Written by Greg Draiss, Wappinger Garden Center Manager
Despite not having many new varieties in the market, herbs are as popular as ever. What is it that leads to the continued and ever-growing popularity of herbs in the home garden?
The answer is actually quite simple. Herbs continue to do today what they have done for centuries – outperform most other crops in their ease of growth and dependability. Holistic and medicinal uses have certainly helped support and spur the growth of herbs in the gardens, but natural home remedies are not enough to keep the herbal engine running. It’s as simple as this: herbs are in demand mainly because they add flavor to the food we eat.
The best way to take the mystery out of herbs is to group them together in a themed garden. This will make your trip to the backyard an instant success in the kitchen. A themed garden goes beyond a “cooking garden” or “tea garden”. Break it down even more, all the way to a particular cooking style or ethnic region!
Start with your favorite style of cooking: Italian, French, Mexican, Thai, etc. There is even a plan for a salt substitute garden (see below)! These gardens do not need to be large. Size can be determined by your needs and even your garden space limitations.
Here are some themed herb garden ideas:
- Italian: basil, bay, dill, fennel, garlic chives, marjoram, flat leaf parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme
- French: basil, fennel, lavender, tarragon, sage, summer savory and thyme
- Mexican: bay, cilantro, garlic, oregano, thyme, lemon or lime basil
- Thai/Asian: Thai basil, coriander, garlic, lemon grass, ginger, mint
- Fish: bay, fennel, dill, lemon basil, lemon grass, lemon thyme, parsley, tarragon, savory, sage
- Salt substitute: basil, bay, dill, lovage, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory (winter or summer), thyme and tarragon
- Tea: chamomile, lemon balm, lemon grass, lemon verbena, mints, pineapple sage, lemon thyme, stevia
*To cheat a little on a tea garden, simply mix a bunch of mint varieties together, harvest when needed, dry and make a pot of tea.
These herbs can be used fresh from the garden for immediate rewards. But remember to also save some for drying to use over the winter months.
Drying is best accomplished by cutting new growth in the late morning. Tie bunches together with a rubber band (string can be also used, but tends to drop the stems as they dry out and become smaller). When the herb has become as dry as a fallen autumn leaf, or crumbles in your fingers, strip the leaves from the stems and place in clean, dark containers. Label them according to their kind and store in a dark place at room temperature. They will keep for about a year.