When a recipe calls for dill, oregano, or basil, many cooks reach for a jar of commercially prepared, dried herbs in the pantry. However, to have the freshest, most delicious flavors, experienced cooks know that there is no substitute for fresh herbs. However, most home cooks use a wide variety of herbs, and buying them all from the supermarket could get expensive very quickly. One solution to fresh herb flavor without the expense is to grow your own herbs at home.

Growing Herbs

Thankfully, most herbs are simple to grow at home. A sunny spot and some average soil are all that are needed, along with a little effort. Basil, oregano, dill, parsley, cilantro, and mint are among the simplest herbs to grow. Start small the very first year so that you will not get overwhelmed.

Many herbs grow well from seeds, and this is an inexpensive way to get started. Basil, parsley, thyme, cilantro, and dill are good candidates for starting from seeds. However, perennial herbs like rosemary, chives, and fennel are slower growing. You will probably be happier with them if you buy them in small pots, already started.

Plant your herbs in a well-drained spot that gets six to eight hours of sunlight daily. Water them when the ground gets dry and pull weeds that pop up. Pay attention to the tags that come with the plants and space them appropriately.

Harvesting Herbs

When your herbs have established themselves, you can start snipping bits of the foliage for recipes. The peak of flavor is achieved right before the plants flower. You can prolong this period by snipping off the flower buds before they open. Never harvest more than one-third of the plant at once to avoid weakening the plant. Harvest the leaves from the outermost part of the plant, allowing the inner leaves to grow.

Storing and Preserving Herbs

If you have plenty of a particular herb, you can store the stems for about a week in a glass jar full of water in the refrigerator. Loosely cover the jar with a plastic bag to keep them fresh. Alternately, you can freeze fresh herbs and store them in zip-top baggies in the freezer. They will still be useful for flavoring but won’t be very good for garnishing. Last, herbs can be dried in a dehydrator or an oven on low heat. After drying, crumble the herbs and store them in jars with tightly-fitting lids.

~April F.