29 Apr 2021 Herb Appeal
photos and story by Linda Henderson
It looks like we are slowly emerging from the pandemic of 2020. My new motto has become: I am not adding last year to my age because I did not get to use 2020. But I really did use last year. I used it to learn new things and I learned to do more with what I had. An example of that is combining my photography, cooking, and backyard gardening.
I photograph subjects for stories several months ahead, sometimes as much as a year in advance. Last year in May, we were all sheltering at home and the only subject matter I had to photograph was my backyard. Like everyone else, I was doing a lot of cooking at home and not going to the grocery store until it was necessary.
Every summer, I grow a small garden in our backyard. I grow many plants in containers and a few in the ground. I primarily cultivate herbs, lettuces, and edibles from the cabbage family. Last year, the herbs helped add a fresh touch to our meals, especially when I ran out of “fresh” vegetables. It is amazing how adding herbs or a couple of leaves of kale can stretch a salad or flavor a can of green beans. Not only did the fresh herbs and other vegetables add flavor, they also added color to the plain home-cooked meals.
I did learn a few things about using herbs. Using fresh herbs requires that you increase the quantity. Dried herbs have a stronger, more concentrated flavor. I also froze herbs in ice cube trays to use later in the year. First, I washed the herbs, then chopped the leaves and mixed them with olive oil. After the cubes froze, I removed them from the trays and placed them in a zip-locked bag. This winter, I added the frozen herb cubes directly to marinara for a yummy spaghetti sauce.
When harvesting herbs, snip leaves off with scissors frequently to encourage new growth. Harvest the leaves before the plants start to flower. Tender herbs like basil, chives, cilantro, mint, and dill are best to harvest and use immediately. Add these herbs at the end of the cooking process to render the best results. Woody herbs with tough wood-like stems like rosemary, oregano, sage, and thyme can be added anytime to infuse lots of flavor.
Along with adding seasoning to your food, many herbs have health benefits. Many herbs aid in digestion and act as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Rosemary has a strong aroma and is wonderful to use when cooking pork and steaks and as a topping for homemade bread. Basil can be eaten raw in salads or as a finishing ingredient for pizza.
Thyme is my new favorite herb. Last summer, I used it in almost everything. Thyme is great in roasted vegetables, egg dishes, rice, and over a block of cheddar cheese.
I used lavender to flavor sugar for cookies. During the summer, I finished most days with a glass of mint iced tea.
In the 501 with our mild springs and hot summers, most herbs will grow till a hard freeze. So, find a spot with well-drained soil and full to partial sun and grow a few herbs to enhance your cooking as well as your health.