In many zones, Mother’s Day weekend marks the start of the edible plant-growing season. If you’ve patiently waited for the danger of a freeze to pass, you don’t have to wait any longer to get your hands dirty.
One of the easiest and most enjoyable parts of gardening season is starting the herb garden. Herbs are easy to grow from seed, easy to maintain and most grow quickly and are very tolerant of slightly lazy gardeners. Herbs like rosemary, thyme and oregano can be used fresh in the summer and dried for use in the winter. Other herbs like basil are endlessly useful in light summer dishes. At the end of the growing season, basil tends to have a growth spurt producing more leafy green goodness than you can use in a month. Fortunately, basil pesto is simple to make and can be frozen in small batches for use in the winter months when fresh basil is hard to come by.
You can grow your herb garden in containers or in the ground; the most important thing is that they’re in the right place. Most herbs do best in full sun as long if your region doesn’t regularly go above 90 degrees. If your region does regularly hit the 90s and beyond, plant your herbs where they’ll receive morning sun and afternoon shade or under a tree in filtered light. Most people like to plant their kitchen gardens as close to the kitchen as possible so it’s easy to pop out the door and snip fresh herbs.
This list of no-fail favorites can be used fresh in the summer and sprinkled on vegetables that you preserve in your home freeze-dryer and/or put up in bottles in the fall. Of course, once you dry these herbs they can be used in recipes all year:
These multi-purpose MVPs of the herb family are versatile for summer cooking and can be combined with other easy-to grown summer vegetables from your garden or the local farmer’s market. Here are a couple of our favorite recipes:
1/4 cup pine nuts
9 cloves chopped garlic
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Enjoy over fish, as an appetizer with bread or crackers or as a spread on sandwiches. If you find yourself with an abundance of basil in the fall, this pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays and stored in a tight container for use all winter.
Salsa Fresca (Fresh Salsa)
1/4 whole onion
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 jalapeño peppers
4 to 6 plum tomatoes
1/2 bunch cilantro
Dice the onion, garlic, jalapenos and tomatoes. Rough chop the cilantro and combine. Squeeze the juice from the lime over the mixture and stir. Serve with chips, over fish or on top of grilled crusty bread lightly rubbed with garlic.
When you’re ready to pickle your overflow of cucumbers this fall, you can use your own cilantro seeds (coriander), oregano and dill to make your own pickling spice mixture. All of these herbs can be dried for later use. Cut the plant low to the ground, wrap the stems with twine and hang upside down in a cool place with good air circulation.