There is nothing like walking out to the garden on a summer day to snip fresh mint for iced tea or tender chives for a sautéed meal. Once you have used ultra-fresh herbs for your recipes you won’t want to go back to using the store bought variety.
I grow an outdoor herb garden, and I enjoy it immensely throughout the year. I harvest and use my own fresh herbs in the spring and summer, and I dry what I don’t use to last through the winter. My favorite edible herbs to grow are mint, oregano, cilantro, thyme and chives. These herbs dry well and are the ones I use most frequently.
I also grow non-edible herbs such as catnip and lavender. A bouquet of bundled dried lavender not only looks great on display with its punch of purple color, it also smells wonderful and can be used as a drawer sachet when stored in a small decorative mesh bag. Lavender sachets are particularly appealing when used as bridal shower or wedding favors. When dried lavender is combined with dried rosehips (the small reddish seed balls left on tips of the stems of un-pruned roses at the end of the growing season) you have all you need to make a subtle fragrant potpourri.
Because I am a cat owner, growing fresh catnip is a must. My two cats begin to enjoy this treat long before it is harvested. They both lazily lounge around the herb garden near the catnip and relax —rolling around the grass from time to time, and occasionally nibbling on the tender tips of the herb. When the season is over, I dry what is left and make cat nip toys for them to use in the winter.
The great thing about herbs is that most are perennials, so planting an outdoor herb garden is one way to enjoy herbs year after year. Best of all, herbs are low-maintenance and can be effortlessly divided to share with friends. They are also easily transplanted and transported if you move.
Growing Herbs Inside:
You can start growing herb seeds inside before the growing season, just as you would any other vegetable seedling. Simply follow the directions on the seed packet. I recommend using a plant heat mat or plant light for the first few weeks to encourage growth. Make sure the soil does not dry up when heat mats and lights are used. Starting herbs 4–6 weeks in advance of outdoor planting will assure they are ready to plant after the danger of a frost has passed.
Small containers of herbs are also available at farmers’ markets and nurseries. These can be planted in a sunny location after the frost danger has passed. Tend to herbs just as you would other growing vegetables.
Instructions for Drying Herbs:
Late summer is a good time to begin drying herbs. Air drying is the easiest way to dry fresh herbs, as this method doesn’t deplete them of their essential oils. Begin by cutting healthy branches from your herb plants. Shake the herbs to remove debris. Do not wash the herbs before drying. Washing will delay the drying process and may cause mold growth. Bundle small bunches together and tie with string. Punch several holes in a labeled paper lunch bag (enough holes to adequately aerate the herbs.) Place the herb bundle upside down into the bag. Gather the ends of the bag around the bundle and tie to close. Make sure the herbs are not crowded inside the bag. Hang the bag upside down in a warm, dry setting. Monitor the drying process every week or so. It can take up to a few months for herbs to be dry completely. When they are crumbly to the touch with no sign of moisture, it is time to store them in an air-tight container.