Herbs are such a part of our lives here on the homestead. I started out years ago growing a basil plant or two. Since then, herbs have earned a prominent place in my gardens- even elevating themselves to entire gardens in prominent positions. My list may vary from time to time depending on what is in season, but below you'll find my Top 10 List of herbs that I believe should be in every home garden.
10. Sage- how would I cook my Thanksgiving Turkey without sage? I admit that this is an under used herb for me, so I only grow a couple of plants. Also, I regrow it from seed every year simply because I don't like the way it looks the second year. It is just too leggy and woody in my opinion. I admit to being finicky like that. So, what else can we do with this soft, fuzzy culinary herb? Add to eggs, drink as a tea (warnings if you are pregnant or nursing!), gargle for a sore throat, and dry as a potpourri are a few more uses. Deer dislike many herbs because of the strong scent, but they really dislike sage because of the fuzzy leaves. I am growing out a larger than usual number of sages this year, so perhaps it will not rank at the very bottom of the list for me by this time next year!
9. Mustard- New to making my list this year is mustard. I've used the leaves on more than one occasion to spruce up meat and cheese trays, not to mention adding into the morning juice and chopping fine for salads. Most of my family is not excited to just eat the whole leaf alone, so we do chop it very fine. For the more adventurous, roll up some meat for a mustard wrap-style snack. Now that my plants are bolting, I'll soon be making my own mustard. I can't wait!
8. Cilantro/Coriander- Both coming from the same plant, you use the fresh leaves (called cilantro) in many Mexican dishes and salsa. The dried seed (called Coriander) is used often in Chinese and Thai cuisine. For me, a little Cilantro goes a long way. For Dave, anything worth doing, is worth doing a lot. I add a tiny bit of Cilantro to chicken, shrimp, and fish dinners. I also add extra to his plate. We both win since cilantro is very good fresh as well as cooked. Throw some in your salad for some extra zing! You can freeze cilantro, or dry it either one to preserve. If you do not harvest the whole plant, it will bolt with a mass of pretty white flowers. Those flowers will become seeds to harvest for coriander which can be used whole or ground. Store coriander seeds in a dark dry place to preserve the freshness.
7. Rosemary- I admit, this is another underused herb on my homestead. However, just the fact that it is an evergreen, fragrant shrub automatically ranks it in my top 10 list. But wait- that's not all it is good for! Once you learn to infuse your food with the unforgettable aroma of rosemary, you won't go back. My first introduction to infusing was Alton Brown's Good Eats Turkey. Yummy! Since most recipes call for only the leaves of the rosemary, it is a simple feat to wash the branch in cool water, pat dry, and remove the pine-like leaves by running your hand down the branch. I recommend lightly crushing the leaves, or chopping them to release more flavor. Start experimenting by adding to soups/stews, egg dishes, tomato sauces, chicken and lamb dishes, and don't forget with olive oil as a dipping sauce to your bread. Of course, you would have thrown some in with the dough while you were baking the bread, I'm sure!
6. Mint - With dozens of species and hundreds of varieties, there's really no excuse for not growing mints. I grow mine in the orchard as part of our permaculture orchard routine. But they don't just sit out there, oh no! In addition to munching on fresh mint while wandering around the fruits section, we also bring plenty indoors. Flavor orange, green, and black teas, make your own mint and/or herbal teas, flavor fish, and use in a variety of Middle Eastern cooking. The most popular, of course, is the peppermint and the spearmint, with spearmint being the milder of the two. Don't neglect mint when baking, either! Chocolate and mint are a wonderful combination! In fact, there is a chocolate mint you must try. Not just for fun, mint is indeed packed with lots of Vitamin C, along with other vitamins and minerals. Mints have a long list of medicinal and nutritional benefits as well. Fresh is best, and like other herbs, the flavor diminishes with drying. Don't let that stop you, though. Mint is only good for a week or so in the fridge, so dry if it means that you can enjoy later. We grow our mint where it is welcome to spread. The flowers are food for the bees, butterflies and hummers. However, if you don't have the space as we do, plan ahead because mint can and will spread quite a bit. Some varieties are much more vigorous, if not downright invasive in some areas, than others are.
5.Chives- The lowly chive. From topping your potatoes, to adding to your soups, the chive may be often overlooked, but your tongue knows when it is missing. Growing for me right now is garlic chives, which adds a whole new dimension to just plain chives. Like the other herbs I've mentioned here, chives are easy to grow, quick to prepare and eat fresh, and simple to dry and store. Also like other herbs, you should harvest your chives before they flower. You can freeze chives, but they loose most, if not all, of their flavor. Chives do possess the herbal characteristics of the other members of the Allium family, but the benefits are greatly reduced. Eat chives because you like them and enjoy the other benefits as a side bonus.
4. Oregano- Both Mexican and Mediterranean cooking makes ample use of Oregano, so there is no surprise to find this on my top 10list. Known the world over for it's strong flavor and spicy scent, Oregano also packs a punch nutritionally. It is high in fiber, known for it's antibacterial properties when consumed fresh, and has good vitamin content. It pairs very well with eggplants, all meats, and of course, tomatoes. Oregano is so easy to grow, grows very quickly, and spreads easy making it a shame not to have in your own garden.
3. Parsley- I was surprised to learn that parsley is touted at the "World's Most Popular Herb". Even though no one asked me before giving the prize to parsley, I will heartily agree that it should at least be in the top 5. Easy to grow, and too nutritious not to, parsley should be a staple. Parsley is a biannual, although many climates treat it as an annual. The easiest way to propagate parsley is by seed, but be aware that germination is very slow, so be patient. Either the curly or the flat leafed variety is excellent eaten fresh or dried. Both the stalks and the leaves are edible. Like other herbs, the flavor of parsley is best fresh, but you can still enjoy it frozen or dried.
2. Garlic- As mentioned in my Top 10 Vegetables article, garlic is indispensable in my kitchen. Tuck in the bulbs around your landscaping or grow a row of it in your garden. The rose people tell me that you should grow garlic with your roses. Good tip- I need to grow some roses for my garlic! In all seriousness, planting some garlic will allow you to reap the benefits time and again through the year. Stored properly, garlic can last around 6 months. Spice up your cooking, add to wines and vinegars, dehydrate for garlic powder, and many many more uses. Plant your garlic in the fall, and harvest in the spring. It is really so easy to grow that there are no excuses.
1. Basil- The most used herb in my house, without doubt. I use approximately half a gallon of dried basil in one year. In addition to flavoring dishes, we also use basil in our homemade dressings, in our bread and in our cheese. Commonly used fresh in pesto and salsa, try adding in the leaves (whole or chopped) in salads as well. Basil boasts good nutrition and vitamins- it is a good source of vitamin A and Magnesium, as well as iron, calcium and vitamin C. While you are "eating your greens" for good health, it pays to add basil to your list!
I do want to take a bit of space to mention that while all of these herbs are commonly thought of as culinary, they all have specific medicinal properties as well. As that is a whole discussion to itself, I didn't delve into those properties in this article. However, I urge you to do your own research into any that may interest you. More and more reserch is being done each year that supports the use of natural plants to keep us healthy.
I also wanted to share a great internet site that I found while researching for this article: The World's Healthiest Foods I have found it difficult in the past to find nutritional information on herbs, but this site lists nearly all of them. A truly fantanstic resource!
So- over to you.
Do you grow your own herbs?
What is your Culinary Herb Top 10 list?
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