Everyone loves summer and the fresh foods that flood countertops as the season unfolds. From fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers straight from the garden to the abundance of everything fresh-picked at your local farmers’ market, these are the months that ignite the senses and bring out the creative cook in us all. When it comes time to plant, pick, or load up from the farm stand, don’t forget what spices up any meal or drink—fresh herbs.
Sure, you have jars filled with an assortment of herbs piled in one drawer or cupboard. Some may have been in there for years, used for certain dishes, if ever. Maybe there are others you use frequently to create your secret sauce or chili. Regardless of how often you use them or with what, there is a huge difference in dried store-bought herbs and fresh picked herbs.
Some may be intimidated at the thought of planting and harvesting fresh herbs or overwhelmed with the idea of using a giant bunch of basil. Don’t be. They really aren’t all that labor intensive. Just like most plants, the right light and water is all it takes to see growth. When it comes to snipping the plants, the basic rule of thumb is to never take more than a third of the plant. Once you snip a few leaves, you can simply rinse them real quick and let them air dry on a paper towel. Now, the question many ask—what do I do with them?
Here’s a few of the most common, easy to grow herbs for your garden, containers, or even kitchen window, along with ideas for use:
Parsley: Parsley isn’t just for a garnish. It is actually packed full of vitamin C and packs a punch when used fresh. Snip entire leaves and throw in a salad. It can also be added to any sautéed vegetables. Many people use larger bunches as the base for a salad without any lettuce. With the right dressing, this can be a great lunch.
Basil: Basil pairs awesome with the tomatoes from the garden. I love slicing a tomato, putting an entire basil leaf on top, adding some olive oil, and you have a perfect appetizer or snack. You can add mozzarella on top, too.
Lavender: Lavender smells incredible when you rub the leaves and flowers between your fingers. But, what do you do with afterwards? Some people eat lavender, in the form of jellies and teas. I’ve never tried that before. But, I do take a bunch that has bloomed and wrap twine around it then hang it upside down. Once it dries out, it can be tossed in a pot of boiling water. Poof. The entire house will smell like lavender. No need to keep buying expensive sprays or candles. You can enjoy the real deal for pennies compared to store-bought scents.
Sage: Sage is another herb that dries well. I save it, dry it, and put it in a mason jar. Once thanksgiving rolls around, it gets thrown in the stuffing. It taste stronger and better than anything you can buy. You can also add full leaves to soups in the fall. It pairs nicely with chicken dishes.
Peppermint: Peppermint is the easiest to take care of, harvest, and continue to grow year after year. In fact, a small peppermint plant can be invasive in some gardens so I only grow it in pots now. It can be used freshly picked in a tea ball. This version of peppermint tea is far better than any tea in a box. It can also be chewed, like an after dinner mint. It was, in fact, the original after dinner mint. This was because it soothes stomach problems. After you eat anything that may cause heartburn or other issues, go grab a sprig and eat it fresh. You can save money by never buying Pepto again if you have fresh mint lying around. Plus, you can add it straight to water. No need to buy fancy flavored water with fresh mint, cucumber or strawberries to add.
Herbs are healthy, versatile, and make all foods and drinks more lively and effective. The scents, taste, and feel of fresh herbs in any dish, even in the air, can make summer dishes and drinks all the more refreshing and fun. Give herb planting a try this summer and experiment with which flavors and uses work best in your kitchen.
Karri L. Moser is a freelance writer who has worked as both a newspaper and radio news reporter. She has freelanced for magazines, marketing firms, web sites, and various online publications. Karri is also a fiction writer who has completed one novel and hopes to dive into fiction full-time one day.
Karri lives in Maine with her husband, two teens, two dogs, a cat, and flock of hens. When Karri isn’t writing, she loves to paint, garden, explore the coast and lighthouses, and run.