One of my favourite parts of summer is the ability to run out to my kitchen garden, aka my greenhouse, and pick fresh herbs to add to dinner as I am cooking.
There is just something so satisfying about growing my own food – and you absolutely can’t beat the freshness of garden-to-table meals!
Oh, and did I mention that herbs are also incredibly healthy for you?
The health benefits range from lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, enhancing memory, calming the stomach, and even boosting one’s mood!
If you live in a small space, you can still easily grow herbs in a window with small pots.
I am a big believer in cooking meals that are packed with flavour, color, and nutrients; herbs (and spices) are the key to transforming a bland recipe into a gourmet delicacy.
What is the difference between an herb and a spice?
Many people have to clue what the difference is!
So I’ll tell you.
Herbs are the leaf, whereas a spice comes from the seed of a plant.
Take cilantro versus coriander for example; they both come from the same plant, however cilantro is the name for the leaf and coriander is the name of the seed.
Often the seed and the leaf can have different flavours and are used in different recipes.
Now you know!
I have a few must-have herbs that I use in soooo many recipes.
These are my top picks!
Basil is by far my favourite herb to add to salads.
It is so flavourful and turns a run-of-the-mill recipe into a gourmet meal with that added garnish.
Once you have a healthy plant started, it is easy to propagate more plants while you are pruning your current plant back.
Pruning is very important to keep your basil plant producing rather than bolting and going to seed.
By the end of the season, I typically end up with so many leaves that I am almost forced to make pesto to use up all my basil.
It is an annual, so I make sure to allow one or two plants go to seed at the end of the season so I can save the seeds for planting the following spring.
Basil is an anti-inflammatory and is believed to help with digestion, fight depression, and reduce the risk of diabetes.
Dill is a classic because of its diversity.
You can add it to soups, creamy chicken dishes, or – my personal favourite – to garlic mashed potatoes!
And of course you can’t for get it being a perfect addition to potato salad for those summer BBQ’s.
Another reason Dill is a popular choice for a kitchen garden is the fact that their seeds are used for many pickling recipes – yes, the seeds are what give dill pickles their flavour, NOT the leaves as many would expect.
And did I mention that their seeds are easy to save for planting the next year?
I can never plant too much dill; each year I plant a little more and each year we use all of it!
Dill is high in calcium, vitamin C, and antioxidants.
Easy to grow is an understatement for Cilantro!
The last couple years I literally just thew a bunch of seeds in a raised bed and didn’t even cover them with soil!
I always end up with baskets heaping full several times throughout the summer and have to dry a lot of it to avoid wasting the excess leaves.
And speaking of easy? The seeds are a breeze to pick and store over the winter, with amazing germination in the Spring.
Some people love it, while others hate it. There does not seem to be an “in between” on this one.
(Obviously I am on the “love it” side of the fence!)
Cilantro is believed to promote healthy skin and hair, as well as reduce the risk of cardiac disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Thyme can be used in cooking or even for landscaping and is a hardy plant that is tough to kill. Plus the bees love the flowers!
The fact that it is hardy to our zone (zone 4) is a big benefit; I love perennials because they cut down on the work and cost each spring during planting.
I like using thyme in soups and stews – and sometimes even in my scrambled eggs for breakfast.
A couple fresh sprigs of thyme also add a nice flavour profile to premium roast beef.
Thyme is believed to help boost the immune system and is high in vitamin C, vitamin A, and iron.
Oregano is what makes or breaks a good pasta sauce!
Whether you are making spaghetti, lasagna or even pizza sauce, oregano is a key ingredient.
(Oregano can become bitter if overcooked, so add it toward the end of a recipe for optimal flavour)
Oregano is a prolific plant that produces well all summer long.
Pruning on a regular basis will help keep it from bolting and forces heavier production.
It is rated to zone 5, so I typically pot my oregano in the fall and keep it in the house until it is warm enough to plant back outside in the spring.
The health benefits of oregano are as incredible as the taste it adds to food!
Not only is it loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, it also packs a punch with vitamin K, vitamin E, manganese, iron, and calcium.
Talk about a SUPER HERB!
Mmm! The scent of rubbing this plant alone is so calming! Its pungent fragrance is so soothing and relaxing.
Rosemary is a bit pickier about its watering than some other herbs; it likes well-drained soil, fairly dry conditions – and will not be happy if you accidentally overwater it!
I use it primarily in rosemary rice to add a unique flavour as well as *obviously* in focaccia bread (yum!). It goes well in soups and stews as well.
Unlike thyme, rosemary is rated for zone 7 (at the coldest) and will not make it through our brutal winters.
I overwinter my rosemary the same way I do with my oregano – by potting it in the fall and bringing it into the house for the winter.
Rosemary is high in both antioxidants and anti-inflammatories; it is believed to improve the immune system, blood circulation, and even help with brain function!
The mild, onion flavour makes for a wonderful garnish on many dishes and the bright green pop of color adds a fancy presentation.
They are easy to grow from seed or from a clump divided from a mature plant.
Growing from seed, they take a couple years to become fully grown and ready for harvesting – but once they are mature they are prolific producers!
Their beautiful purple flowers are edible and can be added to salads for a bit of extra color.
Rated for up to zone 3, they are a great perennial to add to an herb garden.
For a slightly different flavour, try planting garlic chives.
Chives are high in vitamin K, which helps with bone strength and blood clotting.
Most people are familiar with the fragrance of lavender and the calming properties they possess, but may not realize it is also used for many dessert recipes.
The leaves and flowers can be harvested for teas, infused oil, and the ever-popular essential oil.
Bees absolutely love their soft plumes of flowers.
Unfortunately for me, they are only rated to zone 5 – almost hardy enough for our zone, but not quite tough enough.
Lavender has anti-inflammatory properties and is believed to be a mood-booster by relieving anxiety and promoting calmness.
I hated the huge bunch of parsley served on the side of burgers and fries as a kid, not realizing that parsley is usually just meant as a garnish and not meant to be eaten by itself! (I was raised with the mentality not to waste food, but that big mouthful of parsley is where I drew the line!)
When I use parsley as a garnish, I chop it into small pieces and sprinkle a sparse amount on the dish so the taste is not overpowering; when used correctly, parsley compliments the other flavours in a dish rather than dominating the flavour profile.
Parsley is know as a biennial, which means it grows the first year and goes to seed the second year.
I like “self-seeding” plants because they are essentially perennials in the concept that I do not have to keep replanting them each year.
As with dark green, leafy vegetables, parsley is loaded with nutrients.
It is also high in antioxidants and is believed to have cancer-fighting properties.
The mint family has a number of varieties to choose from; traditional mint, chocolate mint, spearmint, etc.
Rated for zone 3, they are incredibly hardy plants and difficult to kill.
If left to their own devices, they will quickly take over the area where they were planted and can become a weed if you’re not careful!
They can be added to cold drinks like a rhubarb simple syrup seltzer, used in teas or added as a garnish on desserts.
Mint has anti-inflammatory properties and is believed to help with digestive functions.
Keeping herbs fresh
Ideally, herbs are best picked just before you plan to use them; they will have the freshest taste, best texture, and highest nutrient content.
If garden-to-table isn’t an option for you, store the herbs in the fridge.
Most herbs like to be placed in a jar with a little water at the bottom, just covering the bottom of the stems – make sure the leaves are not in the water or they can make it murky after being in the water for a while.
A few other herbs to consider are marjoram, winter savoury, tarragon, sage, and stevia.
Want to know how to prepare herbs for long-time storage? SUBSCRIBE to see that blog post when it comes out!