Grow Culinary Herbs Quickly and Easily

52501-pk-p1With the holidays approaching quickly, the kitchen is about to be put to work. Cooking, cooking, and more cooking is what goes on at my house during the holiday season – I’m just glad my significant other is a chef! He uses many fresh herbs from my little windowsill garden  for many reasons:

  1. Our mortgage payment doesn’t allow us to buy the best brands, and chefs have to use the best — so it’s cheaper to grow our own herbs rather than buy them at the store.00271-pk-p1

  2. It smells delicious when cooking or just growing.

  3. The addition of fresh herbs to anything improves taste (you can add flavor to sandwiches by adding basil to mayo, rosemary to tea, etc).

Growing fresh herbs year round in your kitchen is quite simple. First, you need to select a container that will hold several plants, provide good drainage, and fit comfortably in your kitchen. Clay, wood, or ceramic pots work well for growing herbs, and it is easier to find small pots made of these materials. When growing indoor herbs in the kitchen, it is important not to grow them near the oven or stove. They thrive best at room temperature with sunlight (south or west windows do best) and a well-drained soil mix that isn’t too rich.                                  

51816-pk-p1Herbs can be started in the kitchen from a sprig off of another herb plant or by seed. Good choices for direct-seeding include dill, basil, and oregano. Be careful when selecting seeds to specify the “compact” varieties, as the regular varieties are difficult to grow indoors because they need more room to roam. Most culinary herbs make great indoor herb gardens (or container plants) because they have compact growth and are drought resistant. Some of these herbs include Summer Savory, Calendula, Chives, Marjoram, Thyme, and Rosemary.

To start the seeds, just fill each pot with  regular potting soil, tuck the seeds into the soil – the depth will be specified on the seed packet and mist with water. Some seeds will germinate within days.52489-pk-p1

A recipe that lists herb quantities in dried form can be transformed by using fresh growing herbs right from your garden. The amount of herb has to be doubled or tripled for the same strength of herb flavor. Why increase when using fresh herb? Well, when herbs are used in cooking it is the essential oil, contained in the cells in the leaves, which provide the taste. The oil of an herb is what you smell when you touch or rub the leaves, and the smell becomes the taste. When you dry herbs, the moisture is removed from the plant, but the oil remains. The leaves shrink with the reduction of moisture; hence a small bottle of dried herb represents a large quantity of fresh leaves, which also explains why buying herbs from a grocery store can be very expensive.

05871-pk-p1When cooking, the oils in herb leaves release their scent; which adds flavor to the food. The more heat used in preparing a recipe, the faster the oils are dispersed. For instance, a soup on simmer will take 30 minutes to acquire flavor from the herb. By this time, the oils vaporize with the steam and are gradually lost. Herbs should be added last in long-cooking recipes (one exception to this rule is Bay Leaves, which take longer to impart its subtle flavor to a dish).

Cold-prepared foods take longer to absorb herb flavors. Cold foods take a few hours to fully absorb the taste of herbs. However, the acid content of a mixed salad dressing or sauce containing vinegar or lemon juice speeds up the transfer of flavor.52640-pk-p1

Full herb and spice racks are often given to people as gifts, but how long do the herbs keep? The best way to determine this would be by a smell test. An herb with little or no scent has lost its oils, and has little to no flavor.

There’s no doubt that using fresh herbs in cooking makes excellent food, but herbs have many attributes; they smell wonderful, are very attractive, and often used for medicinal purposes.

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