If you’ve ever purchased fresh herbs from a grocery store, you know how relatively expensive they can be. For the same amount of money (usually $2 or $3) that you would spend on a single pack of fresh herbs, you could instead purchase a small plant to grow in your own container or garden instead. Starting an herb garden is easy and very affordable. It is also very rewarding to grow your own herbs; when a recipe calls for fresh basil, or perhaps fresh rosemary, you can simply walk to your back deck or yard to take a clipping. Some herbs are easier to grow than others. Here are a few that are perfect for beginners:
Basil is perhaps one of the easiest herbs to grow and also one of the most useful. Just think about how many Italian recipes would be enhanced by a little fresh basil. And what would a Caprese salad be without fresh basil? Basil needs good-quality soil and lots of sun to thrive. It makes a perfect container plant. Water basil plants when the soil feels dry to the touch just beneath the surface of the soil. Basil is quite hardy. If it needs more water, you will notice it starting to wilt. That’s your cue to water it. Once it has gotten water, it will usually perk right up within a few hours with no harm done to the plant. Basil likes to be pruned. Don’t hesitate to take substantial clippings from the plant. It will surprise you how quickly it grows back. In fact, most gardeners quickly find themselves overrun with so much basil that they make big batches of pesto for the freezer. Imagine how nice it would be to have homemade pesto sauce in the middle of winter! Basil should not be allowed to flower; if it flowers, the plant will focus too much of its energy on the flowering and will stop producing new leaves and shoots. Some cooks also think the leaves lose flavor if the plant is allowed to go to seed. So simply trim off the heads before they flower to keep your plant in tip-top shape.
Rosemary is a strongly flavored herb that adds huge flavor to all sorts of dishes. It goes especially well with poultry and lamb. Better yet, rosemary is another herb that is extremely low-maintenance and easy to care for. Rosemary likes dry soil, and it can even tolerate mediocre, somewhat sandy soil. As long as you are careful not to over-water rosemary, the plant should thrive. If the needles begin to wilt or turn brown, you’ll know that a watering is past due. Rosemary likes to be in the sun for most of the day.
There are many varieties of mint, but the most commonly known ones are peppermint and spearmint. These are both good starter herbs for beginners, but almost any mint plant will be easy to grow – almost too easy to grow! Mints can run wild and take over gardens if you let them. It’s important, therefore, to grow mint either in a container and clip back any suckers that try to escape to the ground below, or to keep it segregated and pruned back in your herb garden, preferably in a container sunken into the ground to keep the roots from taking hold. Mint is one of the few herbs that enjoys being in the shade. It also prefers to be watered more often than an herb such as rosemary. Mints make excellent herbal teas. Simply clip a small handful of leaves, perhaps around 20 or so, and pour boiling water over the leaves. Let it steep for around 4 minutes, sweeten to taste, and enjoy. Peppermint tea can soothe an upset stomach, and spearmint tea is quite relaxing and refreshing. You can also add mint leaves to regular iced tea, use them to garnish desserts, or muddle them to make mint juleps or mojitos.
Oregano is another excellent culinary herb that is essential in many dishes. It is also easy to grow, and needs about as much sunshine and water as basil. It prefers well-drained soil, but you won’t need to add any fertilizer, compost, or mulch. A good rule of thumb for substituting fresh herbs for dried herbs in your cooking is to use around three times as much fresh herbs as the amount of dried herbs called for in the recipe.
Whichever herbs you choose to grow, you’ll find herb growing can be extremely rewarding. Fresh herbs are tastier and healthier than dried herbs because they have all of their nutrients intact. They will help take your cooking to new heights!