Using fresh herbs in the kitchen can add flavor and fresh taste to even the simplest of meals. By growing your own herbs you can enjoy not only caring for your plants and keeping them healthy, but also the luxury of collecting leaves and stems straight from the garden to the kitchen. Be sure to select herbs to grow and cook that you already use often in the kitchen as well as trying out new herbs you haven't had before.
Fill the bottom of a medium-size planter, 6 to 8 inches in diameter, with 1 inch of gravel followed by potting soil halfway to the top. If working in the ground, dig the full-sun bed area 8 inches deep to break up the soil. Add 3 inches of garden soil to the bed and mix well.
Remove your herb seedlings from their pots and place them in the prepared container or ground. Fill in around the herb in each pot with potting soil to bring the top of the root ball level with the rim of the pot. Work soil in around the herb in a garden bed to bring the root ball level with the surface of the garden. Set your pots in a full-sun area.
Water the plant well and thoroughly. Make an effort to keep the soil well moistened for the first few weeks after planting until you see new growth forming. Different plants will respond faster or slower, so watch your herbs to know when to cut back watering to only two or three times a week. It is time to water when the top inch of soil is dry.
Feed your herbs with a balanced fertilizer after planting unless your potting or garden soil contains a feed. Most herbs do well with a monthly liquid feed following the manufacturer's instructions, but check the label of your specific herb to determine the best time for feeding.
Harvest from your herbs as you need them according to the type of herb you are growing. While you will have to clip back the entirety of the stems to a certain height to harvest some herbs, you can gather few leaves at a time from others. Always use clean herb scissors for harvesting to keep disease potential down.
Cooking With Herbs
Use herbs chopped finely or coarsely, or use them whole depending on preference and recipe. One recipe may call for a whole sprig of rosemary, while another only requires 1 tsp. of leaves. Experiment with the flavor results you get from using your preferred herbs whole or chopped.
Start small in quantity when adding fresh herbs you aren't used to so you can get a feel for how much flavor you want in a dish. Half a teaspoon of a fresh herb may taste just right, while a whole teaspoon may make the meal overpowering and unenjoyable.
Cook fresh herbs for shorter amounts of time than you would for dried. Add herbs straight from the garden to cold meals such as potato salad or salsa, but add fresh herbs to stews only in the last hour of cooking.
Preserve fresh herbs if you aren't going to have a chance to use them by chopping them finely and putting them in an empty ice cube tray. Freezing the herbs in 1 to 2 tbsp. quantities can give you fresh taste in cooked meals in units that are easy to measure.
Harvest all usable herbs at the end of the growing season and dry in a warm, dry room away from direct sunlight to provide you with dried herbs over the winter months. Most herbs are fine to be tied in small bunches and hung upside-down for drying.
Add dry herbs to cooked dishes by sprinkling crushed leaves or ground powders into your meals as you cook. The concentration of herb oils intensifies when they are dried, so less dried herbs are needed than fresh. One tsp. of dried herbs can be the equivalent of 2 to 4 tsp. of the same herb when used fresh.
About this Author
Margaret Telsch-Williams is a freelance, fiction, and poetry writer from the Blue Ridge mountains. When not writing articles for Demand Studios, she works for WidescreenWarrior.com as a contributor and podcast co-host.