“…there is nothing more inspiring than walking into a kitchen that is full of the aromas of herbs as their essential oils mingle with the food.”
— Jekka McVicar
By now, the herb garden’s had enough time to allow for any latecomers. After taking stock, we gathered up replacements for those that didn’t make it through the winter. There are the usual suspects, like parsley and basil, but we also take this as an opportunity to get familiar with some new ones. Into the garden this week:
Angelica (Angelica archangelica) — Perennial. History of use for magical purposes, from which it derives its name. Licorice-like flavor, stems often candied, and young leaves for salads. This is a new herb for us, and accompanies the recent planting of sweet cicely, another anise-like herb from the family Apiaceae that we’re still learning about.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) — Annual. This fragrant, tender herb doesn’t travel well as the leaves are easily crushed, but earns its place in the garden both as a companion plant to tomatoes and as an essential in summer cookery. Though it comes in many tempting varieties, we always make sure to put in a sizable planting of the classic Sweet Genovese.
Holy Basil (Ocimum basilicum sanctum) — Annual. Also known as Sacred Basil or Tulsi; originally from Thailand, where its grown around Buddhist temples. Our first time with it, we found it at The Herb Farmacy.
Spicy Globe Basil (Ocimum basilicum minimum) — Annual. Also known as Greek Basil, this bush variety grows in a compact mound, and is popular its size, flavor and tender stems. Its spicy sweet flavor lends punch to salads, vinegar, pasta, as well as pesto. We’ve struggled with different varieties of basil, and are trying to plant them later and when the weather is assuredly warmer. This is a new variety to us, and we can easily imagine a whole row of them edging a bed, forming an aromatic miniature hedge.
Thai Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Horapha’) — Annual. More pungent than its Italian relative, Thai basil brings its own fresh brightness to such dishes as summer rolls and rice noodle salads, without which something would seem missing.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) — Annual. Usually replace every several years, reseeds in between. Part of the French classic fines herbes, blended with tarragon, parsley and chives. Use fresh to enhance eggs, fish, green vegetables, and chicken.
Vietnamese Cilantro (Polygonum odoratum) — Perennial. Also known as Asian mint, Vietnamese mint, smartweed, fragrant knotweed, laksa leaf and rau ram. Flavorwise, Vietnamese cilantro falls somewhere between cilantro and mint, and is considered a warm weather substitute when it gets too hot to grow cilantro. Though we grew this last season, we only recently became familiar with its culinary uses. It can’t tolerate temperatures below 32°F, and we treat this as an annual.
Green & Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) — Perennial. This non-bulbing herb is worth growing in addition to Florence fennel, as the fronds have a more concentrated sweet flavor. It’s sporadic as a perennial, and we’ve been replanting as necessary.
Hidcote Blue Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) — Perennial. Our original planting of lavender has declined, and we’ve been replacing them with ones more suited for culinary purposes. We look for augustifolia varieties, which have a sweeter taste due to lower levels of camphor.
Marjoram (Origanum majorana) — Perennial. When forced to choose between marjoram or oregano, we prefer marjoram for it’s finer, more delicate flavor. However, it’s not as hardy and we seem to need to replace it annually.
Flat-Leaf Parsley (Petroselinum crispum neapolitana) — Biennial. We never seem to have enough of this herb, and start the season with at least a dozen seedlings. One plant managed to overwinter this year in a place where it’ll establish a self-seeding patch. We especially like to use flat-leaf parsley combined with thinly sliced red onion, and dressed with red wine vinegar and good olive oil, for a salad-like condiment for grilled or roasted dishes.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) — Perennial. The herb for remembrance, we recently learned that “officinalis” in the latin name marks this useful for medicinal purposes. The piney, resinous flavor marries well with boldly flavored foods, and we especially love the fragrance it brings to a table strewn with sprigs of it. We’re envious of places were rosemary can be grown as a perennial, and where it can take on it’s fullest expression in the garden; here, we make do with annual plantings.
Summer Savory (Satureja hortensis) — Annual. Like a more pungent thyme, summer savory adds a peppery, slightly piney flavor. It marries well with meat and other strongly flavored dishes, and we often use it as a change from marjoram.
Winter Savory (Satureja montana) — Perennial. Similar to its summer twin in flavor and use, we save this one for cooler weather cooking and when the herb garden begins to fade.
French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus) — Perennial. Also known as buckler-leaf sorrel, this variety has a shorter, rounder leaf, and a less astringent flavor than the broad-leaved variety. We added sorrel after enjoying cooking with it this spring.
French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus sativa) — Perennial. Another of the anise-like herbs that when it’s in season dresses up a range of summery dishes, especially cold salads such as egg or potato. It’s struggled to get established, and added another as reinforcement.
Golden Lemon Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) — Perennial. We think of thyme as the Miss Congeniality of the herb garden — it’s friendly and never seems to mind where it’s placed; attractive enough to shine on its own with a warm, woodsy flavor; and gets along well with others, complementing all wherever it goes. Since lemons remain a challenge to grow here, lemon-like herbs like this one can take their place.
Silver-Edged Thyme (Thymus ‘Argenteus’) — Perennial. It’s hard to resist the many tantalizing varieties of thyme, and we confess that this was an impulse buy. Where the lemon thyme offers some clear culinary advantages to having it in the garden, we liked this one purely for the pretty, silvery color it brings to the herb garden.
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) — Half-hardy perennial. We’re unable to grow lemon verbena to its full shrub-like expression, but its fragrant citrus flavor puts it on our annual list. It favors sweeter applications, however, it contains the compound citral, same as found in lemongrass, and we use it in much the same way — chopped finely for savory dishes, a little bit goes a long way.
We come to herbs from their use in the kitchen, and, though we may pick up a tip or two about their medicinal value, this remains our primary love for them. Here’s a small selection of references and links to resources we’ve found helpful in deepening our understanding and making the most of our herb garden.
• Herbs: River Cottage Handbook No. 10 by Nikki Duffy — One of our favorite of the series and the one we first consult for general information; terrific advice on culinary varieties.
• Wild Flavors by Didi Emmons — Learning from Eva’s Garden, a well-known source of herbs as well as foraged foods in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, from a cook’s point of view.
• Cooking with Flowers by Miche Bacher — The flowers of herbs are another edible expression of the plant, and this is packed full of ideas on what to do with them.
• Herbs & Things and Jeanne Rose’s Herbal Guide to Food by Jeanne Rose — While Jeanne Rose’s Herbal Guide to Food more specifically covers culinary uses, we’ve a sentimental attachment to Herbs & Things, which was our first introduction many years ago to herbs and their various uses.
• How to Move Like a Gardener by Deb Soule — Though more oriented towards medicinal uses, this well-known herbalist offers advice specific to growing herbs in Maine, where she’s based.
• Culpeper’s Color Herbal — Charming drawings and opinionated notes, this reference for traditional medicinal uses is especially informative for foraged plants.
• Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs by Claire Kowalchik — A standby, we consult this for herbs not covered in other references.
• The Complete Herb Book by Jekka McVicar — Along with Herbs: River Cottage Handbook, our go-to book for culinary herbs, which the well-known McVicar grows on her herb farm in the UK.
• The Herb Garden at Strawbery Banke Museum — Just across the river from us, we use this local gem as a study garden when in season. The exceedingly knowledgeable and talented John Forti, Curator of Historic Gardens & Landscapes, is aided by the Seacoast Unit of the Herb Society of America in the maintenance of the garden as a teaching tool and community resource. A selection of references are available online, including Heirloom Herbs and their Uses, and a list of John’s Favorite Herbs.
• The Herb Society of America, NorthEast Seacoast Unit — The NorthEast Seacoast Unit of this national organization is an active one, and offers an annual series of presentations. See the national website for an online guide to a selection of individual herbs, along with other resources.
• New Hampshire Herbal Network — A gathering of herbalists, herb growers and herb enthusiasts, their upcoming 5th Annual Herb & Garden Day on Saturday, June 7th, offers workshops, plant sales, and delicious food.
• The Herb Farmacy — Recently selected Best Herb Nursery in New England by Yankee Magazine, Rita and Brooke offer a wide selection of organic herbs, vegetable starts, flowers, and native plants at their Salisbury, Massachusetts, location.