There are many reasons why you should grow your own culinary herbs. The most common herbs for cooking are easy to grow both indoors and outdoors and take up little room. They look great on a patio or deck and, if you are really short of space, you can grow a small garden, in pots, on a sunny windowsill.
By growing your own herbs, you will have fresh produce at your fingertips. It certainly beats going along to the grocery store to pick up a few lackluster bunches.
Common Herbs for Cooking
Here are ten of the most popular and widely used common herbs for cooking:
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil is fragrant, beautiful and versatile. As a member of the mint family, basil is a compact-growing plant that produces a sweet fragrance and stalks of edible white flowers.
Fresh basil leaves provide flavor to many recipes and they are one of the main ingredients of pesto. The leaves are generally added last to a recipe, as cooking hugely diminishes the flavor. Similarly, much of the flavor is lost by drying the leaves.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Chives are the milder cousin of the onion and are easy to grow in a herb garden. The herb looks like fine blades of grass and is commonly grown in herb gardens for its pleasing appearance and ability to deter unwanted garden bugs. The violet flowers are high in nectar and very attractive to bees.
When used in cooking it infuses a mild onion like flavor and it is regularly used as a garnish for soups and stocks. The flowers are also edible and are sometimes used in salads.
Coriander (Coriandrum Sativum)
Coriander has a lemony aroma and taste and all parts of the plant are edible. The constituent parts of the plant though have very different tastes.
The seeds are typically ground and used as a flavor-filled spice. The leaves, which are more commonly known as Cilantro, provide a bitter lemony punch of flavor to soups and bread.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon Balm is a perennial herb belonging to the mint family. The easy-care nature of this herb plant and lemony fragrance and taste make it an ideal plant to grow in a container garden. Plants grown in partial shade will be larger and more flavorful.
Chopped leaves can be sprinkled onto a salad or used to flavor baked items, such as cakes or scones. A more common use is as an herbal tea: traditionally to settle the stomach and to aid relaxation. A leaf can also be used as a garnish to a cool summer drink.
Mint is a fragrant perennial herb that will both beautify your garden and enhance the flavor of food and beverages. The mint plant produces white, pink, or purple flowers and releases its fragrance anytime it’s touched.
There are a number of varieties of mint, each having a subtle difference in flavor. The most common ones are spearmint and peppermint. Mint can be used whenever a mint flavor is required. In many cultures it is a traditional accompaniment to lamb dishes. A leaf also makes a great garnish for a cold drink.
Mint is best suited to being grown in a container as the plants can spread very quickly. If planted in open soil it can become invasive and difficult to control.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Oregano is a fast-growing plant that produces small, attractive leaves. Harvest oregano often and pinch off flower buds as soon as they appear. If the plant flowers, the flavor of the oregano will decrease.
Drying the leaves enhances the flavor. It has become more popular as it is a staple ingredient in Italian cuisine and has been referred to as the ‘pizza herb’.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Parsley makes a great companion to other herbs plants as well as to many recipes. It has bright green leaves and grows best in full sun and moist but not soggy soil.
Parsley is one of the most common herbs for cooking and is widely used in European, Middle Eastern and American cuisine. A sprinkling of fresh chopped leaves is commonly used as a garnish on boiled or mashed potatoes as well as on a wide variety of meat and fish dishes. It is often one of the key elements in a bouquet garni, a tied bundle of herbs, that is used to flavor soups or casseroles during cooking and then discarded.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
Rosemary enjoys morning sun and afternoon shade. This fragrant perennial shrub has needle-like leaves and attractive blue flowers. It will thrive in a container with plenty of drainage holes.
Given the right conditions, Rosemary can grow to a height of several feet. Regular pruning is required and it is possible to trim the plant into decorative shapes. Stem cuttings root easily and can be used to propagate new plants.
Fresh or dried leaves are added to roasted meats and vegetables to accentuate the flavor. They add an aroma that has a hint of charred wood, reminiscent of a barbeque. Rosemary should be used sparingly though as the taste can become overpowering.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is a long established culinary and medicinal herb. It has grayish-green leaves that are long and narrow with a wrinkled top surface and fine hairs on the underside. The plant produces tall spikes of flowers that range in various colors, including white, pink, purple and blue.
Traditionally, sage has been regarded as one of the essential herbs and has a mention in the popular folk song “Scarborough Fair.” It has a tart, peppery taste and makes a great addition to many meat and fish dishes. In American and British cooking, it is one component of sage and onion stuffing that is often served with roast turkey or chicken, at Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is a perennial, evergreen herb, with small leaf clusters on a woody stem. It has long roots so this plant will need a little growing room. Use a container that holds at least a gallon of potting soil for growing thyme.
As a rule, thyme is used to flavor savory dishes such as braised or roasted meats and vegetables or soups. Depending on the specification of the recipe, it can be used as a whole sprig or as leaves. Thyme can be dried and stored for a long period; when dried it retains much of its flavor.
You certainly won’t regret having a supply of fresh culinary herbs close at hand.
By using these common herbs for cooking, you will be able to enjoy the more intense flavor of homegrown over store bought produce and save money in the process.
I hope that you have found this article helpful and maybe even found a new favorite culinary herb to add to your recipes.
See my article “Growing Herbs – Start a Patio Herb Garden” for more on growing herbs.
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