Growing and Using Herbs

In The Garden

Herbs need a well drained, fertile soil to do their best. Prepare the soil as you would for a vegetable garden. Remove weeds, cultivate, and add organic material or fertilizer to your garden. Most herbs need a sunny location – If you do not have a bright spot, try planting them into patio pots – an advantage to this is that the pots can be brought inside in the fall. You can also place them close to your door for easy access while cooking your favourite dishes. Don’t plant your herbs outside until all the risk of frost has past. Dig a hole slightly bigger then the pot and scratch the root ball to loosen the roots. Place the plant in the hole and water thoroughly with a transplant fertilizer, as this promotes good root growth.

Harvest and Storage 

Herbs can be harvested at any time through the summer months as long as you leave at least one third of the growth behind. When cooking with herbs – the general rule is to use twice as much fresh as dried. If storing herbs for winter, the best time to harvest them is just before they flower – This is when their oil content is highest and peak flavour is reached.
Although there are some perennial herbs, many of the herbs that grow here must be treated as annuals. Some of the herbs can be brought indoors in the fall. Dig up the herb and plant in a pot. Use soil-less planting mix and spray for insects. Once inside, place the herbs where they can get six hours of light each day. Fertilize with each watering and only water once the soil is dry.

Drying Herbs

The traditional way to preserve herbs is to cut their stems and hang them in bunches to dry upside down, here are some other ways that your herbs can be dried:

  1. Wash lightly and hang upside down in a brown paper bag (save your wine bottle bags!) – hanging upside down causes the essential oils to flow from the stems to the leaves where you want them
  2. Wash lightly, place on a cookie sheet (not more then 1″ deep) and dry in 180 degree oven for 2-4 hours
  3. Wash lightly, place on paper towels or a paper plate and microwave for 1-3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds
  4. Wash lightly, blot dry, then place in a shallow pan of non-oxidized salt – this will take 2-3 weeks
  5. Wash lightly, place on a cookie sheet and dry in the sun for a week or so
    When the herbs are dry store them in an air tight container. It is best to dry the herbs whole and then crush when using for the maximum flavour

Freezing Herbs

  1. Chop the herbs and place them into ice cube trays, fill with water or olive oil/canola oil and freeze. Put those frozen cubes into freezer bags and they are ready to go when your cooking!
  2. Another way is to place the whole leaves and stems in freezer bags – this way will result in freezer burn faster then if they were in oil or water

Our Favourite Herbs

Parsley
There are three types of parsley: Curled, Plain and Italian. Parsley is easy to grow and can be grown indoors or out. Use the leaves as fresh or dried in all cooking.

Dill
No garden is truly complete without dill. Leaves and flower heads are used in pickles, but also tastes great with new potatoes or carrots, in salads or on fish.

Chives
Chives are also easy to grow. It is easiest to harvest by cutting with scissors. Chives add flavour to soups, salad, egg and cheese dishes.

Thyme
Cooking thyme is best treated as an annual. Thyme needs a lot of sun, and is very easy to dry. Used best in meat dishes or teas.

Mint
There are many different kinds of mint, each having a different flavour. Curled – mild mint with attractive light green curled leaves. Spearmint – Best cooking mint. Excellent with carrots, peas, potatoes, and in mint sauces. Peppermint – Favourite for teas

Oregano
This herb is very attractive when flowering. Used best in tomato sauces and other Italian recipies.

Sage
Most often used in stuffing.

Cilantro
Fresh leaves are essential in Chinese and Mexican dishes. Seeds are used to flavour soups, chili and sauces.

Rosemary
Rosemary is a very popular herb that can be used in various ways. Fresh leaves are appealing in biscuits, dumplings, and poultry stuffing. It can also be used in making shampoos and facial rinses.

Marjoram
Flowers of marjoram attract honey bees and is popularly used to treat upset stomach and headaches.

Basil
Sweet basil is the most popular herb, its used in flavouring most foods.

Tarragon
It’s flavour is suggestive of anise or licorice. It can be added to various dishes including omelettes, poultry, and hollandaise sauce.

Hot Peppers
Used in many Mexican or Chinese foods to give that punch of flavour. Some varieties include Hungarian wax, Jalapeno and Cayenne.

Garlic
Plant this bulb in fall or very early spring. Garlic can be used to flavour a variety of foods and is commonly used in Mexican, Chinese and Greek dishes.