From garden to plate

Fresh herbs can be grown locally and work in various dishes

Fresh herbs can be grown locally and work in various dishes

March 22, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

Spring is here and fresh herb plants are available at local nurseries.

Fresh herbs offer a different flavor - sometimes a more pungent flavor than dried herbs - to recipes, says Charmaine Landers, who co-owns the Blue Moon Cafe in Shepherdstown, W.Va., with her husband, Greg King.

Chef Landers prefers to use fresh herbs, especially in the spring and summer when they're more available and she grows her own.

Fresh herbs can be tricky, says Dorry Baird Norris, a Hagerstown-area herbarist and author of "Sage Cottage Herb Garden Cookbook."

Their flavor tends to be more pronounced when they get more sun, but the flavor is less intense with too much rain, Norris says.


Generally, when cooking with fresh herbs, add herbs late so they don't cook for long, Norris and Landers say. One exception is bay leaves.

Landers also suggests letting fresh herbs simmer in soups for a little while to release the flavor.

Here are some cooking and gardening tips for herbs that can be grown locally and are good in a variety of dishes:


Cooking tip: Good with cucumber salad, yogurt, salmon salad, sour cream as a garnish or sprinkled on potatoes.

Mary Louise Harshman, who has grown herbs for nurseries for 16 years and cooked with herbs for 40 years, chops dill finely and puts it on deviled eggs.

Gardening tip: Dill is easy to grow from seeds, but is done once it blooms, Norris says. The seeds should fall from the flowers to reseed the plant for fresh growth.


Cooking tip: Fresh oregano is good in salads and Italian cooking. Norris believes dried oregano has a stronger flavor than fresh and is good with Italian cooking, soups and stews.

Fresh marjoram has more pungency than fresh oregano and also is good with Italian cooking and cold-cut subs, says Harshman, who works for Elfin Gardens in Middletown, Md.

Gardening tip: Greek oregano, or oregano heracleotium, which has white flowers, has a better taste. This variety of oregano also can be a perennial if winters are mild, Norris says.

To dry oregano, cut it off at the bottom as the plant shows signs of blooming. Place the oregano in a paper bag. Close the bag with a rubber band to prevent light from getting in and to keep dust out. Hang the bag upside down.


Cooking tip: Use to make pesto or cut up and put on plain tomatoes. Top sliced tomatoes and sliced mozzarella with fresh basil and ground pepper, Norris says.

Flavored basil is available, such as lemon basil, cinnamon basil and Thai basil, which is spicier.

Harshman makes a vinegar, good with salads, using African blue basil. Put white vinegar in a pint jar, adding a handful of basil leaves. Set the jar in the sun for one to two weeks, then strain and store at room temperature in a bottle. The vinegar turns pink.

Gardening tip: Basil is easier to maintain from a plant than growing from seeds. Basil is fragile and can be destroyed by frost. People often plant basil plants too early, while it's still cool outside, and end up replacing their plants, Norris says. Wait until after the last frost date, until temperatures remain above 54 degrees, to transplant your basil outside.

Keep basil from blooming by picking the leaves. The flavor changes once it blooms.


Cooking tip: Good tarragon will have a bite to it and a slight anise smell, Norris says. Tarragon is traditionally used with fish.

Gardening tip: Will grow in a little bit of shade. When choosing a tarragon plant, avoid Russian tarragon because it has no flavor.

Italian or flat-leaf parsley

Cooking tip: To keep cut parsley fresh, cut off part of the stems. Put the parsley in a jar with water covering the bottom of the stems and cover the jar with a plastic bag; refrigerate. When cooking with dried herbs, add fresh parsley to rejuvenate the flavor of the dried herbs, Norris says.

Parsley can be frozen and used as needed, added in its frozen state to finished soup or quiche batter, Harshman says. Chop freshly cut parsley and put in a plastic snack bag to freeze.

Gardening tip: Will grow with a little bit of shade. Parsley plants are biennials, good for a year and a half, Norris says.


Cooking tip: Serve chives with potatoes or cottage cheese. Dried chive flowers are good on salads, Norris says.

Harshman says she prefers garlic chives for any potato dish, especially potato salad, and for most soups.

Gardening tip: When the blossoms start to fade, cut the chives off just above the ground to allow for fresh growth, Norris says. Be careful about letting chives reseed because they multiply easily.


Cooking tip: Lemon thyme is wonderful with chicken. Also use in salad dressings, and on pork and fish.

Gardening tip: Thyme is shallow-rooted, so it likes to grow around rocks, Norris says.

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