Although you can start any herb plant with seeds, I have always found it much easier to run to my local home improvement or garden store and buy some that are already well on their way. Depending on the amount of time it takes for the seeds to germinate, starting from seed could take several weeks or even months. You will find a vast array of herbs available all spring and summer at most home improvement stores.
If you decide to start from seed, consider filling an ice cream cone (cake cones, available at any grocery store) with planting soil and start your seed growing inside the cone. Once they are ready to transfer outside, just plant the whole cone (the cone is biodegradable and the perfect vessel to begin your seed).
Here are few tips for growing common herbs and using them in delicious dishes, not only all summer long but throughout the year.
Wait to plant until the soil and the nights in your location are consistently warm (let all of the cold winter nights pass before attempting to plant this beauty). Basil is a bit more persnickety when it come to the right conditions, so make sure you are setting your planting up for success. Full sun and well-drained soil are key. Do not over water. Make sure to let the soil dry out between waterings.
Pick leaves to harvest throughout the season. Perfect for pairing with your summer tomatoes in a caprese salad or making into pesto sauce and freezing in ice cube trays for later use. Take whatever is left over, put it in a dehydrator for a couple of hours and then crush it up. Transfer dried, crushed basil to a small spice container to use all year.
Oregano is a perennial which means if you plant it once, it will come back year after year for you to utilize. When it does, it will be bigger and stronger every year, so be ready for some amazing dishes from your harvest. It loves full sun and well drained soil. It doesn’t need a ton of water, so take care not to over water it.
Harvest all season long to sprinkle on meat while cooking, use in marinades and sauces, add to pizza or bread dough for amazing depth of flavor, or add to salads for a little flavor punch. Just as with the other herbs, feel free to dehydrate leaves for a couple of hours and use dried oregano all year long.
This is definitely one of my all-time favorites and most used herbs in my garden. Flat leaf parsley (Italian parsley) beats curly parsley in robust flavor and mouthfeel every time. Extremely cold hardy, it loves full sun and being planted in pots that allow drainage. Parsley is a biennial, which means it typically lives for two years and will also self-seed.
Harvest all season long and use in just about anything. Make some killer chimichurri sauce and freeze in ice cube trays for later use, add to soups, stews and salads, chop fine and herb encrust some proteins for grilling or baking, or cut up with your fresh summer tomatoes along with some mint, lemon juice, olive oil and suman for an amazing tabouleh (one of my favorite things to do with my parsley harvest all summer long).
Plant outside after the chance of freezing nights are over. Rosemary is technically an evergreen so it will be OK all year outside as long as it doesn’t get too cold. It loves full sun and hates to be over watered. It’s actually a drought-tolerant plant, so make sure not to over water.
Use rosemary as a seasoning in tons of different dishes like soups, casseroles and stews. Rosemary adds a distinct depth of flavor with chicken and other poultry, lamb, pork, steaks and fish (it complements salmon like none other). It also goes well with grains, mushrooms, onions, peas, potatoes and spinach.
I love to do a roasted fingerling potato, mushroom and onion dish to serve with chicken, steak or fish. Simply slice the potatoes, mushroom and onions into bite size pieces. Add a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and about ¼ cup of chopped fresh rosemary. Roast in the oven on a on a parchment paper- lined baking sheet at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Serve with a dollop of crème fraiche…to die for.
Thyme is one of the easiest and least finicky herbs to grow, and you are certain to have lots of success with this plant. Thyme is a perennial and will grow in almost any type of soil. It prefers full sun but will likely do well in just about any conditions. Another one of my favorites is lemon thyme, which has a lemony, fruity aroma and is amazing when used for cooking fish or poultry.
Thyme can be easily dehydrated and used as a dry herb as well as fresh for garnishing, adding to soups and stews, sprinkling on fish and poultry. It also gives just the perfect hint of flavor to a compound butter or bread dough.
Jacqui Renager is a cooking instructor based in Virginia Beach. Learn more at CookingwithJacqui.com.