Herb Gardening

By Caryl Clem:

Learning to cook in the 1950’s provided little exposure to the sensation of fresh herbs to flavor your food dishes. Collectible today are the orange and green tins from A&P storing cinnamon, sage, marjoram and all the common spices of that era. My eternal gratitude to the Italian chef in the 1960’s who introduced me to fresh basil, garlic, rosemary and oregano at the neighborhood store. After eating the meal we prepared, my mind set about spices shifted, now I was suspicious of any that came in a can or jar.

Fresh herbs you just picked have unbelievable flavor with health benefits.  Many herbs contain immune fighting vitamins and heart healthy antioxidants. If you love a variety of flowers blooming through the summer in your yard, consider herbal beds. Purple ruffle basil has deep purple/ red leaves. Basil comes in over 8 types, ranging in flavors of licorice, anise, and citrus with a peppery bite. Another Mediterranean favorite, purslane has yellow flowers with a piquant lemony flavor. Borage has dazzling blue flowers with a cucumber flavor. Perilla used in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam has a cinnamon edge with a cumin/citrus bite. Mrytle has orange blossom flavor leaves. Chives have purple button top flowers. The array of different leaves and blooms is attractive many naturally attract bees and birds. Herbs are thoroughly explained in “Herbs and Spices, the Cooks Reference” by Jill Norman.Culinary opportunity herbs offer include plant origin, flavors, growing conditions, decorative appeal describing blooming, with recipe advice.

Traditional favorites found in stores around the Chicago area are rosemary, basil, sage, parsley, dill, cilantro, mint, oregano, marjoram, and thyme.  All of these herbs except cilantro and mint love well drained soil and sun. Mint is an aggressive plant; I have it in its own territory by a window well. Cilantro does better in the shade. To keep a supply of cilantro all summer, keep planting seeds every 2-3 weeks. If you use cilantro often, try Rau Ram from Asia with a citrus more peppery bite. Marjoram is like a baby sister to oregano, same family but its flavor weakens the longer it is cooked. Another partial shade herb is Angelica from Russia and Scandinavia with yellow flowers, popular to use with fish described as a juniper, anise, and celery mix. A book recommended in an article on gardening in Chicago by the Chicago Tribune referenced, “Homegrown Herb Garden, A guide to Growing and Culinary Use”by Lisa Baker Morgan and Amy McCormick.

Warmer days ahead should include growing fresh herbs for your kitchen. When temperatures will average 60 degrees or higher during the day and no lower than 45 degrees at night, your herbs will flourish. Herbs are resilient requiring little maintenance. You can have it all, colorful beauty, flavor and healthy cuisine in your own yard.  Enjoy your inside/out herbal spice shelf.

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