Grow herbs for good taste and good health

Be it for decoration and aroma, to season and preserve foods, or for medicinal needs, herbs have been used since ancient times.

Story by Eleanor Fall

Herbs have been used since ancient times. Be it for decoration and aroma, to season and preserve foods, or for medicinal needs. Herbs need sun – at least four hours a day – and well-drained soil. The soil doesn’t have to be rich. Overly fertile soil may lead to lanky growth and produce less essential oil in the herbs. Most herbs only need 12 inches of soil for adequate root growth.

The following sampling of mighty eight herbs are edible favorites that grow well in the Lowcountry. All have been proven to be good neighbors in my herb garden and all but basil have wintered over every year. These herbs are also chosen because most cooks are familiar with them, they may be purchased locally and are easily cultivated.

The Mighty Eight

Invite herbs into your life. After all, herbs play an important role in every cuisine in the world. Herbs are prized for their flavor, but also open up another world of fragrance, and medicinal properties, real or imagined!

Basil: Plant each spring as it is tender. It is the summer ambassador and considered the “world’s favorite,” the perfect pot herb and a must for Italian tomato dishes.

Chives (garlic or onion): Make a nice hedge in the garden to use when a mild onion favor is desired. A must for vichyssoise. The light purple edible flower has a mild onion flavor.

Lemon Verbena: A substitute for lemon or mint. A nice surprise when added to poultry, fish or stuffing. Makes a pleasant tea and is perfect for potpourri.

Oregano: The calling card for Greek and Italian cuisine, the pizza and marinara sauce herb. Grows in mounds with tiny pink flowers. Contains more antioxidant phenolic compounds than any other culinary herb. A real powerhouse!

Parsley: It mixes well with many other herbs. Used in all meals with the exception of dessert. We know it as the ubiquitous garnish, but before your plate is whisked away, chew a sprig to refresh your breath and get a dose of Vitamin C.

Rosemary: An evergreen tree in the Lowcountry! Versatile in sweet and savory dishes. With its piney floral bouquet spikes it needs to be finely chopped in dishes. Yes, for lamb, but try it in your favorite shortbread recipe. The white, pink or pale blue blooms are fine edible salad toppings.

Sweet bay: The aromatic leaves are the complete background for flavorful soups and stews. The bay leaf is the symbol of victory and valor. A bay leaf in the pantry will keep your flour and dry foods pest free.

Thyme: The many varieties may be used sparingly as to not overpower soups, clam chowder, oven-fried potatoes, butters and more. Contains a healthy number of flavonoids.

Let the Good Thyme Grow

Story by Nancy Hudak

Start the new year with a project that’s fun and rewarding and will add fresh ingredients to your meals. In a terra cotta pot, start an herb garden mobile enough to move from room to room, depending on the sunlight.

[1] Choose a pot at least 12 inches in diameter (or more, depending on how many herbs you plan to include). Terra cotta is preferable to plastic or ceramic for better drainage.

[2] Next, place broken terra cotta pieces or river stones on the bottom of your pot, also to insure good drainage.

[3] Fill your pot with good potting soil, leaving about 5 inches for the placement of your herbs, filling in the spaces with potting soil.

Herbs do well in the Lowcountry as long as they are protected from intense sun. Basil, ruffled and flat parsley, cilantro, chives, oregano and mint are all good starters. Tarragon, on the other hand, does better in the winter and is a great addition to chicken and fish recipes. As your plants grow, you’ll feel proud while you snip your fresh herbs to enhance your lunches and dinners.

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