Category Archives: herbs

Harvesting, Drying and Preserving Herbs

thyme_oregano_basil
Herbs: thyme, oregano, basil

Now that you have an assortment of herbs growing nicely in your garden what do you do with them? Mine seem to be growing more exuberantly than I anticipated and if I don’t keep up with snipping them often some will go to seed or get leggy and unproductive. Then what would I do when I’m putting together my favorite Nectarine Caprese Salad with fresh basil and mint leaves?

Most herbs should be harvested before the plants are about to bloom when leaves are at peak flavor and oils are strongest. Fresh leaves may be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. Harvest on a sunny morning after the dew has evaporated. To fully harvest annual herbs such as basil cut all stems back to just above the bottom two sets of leaves. Perennial herbs like sage should be cut back to about a third of their height just above a set of leaves. As you collect your harvest, keep them out of the sun or they will quickly wilt.

To store, wash herbs lightly with the leaves on the stems in cold running water to remove soil, dust or bugs, drain on absorbent towels or hang plants upside down until the water evaporates. Then hang to dry thoroughly in small bunches in a dark, warm, well ventilated room. You can also lay them in a shallow basket or on a screen. if drying on a screen or basket remove large-leaved herbs from the stems before spreading them out. Smaller leaved herbs like thyme, savory or rosemary can be left on the stem to dry.

Herbs with a high moisture content, such as mint and basil, need rapid drying or they will mold. To retain some green leaf coloring, dry in the dark or by hanging plants upside down in bunches in paper bags.

Those herbs with a high water content like tarragon, basil, chives, lemon balm, mint and dill freeze well. Frozen herbs will keep their flavor for several months. Unlike dried herbs whose flavor is more concentrated when dried, frozen herbs can be used in the same proportion as fresh.

Herbs are dry when they crackle and crumble when rubbed between your fingers. Strip them from the stem and pack in labeled jars as they tend to look alike when dried. Crushing the leaves releases their essential oils so don’t do that until you use them. And remember that because dried herbs are not as potent as fresh, the correct ratio is one tablespoon of fresh herbs vs one teaspoon of dried.

Here are some herbs that do double duty in the garden:   

Basil – repels flies and mosquitos.    Plant with tomatoes to improve flavor.

Catnip – deters flea beetles, aphids, squash bugs, ants and weevils. Also repels mice.

Chamomile – improves the flavor of cabbages, onions and cucumbers. Accumulates calcium, sulphur and potassium, returning them later to the soil; also a host for beneficial hoverflies and good wasps and increases the productions of essential oils in herbs.

Chives – improves growth and flavor of carrots and tomatoes.    Keeps aphids away from mums and sunflowers.    When planted by roses, helps prevent black spot.

Coriander/Cilantro – repels aphids, spider mites and potato beetle. Coriander tea is a good spray for spider mites.

Dill – improves the growth and health of cabbage and lettuce. Plant by tomatoes to trap the tomato hornworm. Attracts many beneficials. Do not plant by caraway or carrots.

Lemon Balm – deters many bugs, especially mosquitos and squash bugs.

Mint – deters cabbage moths, ants, rodents, aphids and fleas. Attracts hoverflies and predatory wasps.    Attractive to earthworms.   

Rosemary – plant with cabbage, carrots, beans, and sage,    Deters cabbage looper and bean beetles.

Tarragon – beneficial to plants throughout the garden as is thyme.   

Greek Oregono – Use oregano in tomato sauces, pizza and egg dishes.

Greek oregano
Greek oregano

Lavender – Dry lavender in bundles to make sachets, lavender wands, shortbread cookies.

Dry lavender in bundles
Dry lavender in bundles

Thymus Vulgaris Faustini – This variety of thyme is one of the most flavorful of all the thyme varieties. It is noticeably sweeter and spicier than English types and is the preferred variety for culinary uses.

Thymus Vulgaris Faustini
Thymus Vulgaris Faustini

Growing & Using Herbs

This collection of herbs features dill, Italian parsley and basil plus nectar-rich zinnias to attract pollinators.

There are creative cooks who pair fresh herbs with their produce and other dishes and then there’s me who needs all the inspiration I can get to up my game in the kitchen. I have the basic herbs growing – Italian parsley, rosemary, basil, thyme and oregano – but I want to learn more uses for common herbs.

I have used Italian parsley for lemon butter to drizzle on rosemary chicken. The oregano and basil goes well on a stuffed baked potatoes and poached salmon with mushrooms, marjoram, lemon thyme and a touch of mint is delicious, too. I forgot, I have lemon verbena which goes well with carrots, beets, corn, tomatoes and all types of fruit. I need to get some sage. It would pair well with beans, apples, tomatoes, cauliflower or potatoes. Other herbs that I need to add are cilantro, summer savory and tarragon.

When shopping for herbs it’s a good idea to snip a leaf and crush it between your fingers. Smell the essential oil. You’d be amazed how different herbs can smell and taste depending on the source of the plant.

Thyme can smell like caraway, pine, camphor, lavender or turpentine. Rosemary plants can vary widely in taste depending on the source of the stock. You don’t want to ruin chicken dinner by using the crushed leaves of one that tastes of pine or turpentine.

Trim your herbs often to keep them bushy and productive. Fresh herbs are at their finest in summer as they peak in flavor and essential oils. Most herb stems can be cut and kept in a jar of water, out of direct sunlight, for a few days of use. I’ve even had basil send out roots in water.

Grow herbs like these in attractive planters near your kitchen door

Nearly all herbs are perennial and can be grown from seed. Anise, coriander (also known as cilantro), dill and fennel should be sown directly in the garden as they do not transplant well. Parsley lives for 2 years then flowers and goes to seed. The flowers attract beneficial insects to your garden so leave them to do their work and start new plants to eat. The herbs that are annuals and need to be planted from starts or seed every year include basil, coriander, dill and summer savory.

Although rust infects mints, very few diseases or insects attack herbs. Occasionally, spider mites may be found on low growing herb plants in hot, dry weather and aphids may attack anise, caraway, dill and fennel. Washing the foliage off early in the day helps in controlling mites and aphids.

Here are some growing tips:
Most herbs like 6-8 hours of full sun. Well drained soil is essential. If drainage is poor, work in plenty of organic matter or grow in raised beds or containers. Water regularly until the plants are growing steadily. Then most will need only occasional watering. Exceptions are basil, chives, mint and parsley which prefer evenly moist soil. Many herbs attract beneficial insects if they are allowed to flower.

Fresh herbs are the most flavorful. The stuff in spice jars that you get in the store is often tasteless when compared to the real thing. When cooking with herbs, there is a general rule of thumb to keep in mind regarding the ratio of fresh to dry. Because dried herbs are often more potent and concentrated than fresh herbs, you need less. That means the correct ratio is one tablespoon of fresh herbs to one teaspoon of dried. Herb plants make beautiful ornamental additions to perennial beds and borders, too. Next week I’ll talk about how to harvest, dry and preserve herbs.

Harvesting, Drying and Preserving Herbs

Now that you have an assortment of herbs growing nicely in your garden what do you do with them? Mine seem to be growing more exuberantly than I anticipated and if I don’t keep up with snipping them often some will go to seed or get leggy and unproductive. Then what would I do when I’m putting together my favorite nectarine-caprese salad with fresh basil and mint leaves?

Chives and Tuscan Blue rosemary

Most herbs should be harvested before the plants are about to bloom when leaves are at peak flavor and oils are strongest. Fresh leaves may be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. Harvest on a sunny morning after the dew has evaporated. To fully harvest annual herbs such as basil cut all stems back to just above the bottom two sets of leaves. Perennial herbs like sage should be cut back to about a third of their height just above a set of leaves. As you collect your harvest, keep them out of the sun or they will quickly wilt.

To store, wash herbs lightly with the leaves on the stems in cold running water to remove soil, dust or bugs, Drain on absorbent towels or hang plants upside down until the water evaporates. Then hang to dry thoroughly in small bunches in a dark, warm, well ventilated room. You can also lay them in a shallow basket or on a screen. if drying on a screen or basket remove large-leaved herbs from the stems before spreading them out. Smaller leaved herbs like thyme, savory or rosemary can be left on the stem to dry.

Herbs with a high moisture content, such as mint and basil, need rapid drying or they will mold. To retain some green leaf coloring, dry in the dark or by hanging plants upside down in bunches in paper bags.

Those herbs with a high water content like tarragon, basil, chives, lemon balm, mint and dill freeze well. Frozen herbs will keep their flavor for several months. Unlike dried herbs whose flavor is more concentrated when dried, frozen herbs can be used in the same proportion as fresh.

Herbs are dry when they crackle and crumble when rubbed between your fingers. Strip them from the stem and pack in labeled jars as they tend to look alike when dried. Crushing the leaves releases their essential oils so don’t do that until you use them.

Here are some herbs that do double duty in the garden:
Basil- repels flies and mosquitos. Plant with tomatoes to improve flavor.
Catnip- deters flea beetles, aphids, squash bugs, ants and weevils. Also repels mice.
Chamomile-improves the flavor of cabbages, onions and cucumbers. Accumulates calcium, sulphur and potassium, returning them later to the soil. Also a host for beneficial hoverflies and good wasps and increases the productions of essential oils in herbs.
Chives- improves growth and flavor of carrots and tomatoes. Keeps aphids away from mums and sunflowers. When planted by roses, helps prevent black spot.
Coriander/cilantro- repels aphids, spider mites and potato beetle. Coriander tea is a good spray for spider mites.
Dill- improves the growth and health of cabbage and lettuce. Plant by tomatoes to trap the tomato hornworm. Attracts many beneficials. Do not plant by caraway or carrots.
Lemon balm- deters many bugs, especially mosquitos and squash bugs.
Mint- deters cabbage moths, ants, rodents, aphids and fleas. Attracts hoverflies and predatory wasps. Attractive to earthworms.
Rosemary- plant with cabbage, carrots, beans, and sage, Deters cabbage looper and bean beetles.
Tarragon- beneficial to plants throughout the garden as is thyme.

All About Herbs

I’m helping my friend Colly, the food columnist for the Press Banner, with her cooking class at the new Boys & Girls Club in Scotts Valley. Colly has planned a summer program filled with delicious recipes and I’m looking forward to learning along with the kids in the class. The first week was all about eggs. I’m sure we’ll be using herbs in a future recipe so I’m getting my own herb garden ready. Whether you grow herbs in pots or in the ground here are some tips.

Herbs growing in pots- parsley, oregano, basil and thyme.

Growing herbs near my kitchen door has raised the bar in my cooking skills. No more having to traipse halfway around the house for a snippet of Italian parsley for the lemon butter to drizzle on rosemary chicken. The oregano and basil are nearby for stuffed baked potatoes. This summer I plan to poach salmon with mushrooms, marjoram, lemon thyme and a touch of mint.

When shopping for herbs it’s a good idea to snip a leaf and crush it between your fingers. Smell the essential oil. You’d be amazed how different herbs can smell and taste depending on the source of the plant.

Thyme can smell like caraway, pine, camphor, lavender or turpentine. Rosemary plants can vary widely in taste depending on the source of the stock. You don’t want to ruin chicken dinner by using the crushed leaves of one that tastes of pine or turpentine.

Trim your herbs often to keep them bushy and productive. Fresh herbs are at their finest in summer as they peak in flavor and essential oils. Most herb stems can be cut and kept in a jar of water, out of direct sunlight, for a few days of use. I’ve even had basil send out roots in water.

The herbs I consider essential in the kitchen garden are basil, cilantro, oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley and sage. I also grow lemon verbena for tea, potpourri or sachets for my closet and drawers and hope to add summer savory, tarragon and Grecian laurel for bay leaves.

Nearly all herbs are perennial and can be grown from seed. Anise, coriander (also known as cilantro), dill and fennel should be sown directly in the garden as they do not transplant well. Parsley lives for 2 years then flowers and goes to seed. The flowers attract beneficial insects to your garden so leave them to do their work and start new plants to eats. The herbs that are annuals and need to be planted from starts or seed every year include basil, coriander, dill and summer savory.

Although rust infects mints, very few diseases or insects attack herbs. Occasionally, spider mites may be found on low growing herb plants in hot, dry weather. Aphids may attack anise, caraway, dill and fennel. Washing off the foliage early in the day helps in controlling mites and aphids.

Here are some growing tips:
Most herbs like 6-8 hours of full sun. Well drained soil is essential. If drainage is poor, work in plenty of organic matter or grow in raised beds or containers. Water regularly until the plants are growing steadily. Then most will need only occasional watering. Exceptions are basil, chives, mint and parsley which prefer evenly moist soil. Many herbs attract beneficial insects if they are allowed to flower.

Fresh herbs are the most flavorful. The stuff in spice jars that you get in the store is often tasteless when compared to the real thing. Herb plants make beautiful ornamental additions to perennial beds and borders, too. Next week I’ll talk about how to harvest, dry and preserve herbs.

Camp Joy, Boulder Creek

Camp_Joy_sign2If you've ever eaten a Camp Joy cherry tomato you'll know why I was excited to be given a tour of the new seedlings in the greenhouse by Jim Nelson, the creator of this beautiful, organic family farm. Since 1971 this non-profit farm has been providing educational, creative programs for kids and adults. It is an example of and encourages others who wish to begin their own sustainable farm.

It was a warm, spring day when I visited and Jim was gently watering the herb, vegetable and flower seedlings by hand using water from a large can that had warmed to room temperature and given off any chlorine that was present. Camp Joy has a spring plant sale coming up April 27th and 28th and another on Mother's Day weekend and Jim was pleased with the progress of the seedlings. They grow proven varieties that do well in our area. Group paintings done by charter school children decorated the wall of the greenhouse.

Outside we were accompanied by Jim's two dogs, Ruby and Rownya, as we admired the garlic crop that will rotated90.kids_painting_in_greenhousebe braided after harvest and offered for sale in the fall along with dried flower wreaths and onion braids.

The farm offers a Camp Joy Cooperative weekly for 3-5 yr olds encouraging them to explore their surroundings through all their senses. Garden tours for school age children or a group of any age are also offered. Everyone at the farm is happy to share what they've learned about growing and preparing food, saving seed, bees and other insects, goats and garden crafts. And there is always something to be picked, harvested, weeded or just enjoyed while having lunch in the gazebo.

Walking along a path bordered by phlox, aster, oregano, iris and nigella we admired a blooming Buff Beauty rose covering an arbor. Jim planted this as well as his favorite Madame Alfred Carrier 42 years ago when he first came to the property. His friend at UCSC, Alan Chadwick introduced him to it. The soft fragrance blended with the blooming lilacs and wisteria.

To maintain fertile soil, a cover crop of fava beans was just starting to bloom in a several areas. Ladybugs were plentiful on the flowers. The beans will be cut down, Jim explained, in about a month. Members of the farm will eat some of the beans while young and sweet and let some mature so they can save the seed. The goats also enjoy fava beans at the flowering stage. There is a fund-raising art program, called Kids for Kids, offered in May, the proceeds going to help improve the goat barn and yard.

lilac_wisteria-arborNext we visited the Kid's Garden. Art, cooking and gardening projects are ongoing in this area. Wholesome, healthy food and beautiful flowers are all part of the farm. The plot of godetia was setting bud and will be offered as cut flowers during the upcoming sales.

Everything is grown with care at Camp Joy. Jim explained that compost is regularly added back to the soil and used to start seedlings in a special blend of "real soil" allowing them to transplant and continue to do well in the garden. He sometimes used kelp and fish emulsion as fertilizer but mostly it's the compost that makes the seedlings so strong.

Camp Joy offers lots of classes for kids and adults alike. Family members and interns are passionate about the farm and enjoy sharing. On this beautiful day, we were greeted with a smile by the person spreading compost.  It was clear that there is a respect for the cycles of the earth and the changing seasons at the farm.

Take advantage of the Spring Plant Sale at Camp Joy. Bring the family and walk through the garden. Visit their website for more information about their events and classes.  http://www.campjoygardens.org 

 

Herbs

rosemary_prostratus 2Last year I became a gourmet chef. That may be a slight exaggeration but growing herbs near my kitchen door raised the bar in my cooking skills. No more having to traipse halfway around the house for a snip of Italian parsley for the lemon butter to drizzle on rosemary chicken. And you should taste my stuffed baked onions with oregano and basil not to mention the poached salmon with mushrooms, marjoram, lemon thyme and a touch of mint. Yes, growing my own herbs has made cooking more fun, more flavorful and more nutritious.

Throughout history
herbs have been important to us. Ancient Greeks used sweet marjoram as a tonic and parsley as a cure for stomach ailments. Their athletes made a lotion of bruised mint leaves for use after a bath. Rosemary was eaten in the Middle Ages as a tranquilizer and headache cure. Mint was used at that time to purify drinking water that had turned stale on long ocean voyages.

Parsley, anise, pennyroyal, sorrel, watercress, wild leeks and lavender are just some herbs that wereOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA found to be growing in America by the early settlers. They also brought many herbs with them for flavoring food, storing with linens, strewing on floors, dying fabrics or burning just for the pleasant fragrance. Chives were planted in meadows by early Dutch settlers so cows would give chive flavored milk.  Herb gardens were an essential feature of pioneer homes and slips, seeds and plants were exchanged as we do now.

Some herbs, like oregano, contain chemical compounds that are known to have antioxidants, disease preventing and health promoting properties. Thymol, an essential oil found in oregano and thyme is strongly antiseptic and has been found to be anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Thymol has been used to control varroa mites and the growth of mold in bee colonies  although some studies indicate it also increases the permeability of other pesticides through the bee cuticle.

Herbs are super easy to grow. I started with the basic four – parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, adding basil, oregano, chives, marjoram and mint soon after. This year I'm going to start some summer savory, tarragon, coriander and a Grecian laurel plant for bay leaves.

Most herbs are perennials. They overwinter and come back each year. Parsley lives for 2 years then flowers, goes to seed and needs to be replanted. The flowers attract beneficial insects to your garden so leave them to do their work. The herbs that are annuals and need to be planted from starts or seed every year include basil, coriander, dill, and summer savory.

You can grow herbs in the ground, in containers outside or in pots inside the house if you have a sunny window. Herbs need good drainage. None will grow in wet soils. If your garden soil is poorly drained you will have to amend it with compost for any chance of success. The soil does not have to be especially fertile, though. Herbs need little fertilizer as highly fertile soil tends to produce excessive amounts of foliage with poor flavor.

I grow all my herbs in pots outside. That way I can use a good quality potting soil and make sure they get watered when the soil is dry an inch or two down. Mints like spearmint, peppermint, pineapple mint, chocolate mint, Cuban or mojito mint and orange bergomot need to be contained anyway as they spread. Some mints are grown as a groundcover and encouraged to spread like Corsican mint, pennyroyal and the California native yerba buena (satureja douglasii).

Nearly all herbs can be grown from seed. Anise, coriander (also known as cilantro), dill and fennel should be sown directly in the garden as they do not transplant well. You can start basil now inside from seed but our nights are still too cold to plant basil starts outside.

Although rust infects mints, very few diseases or insects attack herbs. Occasionally, spider mites may be found on low growing herb plants in hot, dry weather. Aphids may attack anise, caraway, dill and fennel. Washing off the foliage early in the day helps in controlling mites and aphids.

How do you harvest herbs? Fresh leaves may be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. To ensure good oil content, pick leaves after dew has disappeared but before the sun gets too hot. Most herbs are at their peak flavor just before flowering. To store, wash herbs with the leaves on the stems lightly in cold running water to remove soil, dust or bugs, Drain on absorbent towels or hang plants upside down in the sun until the water evaporates. Then hang to dry thoroughly in small bunches in a dark, warm, well ventilated room before stripping leaves off stalks. Herbs with a high moisture content, such as mint and basil, need rapid drying or they will mold. To retain some green leaf coloring, dry in the dark or by hanging plants upside down in bunches in paper bags.

Fresh herbs are the most flavorful. The stuff in spice jars that you get in the store is often tasteless when compared to the real thing. Herb plants make beautiful ornamental additions to perennial beds and borders, too. This year make your garden come alive with herbs.