Over the years, I have helped countless patients learn to change their seasoning habits in ways that allow them to follow low-sodium diets. Let’s face it – we’re not talking about losing 10 lbs. before your summer vacation. When a doctor prescribes a diet such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet, your life and health, and your loved ones, are depending on your success! One of the biggest hurdles my patients face early on is finding ways to satisfy their desire for salt, and as a result – we talk a LOT about herbs.
You’ll find that having a good understanding of herbs, in general, will be a tremendous help when making the break from salt. Knowing which herbs are best in certain dishes, where to buy herbs, and for some – knowing how to grow herbs. Growing your own herbs is a great way to fully invest yourself in the process. When cooking, using your own herbs can be extremely satisfying, and your dishes will have an extra touch of freshness you just can’t get with herbs out of a jar. So how does one go about learning to grow herbs?
Recently, a friend asked that I present at the local garden club knowing of my interest in growing and using herbs in my personal cooking. Growing herbs is not all that different from growing any other plant indoors or outdoors. To succeed with any type of plant, you have to understand what type of environment the plant requires to grow, and how to maintain the plant in terms of watering and pruning. Like many other plants, some herbs are annuals (you replace each year) and others are perennials (come back each year).
Where can I grow herbs?
In terms of planting in the ground or planting in a container, herbs are not different in that regard either. While some herbs thrive planted in the garden, others prefer a container. Take mint, for example. Mint is a prolific grower that can easily take over its surrounding area. Clearly, unless you want to have a garden invaded by mint, a container is best.
If you wish to grow herbs during the winter months, or you do not have outdoor space available – then indoor container gardening is your answer. The container that is used can be anything from a plain gardening pot to a plastic pail and many other choices in between. One interesting suggestion that I read about on the Better Homes and Garden site was planting herbs in old Mason jars. To take that a step further, any glass jar that is being recycled would work such as a glass jar from spaghetti sauce or a used jelly jar (sugar free of course).
Where do I get herb seedlings or seeds?
Herb starts can be purchased from garden centers in the form of seeds or plants depending on the time of year. As well, both can be sourced from gardening catalogs. And given the rise in upscale grocery stores, many of those have fresh herbs to plant and fresh herbs to purchase. As further proof of the ease of growing herbs indoors, my local grocery (Lowe’s Foods) has even added an indoor herb garden where shoppers are invited to cut their own. Using store-bought fresh herbs is a great way to jump-start your new healthy habits while waiting for your own herb garden to start producing!
Choosing the right herbs for your garden.
I have attached a list of common herbs below, with a short growing reference for each. Using this information, you should be able to select a few options to get started with – having a better idea of where they grow and what kinds of conditions are needed. You’ll notice that some, such as garlic, are best suited for outdoors while others are perfectly suitable for indoor container gardening. Here’s to your new herb garden!
Herb Grower’s Reference
Sweet Basil full sun/ partial shade, average soil, pinch back to get a bush, perennial in mild climates, annual in cool climates, grow indoors or outdoors, pull up and dry in fall if desired for use over the winter, great in salads and tomato dishes
Chive full sun, moist soil, do not dig up since leaves are usable part, divide like other perennials every 2-3 years, clumps yield stems 10-12 inches tall, tastes like a mild version of onion, usable 1-2 months after planting seeds, decorative or edible or both, good substitute for onion in dishes where a milder flavor is desirable
Dill full sun, good soil required, moist soil, annual, requires lots of room with 10-12” to each side, grow from seeds, seeds can come from plant by removing before flowers are gone, dry seeds for next year, plant from spring to summer’s end for continuous harvest, decorative or edible or both, used on fish and shellfish, salads, raw vegetables
Fennel full sun, requires good alkaline soil that is not wet, plant annually in fall for next year harvest, can be perennial if dug up and saved in frost free area, perfect flavor for fish, very strong like anise or licorice, can be used as ornamental, leaves on salad, dried seeds for chewing
Garlic full sun, plant from bulbs from store, annual, one clove is enough for whole garden, prolific grower, bulbs pointed side up, rich soil with manure and compost, harvest with garden fork, hang to dry completely before storage in bag in cool, dry place, grown in high altitudes and cool weather is preferred, can use fresh leaves for flavor also, great in Italian dishes, vegetables, potatoes, chicken
Marjoram partial shade, annual in most climates; perennial in mild climates, start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before planting, avoid hot sun, soil with manure and compost, harvest leaves before blooming time, keep pinched or trimmed to avoid woody growth and flavor, nice addition to salads, dressings, sausage, dried beans
Mint full sun/partial shade, good soil preferred, perennial, divide every 2-3 years, grow indoors or outdoors, can become invasive, plant in confined bucket or drain tile or container to limit growth and spread, used for many medicines in oil form or in beverages such as tea or mint juleps
Mustard full sun, good soil, annual from seeds, plant repeatedly across summer until extremely hot weather to continue harvest, must be well watered, when seeds are golden brown, pull up hang to dry and press with mortar and pestle to grind for later use, also can use whole seeds, good source of V-A and V-C, also calcium, iron, potassium and fiber, can use leaves as vegetable dish when young, versatile
Oregano partial shade, prefers a well-drained hillside, annual or perennial most varieties, grow from seeds, dry location, space 18-20 inches, pinch back to encourage growth, debud to grow more leaves, cold climates, mulch to prevent winter kill, spreads widely underground, flowers pink to purple, ornamental or edible or both, provides spicy flavor, pizza herb, Italian flavoring
Parsley full sun, average soil, buy new seed each year commercially since home seed difficult to grow, plant late fall or early spring, mild bright flavor when fresh, slow germination, to speed plant in seed trays with warm compost, alternatively plant between layers of wet blotting paper, use as mild seasoning in salads, Mexican dishes, Italian dishes, poultry, vegetables
Rosemary prefers light, sandy soil with some lime, south facing, perennial, plant seeds indoors to start, plant outdoors after danger of frost has passed, trim back to prevent winter overkill, 2nd year of growth before full harvest, if in right location, lives for generations, piney flavor for meat, pork, lamb, beef
Sage sunny place with well-drained soil, perennial, plant outdoors early spring from seeds, cuttings or plants, mulch in winter, fuzzy leaves help plant tolerate heat, leaves whole or ground used in hot dishes to deliver strong scent and flavor, like poultry seasoning, sausage, dressing or stuffing
Tarragon sunny well-drained location, can handle poor soil, plant from stem cuttings or transplants early spring, pinch or clip frequently to encourage continued growth, perennial, replace plants every few years for best flavor, cut to ground before flowering, store leaves in cool, dark place, good in soups, vinegars, strong flavor
Thyme sunny location average soil well-drained, sow seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before last frost, plant outdoors from seedlings, stem cuttings, root divisions, perennial, 2nd year get full harvest, 1st year light harvest, sharp bittersweet flavor, beef, attracts bees so planting next to hive is great, colonizes well, needs lots of room , great addition to soups, stews, meats, salads