Monday, July 10, 2006

The Herb Garden

If you've ever grown mint, you know that it is prolific and can take over a garden bed. That's why herbalists recommend that mint be planted in pots where they will be contained. I learned this lesson the hard way and discovered that mint can overtake anything else in a garden bed! These days, I plant all my mint in pots. It's worked so well, that I've converted to planting all my herbs in pots as well. Basils, balms, dill, parsley, thyme, rosemary, lemon verbena, lemon grass and more fill pots in my herb garden this summer. It's not fancy, nor necessarily beautiful, but it's so convenient. Black, landscape fabric lines the bed so that I don't have to worry about weeds. The planters are placed in rows so I can move through them freely, trimming and gleaning as I need a specific herb, and an automatic watering system keeps them hydrated each day. They grow well in the sunny spot they've been set on and their fragrance is wonderful!

Cooking with fresh herbs is interesting and fun. Garden tomatoes with olive oil, chopped sweet onion, salt, and some fresh basil is a delight! Or boiled potatoes served with some fresh, chopped dill weed simply awakens the palette! Fresh mint tisane made from chocolate mint, pineapple mint, and peppermint. . .and a few leaves of the sweet herb stevia is refreshing! But, the herb garden is much more prolific than our family can ingest during the summer months. An herb- filled dehydrator or a tray of herbs set in the sunshine quickly dry herbs for later use. Once completely dried, they can be crumbled or whizzed in a Cuisinart and packaged in zip-lock baggies for winter use. If you prefer the flavor of fresh, briefly whiz the fresh herbs in a food processor (do not make mush) and then quickly transfer them to a small, airtight containter, making sure they are lightly packed. The herbs should not wet before processing. Freeze immediately. Then, when you are cooking and need that herb, remove from freezer, spoon out the amount of fresh herb you need, and place the container back in the freezer before it thaws out. You'll have fresh herbs all winter long. This method works especially well with lemon grass and basil.

Although an herb garden may not last year around in your climate (nor in mine), the benefits of these delicious plants can be ours each day of the year. If it's too late in the season to try a container herb garden, why not plant a kitchen, window-sill garden and see what you can do. Yummy! Fragrant! Fun! Enjoy!

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