Grow Your Own: Herbs
They’re just tiny sprouts right now, but in a few weeks the herbs in my garden will be flourishing. Growing your own herbs is easy, and you don' t need loads of space to do it. Start them now and enjoy them all summer long! Here are some tips to get you started.
Over the years I’ve grown everything from spearmint to lemon verbena. This year I’m starting with basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, garlic chives and rosemary. I might plant some quick-growing cilantro later in the season when my newly planted tomatillos and chili peppers are a little further along. I can taste the homemade salsa now!
Grow whatever kinds of herbs you’ll use the most -- you'll save money and time if you can skip a trip to the market every time you need a sprig of fresh thyme or rosemary. Not sure where to start? Take a trip to your local herb farm or garden center and see what appeals to you. Most herbs will be available from seeds or small starter plants. To grow either one, you just need some potting soil, water, and a sunny spot. Annual plants like parsley and cilantro will last for one year, while perennials like rosemary and oregano can last several years – my oregano plant is 3 years old! Bring perennials inside for the winter months, then replant them outside in the spring.
If you have an outdoor garden, plant your herbs near low-lying plants so they’ll get plenty of sunlight throughout the summer months. Think about what else you are planting and make sure tall plants like sweet corn, bean stalks or raspberry bushes won’t end up casting shadows over the herbs when they’re full grown.
My garden is a collection of pots and whiskey barrels on the back deck. We tuck basil plants in with the tomatoes, then use smaller pots for plants like thyme that tend to grow flat along the soil. If outdoor space is even tighter (or nonexistent), a sunny windowsill is perfect for a small-scale herb garden.
- Decide if you want to use seeds or smaller starter plants; seeds are cheaper but small plants will be full-grown faster.
- Start modestly –- pick three or four of the herbs you’ll use the most. Starting with too many in the beginning can be overwhelming, and you may end up with more herbs than you need.
- One plant of each herb is all you need –- they might look small in the beginning but they’ll grow quickly.
- Once your plants mature trim frequently -- they’ll grow back faster.
- As your herbs grow, keep an eye out for bugs and critters that want to eat them. If you spot squatters, spray plants with homemade organic insecticide: a few drops of dish soap mixed with water.
You can make just about anything more flavorful with herbs. Add basil or parsley to pasta, chicken salad or stir-fry, mint in salad mixes and drinks, and rosemary for grilling or roasting potatoes. Make infused oils, pesto, dips, hummus and salad dressings.
After picking, store homegrown herbs by wrapping in paper towels and placing in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to 2 weeks; wash and dry well when ready to use. To freeze, rinse and dry very well, then store whole or chopped in a freezer-safe bag for up to 6 months. For best results, add frozen herbs directly to soups, sauces or other cooked dishes.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »