Learn how to grow herbs in the garden and indoors. Learn how each herb can be used medicinally. And of course, learn how to cook with them.
The way basil grows is first to bush out, and then it puts out a flower and dies. The key to getting basil to last as long as possible and get large, flavorful leaves is to pinch off the flowers as soon as possible. This will “trick” the plant into living longer. Pinch the flowers back to the very next set of leaves.
Harvesting: Unless you plan to harvest a large amount of basil at once, take random leaves from each plant as not to stress them. When the plant reaches at least 6″ tall, clip the leaves and stem back to the first or second set of leaves and do so often to encourage the plant to grow. Clip to the third set or more if the plant is larger and well established.
Indoors: Basil likes full sun all day long. It is very easy to grow inside, just put it in a very sunny spot. Water it deeply, but make sure the soil drains well and the pot doesn’t sit in the water. A tiny bit of top-dressing doesn’t hurt… use a well decomposed mulch for that. As with most herbs, water the soil only, not the leaves.
As a natural remedy: Basil is known for it’s ability to stop dizziness and intoxication by drinking a hot basil tea made from the fresh leaves and water or milk. You can also crush the leaves and rub them on a rash or bug bite and ease the discomfort immediately. In combination with other herbs, it can lower blood pressure, be used for anxiety relief and break the common fever. For more information, visit http://www.naturalnews.com.
Cooking: Wash fresh basil leaves and pat dry to use in your favorite dish. Basil is a staple in many Italian dishes and pairs well with oregano and garlic. Use 3 times as much fresh basil when substituting for dried in a recipe. To dry: cut stems at the base of the plant, wash and dry thoroughly, use the paper bag method or tie together and hang in a cool, dark place. (I recommend the paper bag method; keeps dust out.) Chop or crumble the leaves and store in an airtight container for several months. Basil will also dry out very well in the dehydrator.
In the culinary world sage is the perfect compliment to poultry, seafood, stuffing, and much more, and has become one of my favorite fresh herbs to grow. If regularly pruned, it can become a beautiful shrub that will grow in your garden for several years. It can grow up to 3 feet and almost as wide. But you should allow it to grow without cutting it for at least 6 months, then it will become strong enough to handle regular cuttings afterwards. When you begin to prune, try to cut the flowering parts of the plant to prevent seeding. Flowering will occur during mid summer. Prune to shape the plant for your landscape or for harvesting.
Sage can handle all-day sunshine, but doesn’t do so well in extreme heat. When temperatures rise above 95 degrees for more than a few days, use a fabric shade so leaves don’t burn.
Harvesting: There is no particular way to harvest sage. Cut individual leaves as needed or use the leaves after pruning a larger sage bush.
Indoors: Keep sage in a very sunny spot. It does well with the average potting soil mix, just make sure the soil drains well and plant it in a large pot to reduce the need for transplanting.
As a natural remedy: Chew on sage leaves to clean your mouth and freshen your breath. Gargle with a warm sage tea to ease tonsillitis and a sore throat. Regular use (in cooking or medicinally) takes advantage of its antioxidant properties and can protect against certain cancers, stroke, arthritis and asthma. Sage (and its close relative rosemary) is now being researched for its apparent powers to boost memory and even fight Alzheimer’s disease. For more information, visit http://www.naturalnews.com.
Cooking: Fresh sage leaves can be easily stored in the refrigerator. Wash, dry and mince before cooking with it, and generally the same 3-to-1 rule applies when replacing fresh sage for dried. (Although some people think its stronger flavor changes that rule to 2-to-1; so it is best to use your own judgement.) Sage gives a giant burst of flavor to a pot of ham and beans, chicken soup, stuffing, homemade sausages, and my favorite, homemade poultry spice rub. To dry: cut large stems or individual leaves, wash and dry thoroughly, use the paper bag method or tie stems together and hang in a cool, dark place. (The paper bag method allows for no dust to settle.) Chop/crush/rub the leaves and store in an airtight container for several months. Sage will also dry out very well in the dehydrator.
Rosemary grows in many parts of the country and in many different growing conditions. It grows all over California, intentionally and otherwise. In fact, there is a funny article on a local website that mentions seeing a woman buying a tiny package of rosemary in Safeway when it was growing right out in the parking lot next to her car. So plant some, water, and forget about it…or take a drive and you just might find a volunteer bush out on the highway. 🙂
Growing this herb will probably be the easiest thing you ever do. Using it will be even easier. The hardest part will be waiting for it to grow. The jury is out on how large the plant will actually get (generally up to a 4′ tall, 6′ wide shrub) but getting there takes years. To avoid cutting smaller plants down to nothing, plant more than one to harvest from. Don’t worry about keeping the flowers trimmed. When this plant flowers that doesn’t mean it will seed and die like many other plants. What rosemary wants to do is flower and then spread out, and it repeats this little by little. The (edible) flowers are visually pleasing and adds drama to any landscape. The plant will continue to get stronger, larger and more woody. Prune large plants to fit your landscaping as you see fit.
Harvesting: There is no particular method to clipping the stems. Unless the plant is small (less than 12″ wide and spindly instead of bushy) clip as little or as much as you need.
Indoors: Put a potted rosemary plant in full sunshine all day long. It also needs to be in a well-ventilated area since it can get the fungus powdery mildew. Because rosemary grows so large, you will have to decide if you want to continue re-potting it each time it outgrows a pot, cut the roots back to keep it in the same size pot, or simply plant it outside. Water well but do not saturate it.
As a natural remedy: Because it’s so aromatic, using rosemary for potpourri or a bath tea goes without saying. But did you know that like sage (a close relative) rosemary is now being researched for its apparent powers to boost memory and even fight Alzheimer’s disease? And rosemary vinegar is useful for treating dandruff, drinking a rosemary tea can stimulate hair growth after loss during chemotherapy, and when the oil is extracted from rosemary, a long list of ailments are successfully treated and/or cured. The benefits go on and on. For more information, visit http://www.naturalnews.com.
Cooking: To use in a recipe, wash rosemary stems thoroughly and pat dry. Strip the needle-like leaves from the stem by running your fingers from top to bottom along the stem. Finely chop and use the 3-to-1 measurement when substituting fresh rosemary for dried. Another way to cook with it is to use the entire stem for roasting, broiling or grilling and then discard the stem before serving. Rosemary stems can be stuffed into the cavities and under the skin of a chicken for roasting, used as a bed for broiling fish, and larger stems can replace skewers for grilling veggies and seafood. To dry: cut stems, wash and dry thoroughly, use the paper bag method or tie together and hang in a cool, dark place. (I recommend the paper bag method; keeps dust out.) The leaves can be chopped or left whole and stored in an airtight container for several months. Rosemary will also dry out very well in the dehydrator, but discard the stem or it will take a lot longer to dehydrate.
Thyme is a very woody plant that is drought tolerant when it gets well-established in soil it really likes. Because it grows so slow, you should wait several months after planting a starter plant to begin harvesting. Because the plants stay small and bushy, they will also work well in your landscape design. The flowers are edible and if you’re trying to attract bees to your garden, plant some thyme and you’re good to go.
Occasionally, leaves or stems may die off. Keep these trimmed and the plant will thrive.
Harvesting: Once thyme gets established, any method for harvesting will do since it is such a hardy plant. You can grab a handful of stems and snip them at the base of the plant all at once (picture above shows a short patch of thyme recovering after being cut down) or snip random stems all over the plant. It will bounce right back and keep on going.
Indoors: Although this plant can be grown indoors, it will do much better outside. Keep it in well-drained soil in a sunny location.
As a natural remedy: This is a wondrous herb. Did you know that you can create a thyme/green tea concoction that will fight acne? It has antiviral, bactericidal, fungicidal, antibiotic, diuretic, antispasmodic, expectorant, and antiseptic properties that make it great for fighting colds and the flu. It can cure a sty and help relieve pink eye, the benefits go on and on. For more information, visit http://www.naturalnews.com.
Cooking: To use in a recipe, wash thyme stems thoroughly and pat dry. Strip the tiny leaves from the stem by running your fingers from top to bottom along the stem. Finely chop (or leave whole) and use the 3-to-1 measurement when substituting fresh thyme for dried. Thyme is very versatile in that it goes well with just about any type of dish including soups, stews, stuffing, all meats and a wide variety of ethnic dishes. To dry: cut stems, wash and dry thoroughly, use the paper bag method or tie together and hang in a cool, dark place. (I recommend the paper bag method; keeps dust out.) Since the leaves are so small, it’s recommended to leave them on the stem while drying. Afterwards, strip the stems and store in an airtight container for several months. Thyme will also dry out very well in the dehydrator (place it on a sheet of parchment).
Oregano info coming soon.