Grow some easy herbs this year

February 1, 2015 lawanda Newspaper Columns

One of the definitions of herbs is “the useful plants.”  What a dull and boring definition for a group of plants that impart so much joy through their beauty, scent, taste, and yes, usefulness.

You need not have a dedicated herb garden to enjoy herbs.  They can be tucked into a flower bed or vegetable garden and even grown in containers.  For the most part, herbs grow in full sun, need no fertilizer, and no supplemental watering once established.  Here are a few of the easiest to grow to get you started.

Basil is an annual plant easily grown from seed.  Plant seeds as soon as all danger of frost is passed, ¼ inch deep, 2-3 inches apart.  Keep soil moist until seeds germinate. Harvest can begin as soon as plants have a few true leaves.  Every time you cut a stem, two will grow in its place.  When flowers form, snip them off immediately, as basil is more flavorful when it’s not putting its energy into making flowers.  Basil is used in tomato sauce and pesto, and also works well with veal, lamb, fish, poultry, white beans, pasta, rice, cheese and eggs.

Lavender is a perennial woody plant that grows up to two feet tall although some varieties are more compact.  Buy transplants from the nursery in spring and plant them in the ground where they will stay.  Once the plant becomes established, do not overwater it.  You can expect lavender flowers already the first year.  When flowers turn brown, cut them off to keep the plant looking nice.  In early spring, trim the plant lightly just to shape it.  Each year, the plant will get a bit larger, producing progressively more flower spikes.  Lavender’s scent is its reward.  Cut the flower stems and hang them upside down to dry and they will retain their scent for many months.  A few sprigs beside your pillow will ease your way to dreamland.

Like lavender, thyme is a woody perennial plant that will get a bit bigger each year and prefers the same dry conditions.  It has tiny white or pink flowers, but is mostly grown for its leaves which can be used in a multitude of dishes.  Besides the standard garden variety, thyme comes in lemon, caraway, coconut, mint and many other flavors.  Harvest thyme by cutting the wiry stems and running your fingers downward along them to remove the leaves.  Thyme can be dried for future use by spreading the cut stems on newspaper for a few days until crispy.  The leaves separate from the stems easily after drying.

Garden sage is another perennial herb, grown and cared for the same as lavender and thyme.           Its violet flowers are larger, prettier, and more noticeable than those of many herbs.  Sage can be harvested long into the winter until it is covered by snow.  The list of foods that are enhanced by sage is extensive, the most famous being stuffing for the Thanksgiving turkey.

Herbs


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