Growing (and Using!) Your Own Herbs
What goes beautifully with basil? Oregano! Greek oregano is one of the most reliable, low-maintenance edible plants in my garden. I've had the same pot of Greek oregano growing for a decade, and all I ever do is water it, eat it, and fertilize it twice a year with sheep manure. I use it in everything from Greek style Panzanella and fresh tomato pizza sauce to slow-cooked Greek style leg of lamb and homemade Italian sausage.
There are several varieties of thyme, but the one I love the most -— and have the best luck growing -— is lemon thyme. This low growing, spreading perennial adds a gourmet touch to any dish and can be used whenever a recipe calls for lemon and thyme. One of my favorite ways to enjoy it is with roasted turnips. Try stuffing a chicken with lemon thyme and lemon wedges, or add it to a garlicky marinade for chicken, fish, lamb, or beef. Toss it with tomatoes, stir it into cream cheese dip or herb butter, or add it to a vinaigrette. Make lemon thyme-infused olive oil and drizzle it over mashed potatoes or crisp baby greens.
Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
Parsley may be ubiquitous and cheap, but growing your own is still worthwhile, even if you don't live 40 miles from the nearest place to buy it (where it's usually wilted). Organic parsley can be hard to find, and the conventionally grown stuff may have been sprayed with AZM, a neurotoxic insecticide that attacks the human brain and nervous system and is so harmful that it was banned by the EPA last month (but can still be used for another year). What's nice is that you can harvest just what you need, rather than buying an entire bunch and then letting half of it turn to forgotten black mush in the fridge. Last April I bought a six-pack of Italian flat leaf parsley seedlings at a local nursery for $2.50, planted them along one edge of a 4'x 8' raised garden bed, and have been snipping fresh bounty several times a week ever since.
Lemon balm is a beautiful, fragrant member of the mint family that is heat tolerant, cold tolerant, rarely bothered by pests, and, like other types of mint, grows like a weed. This gentle medicinal herb has been used for centuries to treat everything from depression and upset stomachs to insect bites, fever blisters, and tension headaches. Sip lemon balm tea throughout the day to aid digestion and alleviate stress and anxiety, either hot with honey or over ice. During the summer I like to stuff a bunch of fresh leaves in a half gallon canning jar, stick it in the sun for a few hours, and chill it in the fridge for a refreshing, healthy drink.
Growing your own anything is truly rewarding, and not just because it's the ultimate way to go green. And since young herb seedlings can often be purchased for less than those "fresh" little packets at the supermarket, even if you end up killing all your plants you'll most likely have gotten more than your money's worth out of them first.
Besides, if you lose it all, you always can go back next season and try to win big again.
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