"Seasonings" Greetings! - Your Friend, Herb(s)

Melissa Jacoby
Adams County Master Gardener

(8/12) Q: What did the herb write in his Christmas cards? A: "Seasonings" Greetings!

Earlier this summer, when I had already exhausted my stash of Googled "punny" fruit, farm, and veggie jokes for children, I needed new material for the kidsí area at a nearby farmersí market where I volunteer. That week, family conversation in our home revolved around the challenge of composing original jokes, with our seven-year-old son serving as "quality control". Somehow, this pun about Herb "made the cut"!

Summer IS the time of year when herbs share the spotlight with peak-season produce thatís available in our gardens and at local markets. After all, "flavoring" and "food" are part of the textbook definition of herb (n. any plant with leaves, seeds or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume). Slices of homegrown tomatoes and mozzarella cheese with fresh basil leaves - thinking caprese salad? Yes, please! And who among us, in the final steps of preparing a favorite seasonal dish, delights in adding fresh herbs right from our kitchen or container gardens? Me, too!

If you grow herbs at home, you know that this is their time to shine! In fact, you may be growing super-size quantities of herbs and now wonder what to do with them all. Never fear! Penn State professors Kathleen Kelley and Elsa Sanchez have authored Harvesting and Preserving Herbs and Spices for Use in Cooking (available at extension.psu.edu), with many options, all of which will easily pair with how you plan to use the herbs later. From freezing, blanching, or drying, you can enjoy the flavor of frozen or dried herbs from six months to a year. In other words, theyíll surely taste great next winter! One bit of sage advice: when storing herbs (fresh, frozen, or dried), always label containers with the kind of herb and the date when harvested or processed.

Fresh herbs that are refrigerated will remain viable for a few days up to one week. After harvesting herbs, rinse in cold water and pat dry. Then place loosely in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator (after labeling - remember!). With whole plants or sprigs (mint, for example), place in a jar with approximately one inch of water, cover the herbs with a plastic bag and refrigerate.. Change the water daily and these herbs can last up to two weeks. Exceptions to the refrigerator strategy: basil and oregano (use fresh or process on the day of harvest).

If youíve never grown herbs but would like to start, hereís good news: "Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow because they tolerate a variety of soil types and have relatively few insect and disease pests." (Kelley, Sanchez. Growing Herbs Outdoors. From http://extension.psu.edu/ plants/gardening/fact-sheets/herbs/growing-herbs-outdoors). While light exposure requirements vary among herbs (always read the label), soil with good drainage is a must for growing any herb..

Wondering which herbs to plant? Check out this comprehensive herbs directory (http://extension.psu.edu/ plants/gardening/herbs), where you can search herbs by category (ornamental, aromatic, culinary, etc.). Click on an herb by name and youíll discover its uses, history, cultivation, harvesting, companion plants, pests, and trial garden notes..

How about a "themed" garden, selecting herbs that relate to menu ideas, like "pasta", "salsa", or "tea"? Besides helping you to set your herb decisions at a manageable number, themed herb gardens also appeal to children and might be just the "encourage-mint" that a young, budding gardener in your life needs to grow.

Ayers, P. 2003. A Kidís Guide to How Herbs Grow (Digging in the Dirt). PowerKids Press, New York. Bown, D. 2001.

The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses. DK, London. Buchanan, R. (Ed). 1995.

Taylor's Guide to Herbs. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.

Kowalchik, C. and Hylton, W.H. (Eds.) 1987. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA.

Try this easy, tasty recipe that features cilantro.

Simply Sweet Salsa (from superhealthykids.com)

  • 3-4 cups diced watermelon
  • 1 Tablespoon cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon very, very, very finely diced red onion
  • 3 Tablespoons lime juice
  • sprinkle of salt

 

Read other articles on growing herbs or vegetables