by Charlene Burgi
Herbs get so little attention in garden articles, yet without them our recipes would be rather bland. Just thinking about it, how could Italians ever consider making one of our family favorites, pasta with pesto? Basil is the key ingredient here. Roasting a turkey without sage would border on sacrilege in some kitchens. We just celebrated Cinco de Mayo. Would the day carry on the same without cilantro being added to something?
The list of herbs and their uses is enormous. Perennial herbs such as thyme make beautiful ground covers. Sage (Salvia
) provides a riot of color. Plant catnip and you will be adored by your feline friends while repelling pesky mosquitoes!
The mint family is huge—and so is the space some will invade if they are not contained when growing them. But nothing is more calming or soothing than mint in an iced drink on a hot summer day.
|Monarch butterfly caterpillars on Asclepias
(Photo courtesy of Keith Bancroft)
Dill is not only great to use when canning pickles but is also a host plant for black swallowtail butterflies. Add fennel, carrots, and parsley to your garden and the air will be filled with these beauties flitting about! And don't forget to plant milkweed (Asclepias
) if you want monarchs!
Rosemary is a must in gardens as it attracts bees. Plus, by breaking off a branch, you can use rosemary as a basting instrument when barbequing. The oils in the rosemary release during the cooking process and delight those at the dinner table.
And speaking of oils, one of the best and easiest ways to preserve those homegrown herbs for later use is to chop them up, insert them into empty ice cube trays, then fill each cube with olive oil and freeze. Once the cubes are frozen, pop them out of the ice cube trays, label a zip-lock bag, fill with the iced herbs, and store in the freezer for future use in your soups, stews, and other delicacies.
Growing herbs is simple. You can plant them in pretty containers near the kitchen for easy picking, or tuck them into your vegetable garden. They can be a boon to your yield since herbs are great companion plants. For example, mix basil and parsley with tomatoes. Beneficial insects are attracted to the herbs and will help pollinate the tomatoes. Or add basil and borage to your bed of peppers and leeks.
Another benefit of growing herbs is that deer usually don't like their taste and won't disturb them. (I can't say the same for gophers, which insist on visiting our greenhouse planters where basil and parsley typically grow year around.)
I haven't even touched on the medicinal benefits of herbs or making poultices concocted from their byproducts. Nor have I discussed their growth habits or preferred sun exposures—but I definitely do want to mention that the majority of the herbs are low-water-using plants!
Herbs. Plant them in your garden! The benefits are worth the little time or space they will take.