Many herbs can easily be grown in a backyard garden. If you're just starting to grow herbs, pick a few favorites, try them out and add more every year. If you're in the mood to experiment, choose herbs that have multiple functions, such as cooking, medicinal purposes and household cleaning.
Chives have slender green to bluish-green leaves similar to those of green onions. They grow in clumps from small bulbs underground and produce a pretty pink to lavender flower on a long edible stalk. When you need some, just snip a bit off with scissors.
Chives have a mild onion flavor. Fold chopped chives in scrambled eggs or sprinkle some on a grilled cheese sandwich. Chives can be added to salads and make a great garnish for cream soups. Chives have a great deal of vitamin A, C, iron and other minerals that are good for your body.
Like garlic, chives have antibacterial properties, so you can also wash down your counter tops with some home-brewed chive tea to help get rid of germs.
There are two types of parsley: curly leaf and Italian flat leaf. The curly variety is mostly used as garnish for food and also looks great as a border in the flower garden. The Italian variety has a stronger flavor and is more often used in cooking.
Parsley can be planted from seed soon after the last frost, but seeds take about eight weeks to grow. It's easier to buy parsley plants and put them in the garden.
Parsley is full of iron and Vitamins A, B and C. It is also a diuretic, so a cup of parsley tea will usually get rid of any excess water retention. It also inhibits mold---try periodically rinsing the shower or bathtub with parsley tea to prevent mold from growing.
Fresh basil's aromatic, slightly licorice-like taste is prized in Mediterranean and Southeast Asian cooking.
There are many varieties of basil, but Sweet Basil is the most popular. Basil is in the mint family, so it looks a bit like mint, with a long squarish stem and large green leaves. Basil must be planted every year. Plant it with tomato and pepper plants to enhance their flavors. To prolong the harvest of the leaves, always pinch back basil flowers, which will attract bees when they bloom.
Basil is the main ingredient for pesto---use a food processor to combine fresh basil leaves with olive oil, Parmesan, garlic, pine nuts and salt. Fresh basil is also delicious paired with fresh tomatoes---for instance, layer slices of fresh mozzarella with slices of tomatoes, sprinkle with basil leaves and drizzle with olive oil for a classic Italian Caprese salad. Basil tea is great for upset stomachs.
Thyme and Marjoram
Both thyme and marjoram are low-growing plants used mostly in cooking. There are 60 different types of thyme, but most cooks prefer either common or English thyme.
Space both thyme and marjoram plants about six inches apart. Both herbs enjoy sunny locations but will take partial shade. Thyme can be planted in clumps, and it will come back year after year. Marjoram will have to be replanted each year.
Add thyme to enhance the flavor of stews and soups. Marjoram has a flavor of mild oregano, so it can be used as an oregano substitute. It's also wonderful in cheese soup or on lamb and fish. It it thought to have calming properties, and marjorum tea will help ease headaches.
Thyme also gets rid of everyday mold, because it is a natural antiseptic that kills the mold spores (somewhat like penicillin kills infection). Sponging down the shower with thyme oil or thyme tea will get rid of a mold infestation after a few applications. (It will not do well with black mold, however.) Thyme tea was used as an antibiotic in World War I, when thyme tea was soaked in sphagnum moss and placed on the wounds of soldiers.