Herbs are the cornerstone of any delectable dish. The right herbs, complimenting the right meal, are often what make the difference between good cooks and great cooks.
Knowing what herbs to use, and when, is half the battle; using the best herbs possible is the other half.
While a lot of companies will advertise themselves as the highest quality herb option, the only way to really know for sure where your herbs have come from though is to grow them yourself.
Not only will growing your own herbs ensure you of their quality, but it will save you money, and make your cooking that much more rewarding.
Although learning how to grow herbs at home may sound like a daunting task, it is really far easier than it sounds, and can be done by following a few simple steps.
What Herbs do You Want to Grow?
Knowing whether you want to grow angelica, basil, parsley, rosemary or oregano, it is important to know what herbs, and how much of each is realistic.
Herbs like Basil and lovage, may be what you’re looking for if spice is what you have in mind. If you’re looking for an herb that adds more of a sweet flavor, than you may want to look into herbs like anise and horehound.
Knowing what you want to grow will help you know exactly how much space you will need, as well as find out what growing conditions your herbs of choice will need to maximize their potential, and know how to grow herbs at home, that you will benefit from the most.
Where do You Want to Grow?
After you have decided what you want to grow, now you should decide where you want to grow. Indoor or outdoor growing both have positives and negatives associated with them.
- Growing conditions are more controllable
- Can grow year-round
- Convenient to harvest
- Soil may need to be supplemented
- Small growing area
- Plants may become weak and unresisting to adverse conditions
- Soil will probable already contain most needed nutrients
- Large growing area
- Will grow strong and resilient plants
- Growing conditions may be difficult to control
- Can grow only during certain times of the year
- More difficult to maintain and harvest
If growing indoors, it is also important to use a south-facing window so the plants get plenty of sunlight. The nutrient content of your soil can have a large impact when it comes to the quality of what comes out of your herb garden.
For example, too much rust can drastically affect the flavor and grow-ability of mint.
All types of herbs do not do well in gardens that become over saturated too quickly. Whether growing indoors or out, it is important to make sure drainage is adequate.
Herbs also do not do well with heavy amounts of fertilizer. While most landscape type plants thrive with heavy amounts of fertilizer, for herbs, it results in excessive amounts of growth and diminished quality of flavor.
Most herbs are easily sowed from seed, so there is little that needs to be done to cause germination.
More frequently used plants like parsley and basil should be planted where they will be easier to access without causing harm to other plants.
Annuals and perennials should be planted separate from one-another and herbs such as mint, should be contained to their own areas as they have a tendency to overtake other plants within a garden.
Fortunately, most herbs are not often targets of pests, but they should still be inspected regularly for any unwanted hosts.
Plants that are small, still growing, and close to the ground, will be susceptible to attacks from insects like red-spiders. Herbs such as anise, caraway, dill, and fennel will be prone to aphid attacks and should be inspected regularly.
As with any type of plant cultivation, it will help to develop a daily watering and inspection schedule to help ensure proper plant health, and to identify and combat any issues that may arise during growth.
Leaves can be picked so long as there is enough foliage to maintain growth. Most herbs are at their highest flavoring levels right before flowering, so this is often the optimal time for harvesting.
It is best to pick leaves after morning dew has evaporated but before the sun reaches a high point in the sky. After harvesting, wash any dirty leaves with cold water before starting the drying process.
There are a few different drying processes that you can use before storing your herbs. The drying process is just as important as the cultivation of the plant as many oils and flavors can be lost during the process.
This involves simply hanging the plants upside down for about one to two weeks and is the traditional means of herb drying.
This process is a favored by most people because as the plant hangs upside down the oils and flavor are pulled into the leaves by gravity.
Putting the harvested plants in a paper bag will help them retain their oils while slowly letting unwanted moisture evaporate. Placing them in the dark while they dry will also ensure a high flavor herb.
Oven drying can be done using either a conventional oven, or a microwave oven. This is done by cooking the harvested leaves for a short period of time, for a conventional oven this is done on a low heat for two-to-four hours, for a microwave oven, they are cooked for about three-to-four minutes.
While this method drastically reduces the drying time, it almost certainly results in a loss of flavor.
Salt drying involves placing harvested leaves in a tray of non-iodized table salt for about two-to-four weeks. This method can only be used on “non-hairy” leaves, but can result in a uniquely flavored herb.
After drying, herbs are then washed free from any remaining salt, and are then stored in a glass container.
After the drying process all herbs must be either ground down to a fine powder or stored in air-tight containers.
For about the first week of storage it is important to inspect the stored herbs daily to see if there are any signs of moisture such as, water droplets on the inside of the container, or at worst, growing mold.
If any signs of moisture are present the herb must be removed from storage and re-dried.
Knowing how to grow herbs at home is a rewarding activity dating back all the way to even some of the most ancient practices of man.
This makes it an ancient human activity stemming from some of the most primitive and pure tasks of our existence, such as cooking and eating.
The best chefs have always made sure they knew exactly where their ingredients came from and that they were of the highest quality. As times have changed, this idea has not.
Not only is growing herbs economical and fun, but it is the best way to ensure that what you cook is unique and of the highest quality possible.