Welcome to my herb garden

Once the snow melted last winter (2008), one of the first things I did at our new place was to dig an herb garden. Long ago, my father taught me how to man a pitchfork and flip over deep turves to make a garden patch. The effect is like rototilling, but way more chunky. (And with zero carbon emissions!) I pitchforked up a nice rectangular spot and put in a bunch of perennial herbs, plus essential annuals like basil, cilantro and parsley. I filled in the bare spots with nasturtiums (my favorite flower to grow) and by August had a riot of herbs and blooms.

This year, one of the best parts of the spring has been watching those perennial herbs come back so quickly and vigorously. And I'd been plotting my next round of plantings all winter, so I soon put in a bunch more herbs--no more room for nasturtiums! Here is a virtual tour of my herb garden, with random thoughts on the plants and their uses.

Parsley. I thought this was an annual, but it came back this year totally unfazed by being heaped under 5 feet of snow for months. I love parsley in many things, especially burgers (with garlic) and any kind of salad (green, grain, pasta, you name it). My kid eats it straight off the plant.

Winter savory. This was a find at the farmer's market last year. I don't know anything about savories--winter or summer--but this herb rocks. I gave a leaf to A. to smell recently and she said it smelled like every other herb combined--like Italian seasoning in one plant. Sounds right. This seems very versatile in any cooked dish. (It seems a little too strong to eat raw.)

Rosemary. This is a replacement because last year's plant didn't winter over. I got a different kind this time. Before I had a small woody plant, but the new one is called "prostrate." I assume this is because it tends to flop over and spread out rather than being like a mini shrub. I'll put rosemary with any kind of red meat and it's also great in soups and stews.

Hooray for chives! Whenever I need an oniony kick, I rely on these babies.
This is another one my daughter likes to eat "on the hoof."

This oregano wintered over very well. The leaves are large and I chop them up for sauces, toppings or anything Italian or Greek that I'm making.

My variegated oregano didn't do as well this winter, but it's recovering. It doesn't seem as substantial as the regular oregano in flavor or in size. The leaves are small and not as juicy. It seems more decorative than culinary, but I'll probably start using it once it perks up more.

Marjoram is a relative of oregano and I absolutely love it with chicken.
Don't know why, but I do.

Thyme. This is a mainstay. When I'm picking herbs for a dish, I'll usually throw in some thyme for the heck of it. This has never been a mistake.

Lemon thyme is awesome. As I described last fall, this can be a real superstar in a soup and I believe it has a special affinity for poultry.

Tarragon. This is a new plant and I'm just getting to know it. I've had a prejudice against tarragon ever since a batch of chicken chasseur made me queasy back in 1997. But I'm giving it another try. Like winter savory, this is another herb I'd probably only use cooked, as it seems like it has powerful essential oils that can really develop with heat. That said, I guess tarragon vinegar is rather popular--maybe I should give that a try sometime.

Sage. Another new plant. I put one in last year and it was overpowered by the nasturtiums and didn't even survive the summer. But it's essential for my chicken saltimbocca, and also for sage butter over ravioli, so here it is again. YUM.

Garlic chives. I didn't even know these existed until I read about them in my dim sum cookbook a few years ago. Then Gramma J. gave me a small pot last year and I was very excited! I'm still not sure what they are, but I use them in any Chinese type dish I'm making... or if I have a recipe that calls for garlic and I'm fresh out.

Lavender. One of my favorite smells in the whole wide world. Lavender makes me happy. I adore dried lavender in Herbes de Provence so I figure that gives me free rein to put it into just about anything. I think it is yummy with eggs, for example. It looks like my lavender will flower this year and I can't wait. (The place where I get most of the herb plants has about 10 different kinds of lavender. It's one of my big dreams to someday have a plot that's only lavender--as many varieties as I can find.
If I have to live in Provence for that to happen, so be it.)

Dill. This seems like an obvious thing to have in one's herb garden but I kept forgetting about it. This plant has only been there for about a week. (Actually there are 4 little plants that I set close together.) A natural with seafood, I also use dill in Greek dishes and, of course, dips.

Cilantro. When I was a kid we called this "coriander," but that now seems to be just the name of the dried seeds, and the green stuff is cilantro. I am on a learning curve with cilantro. I like it, but its uses don't come naturally to me. I'm learning that I like it in anything that also goes with avocado--like a chicken wrap, guacamole, quesadilla, etc.

Basil. It's just indispensable. Fabulous in salads, especially anything with tomatoes or fresh mozzarella. Perfect for pizza and pasta. Excellent sprinkled over a stirfry. Outstanding in a burger. If I get lucky, I'll be able to make my own pesto this year. I should probably buy more basil plants, come to think of it. Sacred to Gopal (Krishna) I might add.

St. John's Wort. This brings me to the medicinal section of my herb garden. SJW is such a sunny, healing and happy plant. I haven't done much with mine yet but I am looking forward to those brilliant 5-rayed suns rising soon and inspiring me to work with them. I should infuse some oil with the flowers for getting through those dark months this winter. I hear the oil becomes red because of the brilliant flowers and juice.

Lemon balm. I hear this is a very gentle herb that is great for children. I'm hoping to make some lemon balm iced tea this summer. So far, I just love to smell the crushed leaves.

Rue. I took an herbal class once and found rue very interesting, but I am not sure at all what to do with it! It has interesting blue-green leaves--see below.

Here is rue close up. Perhaps as an English major I just can't
resist a plant named "rue." Do you have favorite uses for rue? Let me know!

Catnip. This isn't for us, it's for the neighborhood felines. Apparently a certain percentage of cats go mad for catnip. Our cats seem to like it when it's picked and put on the ground--then they'll roll in it and rub their faces in it with abandon. They ignore the plant itself though. But other cats don't hesitate. We've come home on a few occasions to strange cats being rather intimate with our catnip plant--rolling in it and drooling and such. Sometimes I go out and the whole plant looks rather flattened and vigorously adored. It seems to love it though--by the end of last summer the plant was the biggest in the herb garden with many 3-foot branches radiating in all directions. I'm giving it wide berth this year so it can spread out--and help us meet some new cats!

Yarrow. I've always liked the idea of yarrow, the look of yarrow and the smell of yarrow. But I rarely use yarrow. I associate it with healing crises--having a gash or a bruise or just a terrible day and needing something fast. When that happens I'll run out and get some yarrow for a poultice or perhaps a tea. I made some yarrow beer once, said to be hallucinogenic or otherwise psychoactive in large quantities. It was perfectly pleasant, though I avoided having large quantities... It's a spreader though, and I'm already rooting it out of my chives and oregano, which are neighbors.

Thanks for checking out my herb garden. I'm very proud of it. I like to go out and just sit with the plants and admire them. Please comment if there are any herbs or herbal uses you'd like to share! A final note: You'll notice the complete lack of mint in my garden. I'd love to have some, but I saw what it did to my mother's raised bed (TOTALLY TOOK OVER), so I'm holding off until I can figure out some isolated corner that will be all mint.


ValleyWriter said...

Beautiful herb garden! I don't really have any uses to share, but I did want to say that I'd love to hear your recipe for yarrow tea. My mom gave me some yarrow for my garden and I didn't even know it was an herb. (It was green, so I planted it - that about sums up my gardening skills.)

Anonymous said...

Nate and I were just admiring your herb garden--wow! You've got it all!
Here's Nate's 2-cents: "Couldn't you just keep the mint in a pot outside?"

Looking forward to reading your recipes made with this herb bounty :)


"Prof. Kitty" said...

VW: For yarrow tea you could just make an infusion--pour hot water over a generous handful of leaves and leave for at least 20 minutes. It's intense, so something to be taken medicinally for a specific purpose--if you ask me. I think the Latin name "Achillea millefolium" says a lot; that's Achillea as in Achilles, so think of yarrow as good for soldiering on, sucking it up, stopping the pain. A book I have says it's good for fevers, digestion, UTIs & cramps among many other things!

Emily: Nate has a good point! Do you think mint could escape from a container?! It makes me nervous just being anywhere near!