Herb gardening offers many flavorful options

Herb gardening offers many flavorful options
Freshly cut herbs are a flavorful addition to many recipes and are increasingly easy to find. Many grocery stores carry potted culinary herbs in the produce section, ready to consume.

“If you don’t want to grow your own herbs, you can buy one from a local store and maintain it in your kitchen,” said Chris Mullins, a Virginia Cooperative Extension fruit and vegetable specialist. “The best way to use the plant is to snip from the top, and follow the care instructions on the packaging.

Potted herbs will keep in their original packaging for two to three weeks, he added, and should be kept on a saucer and watered from the bottom.

“To keep the plant growing year-round, transplant it to a larger pot,” Mullins said. “The plant will use up all the available nutrients in the (original) soil, so it needs to be transplanted to a larger pot.”

Growing your own herbs

If you want to grow your own herbs from seeds, it is important to use the right amount of space for the plant’s stage, according to Margaret Shepherd of Shenandoah Growers, a greenhouse operation near Harrisonburg, that grows 10 million plants per year.

“Once the plant is older, you will want to space it out more,” Shepherd explained. She recommended following the space recommendations on the seed packaging to know how much space to give plants as they grow.

Shepherd suggested using full-spectrum LED lights, which mimic the sun, to grow herbs from seed indoors, even in the dark. “There are plenty of home kits that are perfect for windowsills or apartments,” she added.

Friendly neighbors

Some herbs can be grown in a container together if they share similar needs, including:

  • Parsley and basil: Both enjoy more water than woody herbs. Chives, nasturtiums, hot peppers and cherry tomatoes make great container additions with these, too.
  • Rosemary and sage: These woody herbs prefer more sun and drier soil than leafier varieties.
  • Oregano and thyme: These semi-woody varieties work well with rosemary and sage.
  • Mint and—mint: All varieties of mint tend to take over a pot, so it’s best to grow them separately and to leave plenty of space between them so the fragrances and flavors don’t mingle.

Saving herbs

Never let a good herb go to waste! Preserve any fresh herbs that cannot be used right away. Basil can be pureed and frozen in ice cube trays. Grind hot peppers with salt and a splash of white vinegar, then bottle the mixture to use as a hot sauce. Thyme, rosemary and sage can be dried and then sprinkled on dishes all year long.

Pairing herbs with food

Spice It Up! a publication of Virginia Cooperative Extension, features information on food and herb pairings and the basics of cooking with fresh and dried herbs. It’s available at pubs.ext.vt.edu/348/348-739/348-739_pdf.pdf.

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