Every gardener should grow at least a few herbs. The flavor of
fresh herbs in your cooking is worth the small effort of growing
them. If you are not a cook, herbs can be used for fragrance, color,
and texture in potpourri and crafts. Whether you plant a separate
herb garden or incorporate them into your flower or vegetable garden,
you will not be disappointed.
Like any plant, growing location and plant preferences must be
kept in mind. Most herbs thrive in full sun, but will grow satisfactorily
in four to six hours of sun per day. They will not grow in wet,
poorly drained soil, but are not finicky about other soil conditions
like soil type and pH. The notable exceptions are sage, rosemary,
and thyme that must have moist well-drained soil. If your soil
is too wet consider raised beds or pots. Herbs actually prefer
low to medium fertility soils. Overly rich soil or fertilizing
reduces the quality and quantity of the oils and essences that
make herbs so desirable.
Basil, grown as an annual in Northern Illinois, is available
in a variety of colors, textures and forms. Because basil plants
attractive dark green or
red, they can easily be incorporated into a flower border. The spicy leaves are
the main ingredient in pesto and often used in tomato sauces.
Basil loves warmth and is damaged by temperatures below 50 degrees.
Easy to start from seed, basil can be sown directly in the garden
in the middle to the end
of May. Thin to 8 to 12 inches apart. Prevent basil from going to seed by removing
the flower buds as soon as they appear.
Harvest basil by cutting back to one or two pairs of leaves.
The plants will recover rapidly in warm weather and may be picked
repeatedly. Add the edible
flowers to salads. Excess basil may be dried for winter use.
Cilantro and coriander give you two herbs (although coriander
is considered a spice) in one plant. Cilantro is the green leaves
and coriander is the
Coriandrum sativum. Cilantro, also called Chinese or Mexican parsley, is
used in Mexican and Asian cuisines, and is a major ingredient in salsa.
In spring after danger of frost has passed, plant seeds one inch
apart in rows 20 to 30 inches wide. Do not thin seedlings. Gather
the base the whole cluster or rosette of leaves after significant growth.
and seed stalks begin to form, leaves may still be harvested.
For coriander, allow the plant to flower and form seeds. Cut
the seed heads off when they start turning brown but before they
After drying, remove the inner hearts of the seed by rubbing in your
hands. Discard the green seed, stalks, and foliage, which have an off-taste.
sausage, cooked fruits, salads, and breads. It may be added whole or
crushed to sachets and potpourris.
Lavender flowers and foliage scent perfumes,
sachets, and potpourris. It may also be used to flavor cakes, frostings,
and vinegar. Lavender
perennial plant that often does not flower well until the second
year. Because it is
borderline hardy in our area, it must be located in a protected site
Winter mulch is helpful. ‘Munstead,’‘Hidcote,’ and ‘Lavender
Lady’ are hardier varieties.
For maximum fragrance harvest leaves and flowers just as the
last blooms on the stalk are opening. The aromatic oils peak at
Oregano is a hardy perennial. Only true Greek oregano has the
sweet pure flavor needed in cooking. True Greek oregano has small
flowers and is difficult
to reproduce from seed. Buy plants from a reputable source. Many
plants and seeds sold as oregano are its close cousin marjoram.
pink flowers and is inferior in taste. Leaves may be harvested
anytime but are most flavorful just before flowers open. Use
Thyme is a wonderful low growing perennial with a multitude of
fragrances and flavors. French or English thyme are best for
thymes are grown
for their ornamental or fragrance qualities.
Thyme is propagated by seed, division, and cuttings. Three
to four year old plants need to be divided or replaced because
Harvest when plants begin to bloom by cutting off the top
five to six inches of growth. Two or more crops may be
gathered during the
For peak quality herbs should be harvested in the morning
after the dew has dried. Clean leaves should not be washed,
of the essential
Dry herbs in a dark well ventilated area. Leave herb
leaves whole to preserve their flavor and aroma. Crush just before
herbs in airtight
containers. Under good conditions herbs, will retain
maximum flavor for two years. Exposure to light, heat, and air
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