June 2014 Issue
Flashes of Flavor
Pinching a piece of parsley, bagging a bunch of basil or letting thyme march on through your garden is just the start of dressing up your culinary creations. We asked two experts to share a few favorite herb varieties, whether you’re growing outdoors or inside.
Many of us have romantic notions of our perfect herb garden. For some, it’s delicate dill and sassy sage hemmed in by the white picket fence of a country garden. Others envision regal oregano and summer savory flourishing in perfect patterns as part of a formal knot garden. The truth is a lot of us choose not to plant herb gardens because we believe they’ll be a lot of work. But a few easy-to-grow annual and perennial herbs provide even an inexperienced gardener the opportunity to become more adventuresome. Planting, rather than buying, herbs can be less expensive. It also provides the satisfaction of cultivating something from the ground up and encourages growers to try new recipes in the kitchen. Whether you’re planting outside or indoors, going big or keeping it simple, we asked two Ohio herb experts for their growing suggestions.
Brooke Sackenheim, an instructor with the Ohio
Herb Education Center in Gahanna, chose four intriguing and useful herbs
that even novice gardeners can grow outdoors.
: “There is nothing in the world like walking through a patch of
mint. It smells so good, and there are so many types: chocolate,
peppermint, spearmint,” Sackenheim says. “People are worried that mint
will take over everything else because it has that tendency. ... If you
really are concerned, just put it in a pot.” The versatile mint can be
used in cold or hot tea, cocktails, syrups, salads and even to make
Salad Burnet (Poterium sanguisorba)
This herb doesn’t dry well, which is why it isn’t often found in stores.
Best used fresh, the pretty perennial with serrated leaves and pink
flowers thrives in a dry, sandy loam. Sackenheim says it was a common
practice in Elizabethan England to serve a goblet of wine with salad
burnet leaves floating on top “to make the heart merry and glad.” “It is
a clean, cool-tasting herb that works well when a subtle flavor is
needed,” says Sackenheim. “Some say it has a nutty flavor, but I think
it’s more like cucumber. It’s good in cool drinks, salads and coleslaw.”
: With a name derived from the French word for
“little dragon,” this perennial grows about two feet high and bears
small pale yellow flowers with black heads. Tarragon is one of the four
fines herbes (along with chives, chervil and parsley) blended for
traditional French cuisine. “Tarragon has a bit of a licorice, anise
taste. A small amount goes a long way in cooking,” say Sackenheim,
adding it is the French, not Russian variety that is the culinary herb.
“It’s excellent with poultry and fish as well as dairy and eggs,
especially egg salad and salad dressings.”
): This herb is fragrant all season long, not just when
it is blooming. The leaves’ aromatic oil is used for culinary purposes
but are usually not eaten. “Use the leaves to impart flavor into
desserts and drinks by adding them to the liquid parts of the recipe,”
says Sackenheim. “To make flavored sugar, alternate layers of sugar and
leaves in a glass jar. Let it sit for at least one week and remove the
leaves.” Varieties include nutmeg, apricot, chocolate mint, cinnamon,
lemon, lime, orange and ginger.
four or five herbs and a moderately sized plot will ensure you aren’t
overwhelmed. Many common herbs originated in the Mediterranean region
and love the sun, so choose a spot that receives four to six hours of
sunlight a day. According to the Herb Society of America’s The
Beginner’s Herb Garden, most herbs do well in gritty, well-drained soil
and a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Soil can easily be amended with compost and
added organic nutrients. The guide also suggests mulching herb beds with
three to four inches of wood chips, gravel or sand to retain soil
moisture and fight weeds.
an educator with The Herb Society of America’s national headquarters in
Kirtland, says growing herbs indoors should be done only out of
necessity, adding that indoor plants don’t get the recommended hours of
sunlight. “But if you accept those limitations,” says Kennedy, “there
are things you can do.”
Dwarf or Windowsill Chives (Allium
: Because of its concentrated flavor, less of
this perennial is used in cooking compared to the common garden variety
chive. Chives are a good energy-boosting herb to have on hand, too.
Civil War Gen. Ulysses S. Grant once famously wrote, “I will not move my
troops until the chives arrive.”
Basil Emily (Ocimum basilicum
: Kennedy says indoor growers are ahead of the game if they
begin with compact herb varieties rather than ones that naturally grow
larger. This traditional big-leaf basil is an example. Use fresh or
dried leaves to add clovelike flavor to poultry, stuffing, meats and
pasta dishes, especially those made with tomatoes.
(Ocimum basilicum minimum ‘Spicy Globe’
): This compact bush basil
grows in mounds and produces attractive leaves that are one-quarter-inch
in length. “You don’t have to chop up the tiny leaves, so they can be
used whole over food and nothing turns brown. That way you can prepare a
dish ahead of time,” says Kennedy, who suggests basil leaf syrup made
with lemon juice and sugar to pour over ice cream.
says she has had success with self-contained, soil-free growing units
that use air, water and nutrients to cultivate herbs. Plants can be
started from seed and the light cover can be raised as the herbs grow
taller. “It’s a nice way to grow herbs indoors. You don’t need outside
light so you can place the unit in a closet or down in the basement,”
she says. She also suggests buying inexpensive “grow lights” — four to
six foot tube lights that do wonders for growing herbs from seed.
Ohio Herb Education Center
117 Mill St., Gahanna 43230,
Offers classes and private tours
The Herb Society of America
9019 Kirtland Chardon Rd.,
Kirtland 44094, 440/256-0514,
Offers library and information online