinate, it is often more reliable to set out young plants. Space parsley transplants about eight to ten inches apart.
Uses: Parsley can be picked fresh throughout the season. To preserve for winter use, cut the leaves in the fall and dry or freeze them. Parsley is a popular kitchen herb, found with the fanciest steak or the most common stew. It is a rich source of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B, and C; calcium; iron; and phosphorus.
History: The Greeks believed that Hercules adorned himself with parsley, so it became the symbol of strength and vigor. Parsley was also associated with witchcraft and the underworld; it was never transplanted because this supposedly brought misfortune to the household.ROSEMARY
The perennial evergreen shrub grows two to six feet high, depending on the climate. It has woody stems, bearing thin, needlelike leaves that are shiny green on the upper surface and a powdery, muted green on the under surface. Blue flowers bloom on the tips of the branches in the spring.
Culture: Rosemary is a tender plant and must be sheltered or taken indoors for the winter in northern latitudes. It thrives best in a warm climate and prefers a well-drained, alkaline soil. Apply lime or wood ashes to acid soils testing below pH 6.5.
Propagation: Rosemary is usually started from cuttings or root divisions because seed germination is slow and poor. This herb is a good candidate for container growing, allowing you to move it into protected quarters for the winter.
Uses: Harvest any time for fresh use. Hang to dry for winter supply. Rosemary is a highly aromatic herb often used to flavor mea dishes. Use only a few needles per pot as the taste is overpowering
History: Rosemary has been called the "herb of remembrance." This title may date back to the Greeks who used it to strengthen the memory. It has appeared in religious ceremonies, particularly weddings and funerals, to symbolize remembrance and fidelity.SAGE
Sage is a hardy perennial, native to the Mediterranean. It grows two feet or so in height and has velvety, textured, patterned, grayish green leaves. The stems become woody as the plant matures and should be pruned out to keep the plant producing. Lavender flower spikes bloom in the fall.
Culture: Sage prefers a well-drained soil in full sunlight. Enrich the soil with compost before planting, and add lime if the pH is below 5.8. Water well while the plants are young.
Propagation: Sage can be started from seed, cuttings, or divisions. Since the plant takes a long time to mature, transplants are usually set out. Space the plants two feet apart.
Uses: Harvest sparingly the first season and increase your quota yearly. The leaves can be picked any time; but it is recommended that two crops a year, one in June and another in the fall, be harvested to keep the plants less woody. Hang to dry in small bunches. The flavor of sage is recognizable in stuffing's. It especially complements heavy meats and game. Its flavor may overpower lighter herbs.
History: Although it is a prized culinary herb today, during past centuries sage was mainly cultivated as a medicinal herb. The name Sal-via comes from the Latin, salvere, meaning "to save," and it was believed that drinking a strong sage tea improved health and prolonged life. Needless to say, it was found in every herb garden.SAVORY
Satureia hortensis (summer)
Satureia montana (winter)
Of the two savories grown for kitchen use, the summer variety is the mild annual and the winter is the sharper-flavored perennial.
Both savories have narrow, pointed, dark green leaves that grow out of the nodes. Small branches often arise just above the leaves. Lavender or pink flowers bloom in the late summer. Winter savory grows eight to ten inches tall; summer savory is slightly taller. Since they are small plants, the savories are good for container growing.
Culture: The savories prefer a somewhat dry soil and will survive even where the land is not too fertile. For the best flavor, plant them in full sun.
Propagation: Summer savory is planted from seed sown directly in the garden in the early spring. Winter savory is propagated by cuttings or divisions. Space both varieties twelve inches apart.
Uses: To harvest for winter use, cut the stems in the fall, just before the flowers bloom. Cut winter savory sparingly. Summer savory can be pulled out of the ground, since it will die anyway after one season. Hang to dry. These herbs are notably associated with bean dishes, ranging from soups to casseroles. Savory is also an ingredient of bouquet garni.TARRAGON
Tarragon has a high standing, especially in French cuisine where it lends itself to be'arnaise sauce and les fines herbes (a French herb blend).
Tarragon is a perennial plant, the best varieties coming from the European countries. The Russian variety is weedy and lacks the essential oils. One way to distinguish between varieties is this: the Russian tarragon produces viable seed, the European rarely does.
Culture: Tarragon prospers infertile soil with plentiful water and sunlight. It is advisable to mulch over the roots in the late fall to protect the plant from winter injury. Since tarragon becomes a rather large plant, it is often divided up every three or four years to make it easier to manage.
Tarragon grows two to three feet tall and tends to sprawl out late in the season. The long, narrow leaves, borne on upright stalks, are a shiny, dark green. Greenish or gray flowers may bloom in the fall.
Propagation: Since it rarely sets seed, tarragon should be propagated by cuttings or divisions.
Uses: This herb may be harvested throughout the summer. To dry for winter use, cut the stalks a few inches from the ground in the early fall. Hang or screen dry.
Native to the Mediterranean, this aromatic, perennial herb has many well-known varieties including: lemon thyme, creeping thyme, and garden or common thyme. It is a favorite plant of bees.
Thyme is a short plant, only about eight to ten inches tall. The leaves are small and narrowly oval, usually a dull grayish green. The stems become woody after a few years. Pink or violet flowers arise from the leaf axils in the early fall.
Culture: Thyme flourishes in sandy, dry soils in full sun. It is an excellent candidate for rock gardens.
Propagation: Propagate thyme by seeds, divisions, or cuttings. The seeds are slow to germinate, so it is best to set out transplants. Space thyme fifteen inches apart. Older, woody plants can be rejuvenated by digging up the plant and dividing it in the early spring. Fertilize with compost or seaweed.
Uses: The leaves can be harvested for fresh use throughout the summer. To dry thyme, cut the stems just as the flowers start to open. Hang to dry in small bunches. Harvest sparingly the first year. Thyme is one of the three essential herbs used in poultry stuffing's; the other two are parsley and sage.