Back in the day, Simon and Garfunkel sang about “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” but the hit song I would record goes like this:
Basil, dill and par-se-ley, Cilantro, mint and rosemary, These are the best herbs for me, Tra- la- la- la- lee!
Yes, I am a big fan of cooking with herbs and a staunch believer in growing your own herbs for better quality, economy and convenience. I have never had much luck with or use for the sage that Simon and Garfunkel sang about, but I do like to have a supply of basil, dill, parsley, cilantro, mint and rosemary in my garden.
Basil is my favorite herb this time of year because there is just nothing better with a good vine-ripened tomato and a splash of olive oil. If you planted some basil in the spring and its not looking so great, please give it a nice deep drink of water and a dose of fertilizer and pinch it back fearlessly. If you didn’t plant basil this spring its not too late to pick up some plants at the nursery for those yummy fall tomatoes.
My basil has started to “go to seed” (or, in “garden-ese,” bloom) and I am pinching off all the flowers to allow it to continue producing leaves. You can be fearless in cutting back your basil because for each branch you pinch off, two more will appear.
Rosemary and mint are both perennial herbs but with completely different needs. Rosemary likes sun and good drainage. It is a beautiful ornamental plant with gray-green foliage. Buy the plants at the nursery and they should last several years. Mint, on the other hand, loves moisture and tolerates shade. My grandmother grew it outside her kitchen door beneath the water faucet so it would get a drink every time she turned on the hose. Mint will spread ferociously if it likes you so I am growing it in a pot placed underneath the faucet. I would recommend getting a start of mint from a friend or neighbor to ensure getting a variety that does well here. Mint is so good in iced tea or as a garnish for a dessert, not to mention in mint juleps and mojitos.
Parsley is a biennial – it lasts for two years. At the end of its life it sends up flowers that bear seeds. If you are lucky it will reseed itself but for insurance I harvest the seeds and in the fall I soak them overnight and then plant them. Parsley is an herb I don’t want to be without so I plant some of my saved seeds several times in the spring and fall to assure a continuous supply. Parsley fresh from the garden bears no resemblance to that limp green stuff at the grocery store.
Cilantro and dill are annuals. The seeds can be planted in the fall or the spring here. Both like cool weather and will die in the summer heat. Cilantro is very short-lived so I plant a little throughout the fall and early spring to assure a continuous supply for tortilla soup. I don’t cook with dill weed very often but I love the dill flowers in the garden. Like parsley, dill seeds are easy to save and replant.
Having these wonderful herbs fresh from your garden is reward enough, but there is a special added bonus: dill and parsley are both host plants for the beautiful Black Swallowtail butterfly. If you see large striped caterpillars feasting on your dill or parsley plants, please leave them alone.
Basil, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, dill and mint are all herbs that you will find to be useful in your kitchen and easy to grow in this area. Why not get some started in your garden soon? This article contributed by Kathy Davis, Lincoln Parish Master Gardener.