Herbs are a gift of nature.
Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow. They practically thrive on neglect. They do need a good amount of sun, but otherwise they don’t ask for much—they prefer soil that isn’t too rich, they don’t need much water or space, and most herb plants have no insect and disease problems.
Whether you’re growing just a few pots indoors, or have an expansive garden, growing herbs for cooking can be your most satisfying and efficient gardening projects ever. The cost of the plant is in the range of what a small bunch of herbs cost in the supermarket, and the plant will give you ongoing beauty, yield and health.
I mix herb plants with other annuals and perennials, and also grow them in pots, which I take indoors in the winter.
You can start harvesting immediately. Herbs actually need to be harvested often to ensure vigorous new growth, as for many of them, if the plant’s allowed to flower and seed, it will end its growing season.
Herb up your salad
Now, it’s time to use your herbs, and the possibilities are endless. Tiny amounts are sufficient to add complex flavors, and elevate the simplest of dishes to new heights of taste.
Fresh herbs are my secret ingredient in many preparations, and while I agree that butter as a secret ingredient improves the taste of many dishes, herbs do so while adding nothing but health; they add no fat and no calories at all.
I add fresh herbs to every salad I make (and there’s even scientific support for my habit – see below). I chop whatever I picked from the garden into the salad right before serving, or process it into the salad dressing. You can add any culinary herb you like: basil, parsley, dill, chives, tarragon, cilantro and mint go very well in lettuce salads.
I have lovely tasting cucumbers growing in my garden now. My 11 year old son picks them and has been making and feeding us his favorite Greek salad for lunch since he discovered how tasty the cucumbers are:
Greek Salad Recipe
A true Greek salad has no lettuce (not that I have anything against lettuce in a Greek salad). It’s essentially a tomato, cucumber and red onion salad, seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oregano and dressed with olive oil. Even the feta cheese and kalamata olives are only optional additions
2 large tomatoes, cubed
1-2 small cucumber, finely chopped
½ red onion, sliced into thin wedges
1/3 cup cubed feta cheese
1/3 cup pitted black olives
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
A dash of lemon juice (optional)
Combine everything, adjust seasoning, and serve immediately.
With some fresh bread this is a perfectly satisfying lunch.
Herbs for health
Herbs don’t just add flavor. Herbs and spices are a more concentrated source of dietary antioxidants than many other food groups, including fruits, berries, cereals and vegetables. Adding just a few leaves of herbs to a salad can increase the amount of antioxidants in the salad in multiples.
In a study that used the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) method for measuring the antioxidant capacity of salads, aromatic herbs were added to the salad and replaced some of the lettuce in it. Adding cucumbers, tomatoes and onion didn’t cause a dramatic change in the antioxidant capacity measurements. But when lemon balm and marjoram, at a concentration of 1.5 % (that’s 1.5 grams herbs for every 100 grams of salad) were added, the antioxidant capacity of the salad doubled with the lemon balm, and increased four-fold for the marjoram.
The researchers from the Universitia di Urbino in Italy conclude:
“Aromatic herbs represent a reservoir of phenolic compounds concentrated in just a few grams of material and can represent one of the simplest ways to increase the phenolic content and antioxidant capacity of the daily diet, with possible health benefits. Our data show that the introduction of aromatic herbs into the salads markedly increases the phenolic and ORAC values of the whole salad.”
By the way, lemon balm and marjoram aren’t even the most antioxidant rich herbs. Oregano and thyme are an even richer source of antioxidants.
You can read more about antioxidants and herbs here.
Next time you pass by lonely herb pots for sale, adopt a few and start experimenting with them. They’ll give you so much back for just a little bit of water and a small amount of attention.