By Sara Creamer
Fayette County Master
Gardener Volunteer Coordinator
Now that your vegetable garden is beginning to produce, it is time to talk about herbs. Here is a list of ten of my favorite herbs growing in my kitchen garden. Remember herbs are mostly Mediterranean in origin so plant them in full sun and well-drained soil. In general, herbs do not like to be fertilized. The exception would be chives and parsley if you were harvesting them heavily.
Sweet basil is a large-leaved annual herb used in Italian cooking especially pesto or paired with tomatoes. This herb likes the heat and grows best in moist well-drained soil in full sun. Basil is a member of the mint family and has square stems, as do all members of this family. Basil should be picked and use before it blooms so pinch and use your basil frequently.
Sweet basil may be the one you are most familiar with but there are several other types of basil. There is lime basil, cinnamon basil and purple basil.
Thai basil is a native of Southeast Asia. It is used in Thai food as you might guess from its name but, in addition, it is prominent in Vietnamese cuisine. It has smaller leaves and purple stems. The flavor is often described as anise or licorice-like.
If you like salsa, you are familiar with the herb Cilantro. It gives some salsa its distinctive aroma and taste. It is easy to grow and may seed itself. It is better used for salsa before it produces seed. It goes to seed quickly so sow the seed at two week intervals so that you always have a crop of fresh cilantro coming on. Coriander, the dried seed, is used in Indian and Asian cooking.
Dill is a warm season annual herb that will seed itself. It likes full sun to part shade. The leaves and the seed are used to season fish, bread, and pickles. The leaves are at their peak of favor just before bloom. The compact fernleaf type produces seed more slowly. Be sure to plant enough to share with the black swallowtail butterfly larva.
Chives are a perennial member of the onion family. The plants grow best in full sun. They will self-sow and may be invasive. To prevent this, you should clip off the flowers. They will need to be divided every 2-3 years. They have a mild onion flavor good for use in salads, dressings, butter, and sour cream.
Parsley is a biennial herb treated as an annual. A biennial grows leaves the first year and flowers the second year. Parsley is bitter the second year so it is not used. Parsley is a good container-grown herb
There are two kinds of parsley, flat-leaved and curly. Curly parsley is used mostly as a garnish. Flat-leaved is the preferred culinary herb. It has more flavor and blends well with other flavorings. Try using it in soups, stews, and on vegetables.
Sage is a perennial herb that prefers full sun. It must have well drained soil to survive as a perennial. The plant will benefit from pruning in early spring. It makes an excellent container plant. Sage is a favorite for flavoring stuffing, pork and sausage.
Thyme is a perennial herb that prefers full sun. Like all Mediterranean herbs, it must have well-drained soil. This is especially true in the winter. French and English thyme are the best culinary types. They have a strong pungent flavor and should be used with restraint. They are good in long-cooking foods like soups and stews since it holds its flavor. There are also citrus types with fragrances reminiscent of lemon, lime, and orange.
There are ornamental types that are prostrate. Wooly thyme is one of these. They make excellent border, ground cover, and rock garden plants. In my herb garden, I use the ground cover types to hold down weeds and provide flowers. The culinary type lurks in the background because it is taller. It shines on chicken, my favorite use for thyme.
Oregano is a perennial herb. Its cultural requirements and garden uses are similar to thyme. The plant called Greek oregano is the plant considered ‘true’ oregano. It is popular in pizza and tomato sauces. Hot and spicy oregano is often used in Mexican dishes.
Mint is a perennial herb. The most commonly used types are peppermint and spearmint. Spearmint has the stronger flavor.
Mint grows aggressively by rhizomes below and above the soil and is invasive. For this reason, mint is best grown in a container or in an open bottomed container (I use a concrete tile) buried in the garden at least 5 inches. The tile should project 2 inches above the soil. Even with these precautions, you will have to keep an eye on your mint to keep it from escaping. Mint is worth growing with these precautions for making hot and cold tea, mint julips, and mint jelly.
Rosemary is a tender perennial. This means that for most of us reading this, it will not survive Ohio winters. I have several plants I grow in containers that come in in winter. They spend the winter in my unheated south-facing Florida room where it never goes much below freezing (should tolerate temperatures down to 10° F). It is great for creating vinegar and oils and marinating meat. My favorite use is with garlic on lamb roasted on the grill.
I hope you will pick a few of these herbs to try in your garden. Pick the ones that complement your cooking style and plant them near the kitchen. You will be able to smell their wonderful fragrance and be more likely to step out the door to harvest a few for that special recipe. Remember to plant them in full sun and well-drained soil. In general, herbs do not like to be fertilized. The exception would be chives and parsley if you were harvesting them heavily. I hope I have not made you too hungry. Happy growing and eating.