Monday, April 24, 2017

Eight Great Herbs to Grow

If you are new to herbs or want to experiment with an herb garden here is a list of 8 great herbs to get you started.  Remember that less is more in your first garden so pick 5 of these and get started.  I have included a recipe with each one to get your interest in these flavorful beauties peaked.

All of the herbs listed here will be available at the Garden Club of Villa Park Annual Plant sale (May 12 & 13, 2017).  For details and preorder forms (due April 20), check out the club website.

Eight Great Herbs to Grow

Cilantro — is the International Herb Association Herb of the Year for 2017. Cilantro is a cooler weather herb, so some zones may not be able to grow it in the thick of summer. But fresh cilantro from the garden is so fragrant and flavorful, you'll wish you could grow it all year round!  Successive sow a few seeds every two weeks in the same area of your garden to insure leaves to harvest all summer long.  Besides putting Cilantro in your salsa try it in your rice.

Cilantro Lime Rice
1 1/2 cups basmati rice rinsed 3 times and drained
3 cups water
1 tsp. kosher salt
juice and zest of one lime
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, rough chopped

Bring the rice, water and salt to a boil. Lower heat to medium low and cover, simmering until rice is tender and water absorbed. Fluff gently with a fork and add juice and zest of one lime, and cilantro. Fluff with fork until the lime and cilantro are blended evenly.

Basil — Great cooked or fresh, even prolific amounts of basil can get used. Make caprese salads, toss it in pasta dishes and sauces, and whip up some fresh-from-the-garden pesto that you can use now or freeze for later. Basil likes light, but too much direct sun can scorch the leaves. Pinching it back (automatic if you use it often) promotes growth.

Caprese Salad

Serves 4 as an appetizer
8 ounces fresh mozzarella
2-3 tomatoes
1 bunch basil
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper

Slice the mozzarella and tomatoes into thin slices. Lay tomato slices on a platter, top with a leaf of basil, and then layer with mozzarella. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately.

Rosemary — This hardy plant is good-looking and versatile. Use it in sauces, roasts, cocktails, and more.  Plant in a pot and bring in for the winter, as it is not hardy below Zone 8.  I am obsessed with herbal cocktails this year so I have this wonderful cocktail for you to try.

Cucumber-Rosemary Gin and Tonic

1 cucumber
1 lime
3 sprigs rosemary
2 oz. Hendrick's Gin
4 oz. tonic water

Peel one half of a cucumber, and slice a lime into eight wedges. In a highball glass, add three slices of peeled cucumber, 1 sprig rosemary, juice from a lime wedge and 1 ounce gin. Muddle with the back of a spoon.

Strain through a mesh strainer into a second highball glass. Add several cubes of ice, and three slices of unpeeled cucumber. Top with remaining gin and tonic, and serve garnished with rosemary sprigs.

Thyme — I especially love thyme in potatoes (mashed or roasted) and in a lemon butter rub on roast chicken. This small-leafed herb packs a lot of flavor and is called for in many common recipes.  We grow it as an edging and also among the stones in the path because it is low growing and can handle the foot traffic.

Lemon-Thyme BruschettaServes 10 as an appetizer

1 baguette; thinly sliced
8 ounces ricotta cheese
1 lemon; zested
Freshly cracked black pepper
8 springs fresh thyme
sea salt; optional
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Mix together ricotta and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Toast baguette slices in the oven for 5-7 minutes until slightly browned and warm. Spread liberally with seasoned ricotta. Drizzle with honey, sprinkle with thyme. Serve warm.

Oregano — A kitchen staple, oregano from your herb garden will definitely get used in sauces, roasts, dressings, and more.  There are many varieties so always taste yours to make sure you get the flavor you want before bringing home from the garden shop.

Oregano Salad Dressing
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tsp. fresh oregano leaves, minced
1 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh basil, minced (or 1 tsp. dried)
2 cloves garlic, cut in half, skewered on a toothpick
3/4 cup oil

Combine all ingredients, except oil in a jar. Let marinate in refrigerator for 24 hours. Remove garlic. Add oil and shake vigorously. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Chives — Chives are nice in eggs, breakfast casseroles, in mashed potatoes with sour cream, and more. Chives' pom-pom-like purple flowers give your herb garden a nice touch of interest as well. And the flowers make a great herbal vinegar.  Chopped fresh, chives are a great addition to another spring item, radishes.  Spread some cream cheese on your fresh radishes and sprinkle with chopped chives for a wondrous garden snack.

Parsley — Throw it in sauces and salads. Parsley may well be one of the most ubiquitous herbs. It's a little more delicate than some of the others, but worth it to grow, for sure. Fresh parsley is also a surprising natural beauty ingredient that can promote circulation and has antiseptic qualities. Combined with lemon juice, the Perfect Parsley Toner makes a powerful skin toner and purifier.

Perfect Parsley Toner
1 cup water 
1/4 cup chopped parsley 
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Bring water to a boil. Place parsley in a clean heatproof bowl and pour boiling water over it. Allow mixture to cool completely, then strain out solids and mix in lemon juice. Pour into a clean, airtight container. 

To use: Apply to your face with a clean cotton pad after cleansing.

Lemon Balm – Although in the mint family it is not nearly as aggressive as some mint plants can be.  You still may want to contain it in a pot.  Lemon balm is a great seasoning for chicken, fish and vegetables.  You can put the fresh leaves in a salad or toss them with fruit.  The best way to use them is in lemonade.

Lemon Balm Tea Lemonade
For those who are still a bit leery of tisanes, try this citrus drink and enjoy all the curative and relaxing properties of lemon balm too!

3 cups loosely packed lemon balm leaves
6 cups hot water
Juice of 4 lemons (about 1 cup)
3 Tbls. light honey

Pack the leaves into a 2-quart wide mouthed jar or pitcher, using a wooden spoon to bruise them lightly to release their aroma.  Pour the water over the leaves and let them stand for about an hour.  Strain and discard the leaves, then add the lemon juice and honey.  Stir or shake before serving hot or chilled with sprigs of lemon balm for garnish.

You can make this recipe with dried lemon balm.  Use 3/4 cup dried lemon balm leaves, crumbled and increase the water by 1 cup.

All of the herbs listed here will be available at the Garden Club of Villa Park Annual Plant sale.  For details and preorder forms, check out the club website

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