The Kitchen Garden: Culinary Herbs
It’s tempting to think of herbs as the accessories of the garden—beautiful trinkets yet entirely unnecessary—but that would be underestimating these core essentials of both the kitchen and the vegetable patch.
Herbs are companions in the most holistic sense of the word. What traditionally pairs well in the kitchen also partners up effectively in the garden—coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally. Basil, for example, enriches the flavor of tomatoes and can also deter insects when the two are planted together. Chives repel aphids, so a fistful planted in the carrot patch is as welcome as snippets tossed atop a buttery bowl of carrot soup. Tarragon is a welcome neighbor to just about any vegetable—plate or plot.
The antimicrobial and antifungal effects of herbs should be reason enough to fit them into your garden plan. Garlic, thyme, oregano and just about any herb that has an intense fragrance has antibacterial properties. In short, all food is healthier with a sprinkling of herbs.
In the garden:
Plant the basics like a Genovese basil, flat-leaf parsley, old-school oregano and an ever-expanding colossus of lemon balm. Cilantro is a must. Dill is a no-brainer. Rosemary is a challenge in our zone, but not optional in the kitchen.
For the curious grower, run at least four oddball basils in your program. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to do with them. Raise tulsi. No joke. Its scent is literally euphoric. Grow chervil and clip it into your salads while saying something in French, “Et voila!” etc. Stevia is weird but entertaining, as is rue, whose fragrance is both repulsive and addictive and said to ward off evil spirits. Lovage delights chefs. Shiso? Don’t get me started.
I wrongly put edible flowers in the same category as herbs, mostly because I run out of room to store the seed packets. Calendula and nasturtium end up in every vegetable bed I have. Violas are adorable little things. And borage is one of the most prickly and exciting edibles you can grow, but their reseeding habits are downright intolerable.
In the kitchen:
When you grow your own herbs, you can afford to be extravagant with them. Yotam Ottolenghi’s hallmark herb salad with its astonishing predominance of cilantro, basil, parsley, purslane and mint leaves instead of lettuce, is the perfect excuse to get your hands dirty. That weird basil you grew? In lemonade, cocktails and popsicles. Shiso and rice is a meal. And what’s a sour pickle, gravlax or borscht if not bursting with fresh dill?
When the garden is over:
Herbs find new life in death. Cilantro turns into coriander seed. Dill weed becomes seed. Nasturtium drops spicy pods that can be pickled. And then all of it can be saved and planted again.
Genovese Basil—The pesto stuff.
Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil—Fragrant as baby’s breath. Destined for the icy pitcher.
Vertissimo Chervil— Gorgeous and fluffy with a delicate hint of anise.
Borage— Enormously gorgeous plant with a beautiful flower. A re-seeding nightmare.
Leisure Cilantro— Who doesn’t like their cilantro to be leisurely? Heat tolerant.
Thyme— French thyme for eating but creeping thyme softens any barefoot garden path.
Lovage— A bold, celery-forward herb that you never see unless you grow it yourself.
French Marigold— Nature’s insecticide. Plant alongside anything.
Tulsi Basil— Intoxicating. A spiritual experience. You will find God in tulsi.