Growing an Herb Garden

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Sat, Nov 23, 2013 - 10:24am

Whether you're growing things for the taste, nutrition, low carbon footprint, cost, or local food security - nothing gives you more "bang for your buck" than an herb garden.  And since they can be grown in small spaces--rural, suburban or urban--there is always room to grow some fresh herbs.

Here are some of the best herbs to grow--and ways to grow them--in urban, suburban, and rural settings. Some may surprise you.

Annuals:
Basil. What's great about basil is it is a cut-and-cut again herb. If you pinch off some leaves, or the stem above a joint, it will make new shoots off the stem which you can harvest later. It dries well, and it's easy to save the seeds to plant next year. It even makes beautiful flowers. Try it in salads, or make homemade pesto and freeze it.

Coriander. This is a two-fer;  the leaves are cilantro, which can used fresh or dried in Mexican cooking, while the seeds are coriander. This is another plant with beautiful flowers.

Parsley and Carrot Parsley. Parsley is another well known herb. It dries extremely well. And hey, the tops of your carrots taste like parsley and are edible. They do not dry well--the stems get like needles--but carrot tops freeze just fine. I use them in soups.

Sage. Great with chicken, wonderful fresh, but I find that dried sage requires you to have an herb grinder, or a mortar and pestle.

Perennials:
Dill. Great on fish or for making pickles, fresh dill weed tastes and looks so much better than the desiccated dried spice you find on your supermarket shelves. The fresh leaves have a feathery texture, and the seeds are a great spice, too.

Fennel. You've got to try this, if you have room for it. It makes two anise-flavored spices: fennel seeds and the flowers/pollen. The bulbous root is used as a vegetable (especially Florence Fennel). The leaves can be used in salads and soups, and to season eggs and fish. It's got medicinal uses, where it is effective against digestive gas and helps with menstrual pain. And fresh fennel tastes fantastic.

Ginger. With a 14" pot of soil you can grow a piece of supermarket ginger in any climate - just bring it indoors in freezing weather. I find it best to slice ginger root--okay, it's a rhizome--thin before drying it so that I can more easily grind the dried root, which gets woody. Note: it likes 'wet feet"and grows FAST.

Culinary Lavender. Munstead is the variety you want for cooking. Sure, it has the characteristic flower heads and can be used in potpourri, soaps and such, but the whole plant can be dried and used as a spice.

Oregano. The quintessential hot Italian spice - a little goes a long way. It dries beautifully.

Thyme. This one is about as easy as herb growing gets.  You plant it and it takes care of itself, and comes back every year. While it dries well, fresh thyme is magic in herbed breads.

Rosemary. This one takes some room (it eventually gets 3 ft tall & 3 ft wide).  To grow rosemary, you have to either grow it in a pot and take it indoors when it's cold, or live in a very warm climate (USDA Zone 8 or higher). But boy, is it worth it. While it's easy to dry, fresh rosemary is great to cook with.

Saffron. The crocus that makes the spice saffron, Crocus sativus, comes from a bulb and blooms every year.

Urban Herb Growers.  Your choices here are windowsill, hanging pot, fire escape, rooftop, or community garden. I've even seen herbs grown in over-the-door plastic shoe pockets, or in rain gutters along walls.

Suburban Gardeners. Try growing herbs in your flower beds, or make a nice ornamental herb bed somewhere in your yard. Pots on the patio work, too. I've seen oak pallets planted with herbs in rows between the slats, which keep out the weeds and retain moisture. Pallet herb gardens can be set on their sides  and grown against places like garage walls in tight spaces: make sure it gets watered and is in full sun.

Rural Herb beds. You'll be using this a lot, so grow it near the kitchen door. You might also want to put it near any outdoor seating, since an herb garden smells divine.

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There are so many other herbs and spice you can grow, and you should tailor your choices based on what you will use. Any suggestions in the comments are welcome.

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