The important thing to remember about growing herbs is that they are relatively easy to cultivate and will do well as long as they have good drainage and ample sun. Culinary herbs add great beauty to the landscape and provide variety and flavor to any recipe in which they are used.
It’s been over a year since I moved from Montana to the sunny and somewhat warmer (or considerably, depending on the day) climes of Northern New Mexico. Despite the passing of those 13 months, I still mourn the loss of my rosemary. After all, we’d grown close considering all the time I’d spent moving them around, indoors and out, to avoid the coldest weather but to guarantee they had enough sun. They provided many a sprig or just a flat leaf or three (rosemary, as all cooks know, is strongly flavored) to slide in under the skin of chicken or to flavor a pork roast stew.
I carefully packed my two deeply-potted plants when we left and tucked them into the back of the hatchback with the dog for the long trip. They survived it just fine (the dog, too). I had the perfect new home for them, a sun porch with southwest exposure. They seemed happy enough for a while but then started to wilt. I figured the sun was drying them out and gave them more water. Big mistake. (more…)
In many parts of the country, the beginning of August is the time to harvest and dry herbs. Many leafy herbs have budded and are ready to flower… the perfect time to harvest for drying. Herbs at this stage — just ahead of flowering — have the most flavorful, aromatic oils. Some herbs — basil, rosemary, lemon balm, parsley and rosemary — can be harvested multiple times over the course of the summer. It’s best to harvest in the morning after the dew has dried. Inspect your pickings carefully for dead or diseased leaves or signs of mold. Most herbalists recommend rinsing herbs and gently shaking them dry. We’ve always felt that rinsing removes valuable oils and try to keep it at a minimum, especially after a previous day’s rain.
Herbs with a lower moisture content — oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, savory, dill, sage — do well with hanging and air drying. They may be simply inverted, the stems bound together by string, and hung from a rafter or any overhang that allows circulation around the entire bunch. Keep your herbs from exposure to sunlight. Check frequently for signs of mold or mildew. (more…)
When the abundant moisture of spring has given way to drier summer conditions, it’s time to plant oregano. Both culinary and decorative — it’s delicate blossoms will attract pollinators to your garden as well as make for attractive additions to salads — oregano is one of the most rewarding herbs to grow. It can be started from seed, but buying plants is the easiest way to get them started (they can also be propagated from cuttings or from root divisions). Oregano is hardy to zone 5 and can be overwintered in zone 4 with a thick covering of straw or mulch. It’s a perennial and will provide tasty leaves and flowers for years before it becomes too woody and sharply flavored. To encourage longevity, cut plants back almost to the ground at the end of the growing season. Often grown in containers, oregano also grows well in terraces and rock gardens. A Mediterranean plant, it likes full sun but will tolerate some shade, as I found out growing it in an old tub under a pear tree in the Pacific Northwest. Oregano isn’t fussy about soil conditions but does require good drainage. It needs little water and is perfect for moisture-sensitive xeriscapes.
Attractive as it can be, oregano plants should be chosen for flavor. Best way to know if the oregano you’re buying is worthy? Pluck a leaf or two and taste it. Warm summer days and plenty of sunshine will intensify the flavor of oregano but even the best conditions won’t improve the taste of an inferior oregano. The commonly available Greek or wild oregano (Oiganum vulgare) has a nice sharp flavor. Italian or Sicilian oregano is a cross-breed with marjoram (close cousin and often mistaken for oregano) and is great in tomato sauces and on pizzas. (more…)