French herbs come from the Mediterranean region and are often used in French cuisine. They can be planted and cultivated in a plain herb garden outside the kitchen door or in a French style potager garden, popular beginning in the Middle Ages. French herbs create three different blends that are popular in cooking French foods.
The potager garden, meaning kitchen garden, started during the Medieval era. Nuns and monks in monasteries combined herbs, flowers and vegetables in small areas and used them for cooking and to make medicines. The plants chosen for the garden were picked not only for their uses, but for their aesthetic beauty. Instead of using green basil, a purple variety would also be introduced. All plants were placed in geometric beds to create beauty and often they were separated by color or shape. In the Renaissance, borders were placed around the beds and ornamentation, such as fountains or urns, were added.
Several herbs are used in French cooking. The most common are thyme, rosemary, basil, tarragon, marjoram, lavender, summer and winter savory, chives, parsley and chervil. Bay leaves and fennel were used less often.
Plant a French herb garden where it will get six to eight hours of sunlight each day the sun shines. The soil should drain well so that water does not sit on the garden after rain. A water source that can be reached by a hose is necessary to supplement rain water.
Planting and Growing
A French herb garden can be planted right in the ground with soil dug down about 6 to 8 inches with compost and peat moss added, or in raised beds filled with light soil. Basil, rosemary and summer savory are the only ones that will die with a frost. The rest are perennials that will return the next year. Parsley is a biennial that lasts two years, but generally re-seeds itself to give a constant supply. Lavender, rosemary and winter savory are dense and can be used as a border plant. Tarragon, thyme, summer savory and marjoram are low-growing plants and will grow down the sides of a raised bed and must be planted in the front of the garden to ensure they will not be shaded from the sun. Allow flowers to grow on lavender and chives. Flowers on other herbs should be pinched off so the plants will keep growing.
Blends from the Garden
Combine herbs from the garden to make three popular French blends. Grow these herbs together so they are easy to remember. Fines herbs goes with eggs, fish, potatoes and vegetables and is usually sprinkled on after cooking. It combines equal amounts of parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon. To make a Bouquet garni pick two or three sprigs of thyme, parsley and tarragon. Place them in cheesecloth with one bay leaf, tie it up and add to soups and stews. Herbs de Provence contains thyme, savory, rosemary, basil, marjoram and lavender with a few fennel seeds. It works well with meat, fish and poultry.