It's no secret that herbs are a great way to add zest to any dish. But you don't have to build extra shelves for your spice rack to keep the necessary ingredients on hand.
Instead, make room for a fresh crop of savory herbs in your garden, or on a patio or windowsill. Just take your pick from one or more of these common varieties that thrive in warm, sunny areas with well-drained soil.
To raise the herbs from seed, plant indoors in early spring before moving the seedlings outside after the last frost…or plant them directly in the garden in late spring.
Indoor gardens can be planted anytime, although spring is best. Nursery-grown plants should be added to your garden after the last spring frost.
Basil—This annual is as easy to grow as it is to use. And with more than 150 varieties, there's one to satisfy every appetite!
Most prevalent, sweet basil is a mild flavoring for soups and sauces. Similar-tasting purple basil adds color to dishes as well. Lemon basil lends a citrus kick to vegetables, fish and poultry. To encourage bushier plants, pinch off the flowering tops.
Chives—The grass-like spears of this perennial add a mild onion zip to salads, soups and casseroles. Chives are also often sprinkled on top of a dish after cooking for a pretty garnish.
Chives will grow year-round, making it a good choice for indoor gardens. Trim the leaves back in fall and divide once every 3 years if grown outdoors. It spreads quickly, so be sure to remove the spiky flower heads to prevent overly abundant growth.
Coriander/Cilantro—Both the leaves and seeds of this annual plant provide flavorful and versatile seasonings.
The aromatic leaves—cilantro—are popular in Mexican dishes, while the seeds—coriander—add a sweet lemony flavor to meat dishes and salads.
Pick the leaves whenever you need them, but allow the seeds to turn brown in late summer. Then dry in a dark, airy and cool place and store in an airtight container.
Plant several crops throughout summer to ensure a continuous harvest.
Dill—The feathery leaves of dill add a fresh twist to soups, herb butters and fish, and its umbrella-like sprays of yellow flowers are the perfect partners for pickles.
This annual works best outdoors because it can grow up to 5 feet tall. Plant a few batches to keep dill available throughout summer.
Mint—The invigorating scent of mint makes it a refreshing choice for teas. Its leaves often crop up in summery fruit salads or are used to make mint jelly.
The two most common types, spearmint and peppermint, are perennials that propagate easily, so take care where you plant them or keep in a container garden to restrain growth.
Oregano—Best known as a spice for pizza and pasta sauces, the peppery leaves and stems of this perennial are often used to season meat and egg dishes, too.
Pick oregano when the plants are about 6 inches tall to encourage bushy growth.
Parsley—Although often used as a garnish, parsley, with its mildly spicy leaves, also peps up the flavor of salads, sauces and soups.
Pick the leaves anytime, although they're best during this biennial plant's first summer. Start new seeds throughout the season for a continuous crop.
Rosemary—This plant's needle-like leaves are a good choice to add a pleasing, somewhat piney flavor to meats, especially roasts. Rosemary also enhances herb breads and cheese- and tomato-based sauces.
Rosemary grows slowly from seed, so propagate from cuttings for faster results. This evergreen perennial can grow up to 5 feet tall. In colder climates, bring it indoors for the winter months.
Sage—The camphor-like, pleasantly bitter flavor of sage goes well with pork and other meat dishes as well as bean and vegetable soups. Trimming this perennial's tall spiky flowers will keep the plants compact.
Thyme—The warm rich taste of thyme is a good complement for stews, stuffing and meat dishes. This perennial grows slowly at first and doesn't usually flower until the second summer after you have planted it. In colder climates, be sure to protect the plants with a layer of mulch in winter. Trim back in spring and prune the flowers regularly.
Whatever herbs you choose, a flavorful harvest from your own garden will help make every meal for your family mouth-watering!
There's no need to abandon a recipe because it calls for a fresh herb you don't have. Dried herbs make fine substitutes.
The dried forms generally are more potent than their just-picked counterparts, so use 3 times less dried herbs than you would fresh. If a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon fresh basil, for instance, toss in only 1 teaspoon of dried.
Add dried herbs earlier in the cooking process than fresh ones, which should be added near the end to retain their flavor.