By Jessi Jablonski
Parsley: Not just for garnish
Spring has finally arrived and vegetable gardens are popping up everywhere. The thought of fresh salads brimming with ripe tomatoes and cucumbers has gotten everyone ready for picnics at the park. Using fresh herbs in your meals will add a pop of freshness, even on a cool rainy afternoon.
Not all herbs are created equal. Some herbs are short-lived, while others will come back year after year. Let’s look at a few herbs that will add a burst of flavor to your favorite dishes.
Basil is a favorite among gardeners. There are many different varieties: Lemon, Lime, Cinnamon, Thai… and even tiny basil and mammoth basil! Not only does basil have a distinct flavor, but it is a great pollinator if the flowers are left on it. For optimal flavor however, pinch off any flowers that you see on the plant. The plant will put more energy into the leaves, which is what is used to flavor recipes. Basil likes full sun, but will grow fairly well in part shade. Provide plenty of water and watch nighttime temps. Basil will turn black and die if it gets below 40 degrees.
Cilantro is a short-lived annual herb. Cilantro plants live about six weeks. This herb tends to bolt, or start to flower, in hot summer temperatures. Cutting off the flowers can keep the plant alive a bit longer, but it’s days will be numbered. When planting cilantro, look for slow-bolting seeds. If you purchase cilantro plants, grab a packet of seeds and sprinkle them around the plant when you add it to the garden. By the time the potted plant is ready to be removed, the seedlings will be starting to grow. A second batch of cilantro will be ready in a few short weeks. Fun fact: cilantro seeds are coriander!
Oregano is one of the staples in Italian cooking and adds depth to sauces and stews. It is a perennial that grows quite large, so give it ample space in the garden. Oregano will flower in the summer, so cut the entire plant back to the ground. It will sprout new, lush growth. Oregano will grow in sun or shade and tolerates poor soil conditions.
Thyme is a tender perennial in our area. This means that sometimes it will make it through winter. I typically treat this plant as an annual and plant a new one every year. Thyme can be grown as an upright plant that looks like a tiny shrub, or a creeping plant that fills in cracks between garden steppers. It can be grown in full sun or part shade. Trim flowers off of the thyme to keep the leaves flavorful.
Rosemary is a woody herb that is not hardy in Bluff Country and should be treated like an annual. I have had some success with bringing it in for the winter and placing it in a south-facing window. Rosemary loves full sun and hot, dry conditions. It will also tolerate shearing and can be trained to grow in fun shapes like little trees or tiny shrubs. The leaves are flavorful, as well as the stems. Try using woody rosemary branches as skewers for your next kebab grilling adventure!
Curly parsley has been placed on plates for generations as a garnish, but Italian (flat-leaf) parsley is where the real flavor is. Parsley is an annual and grows similar to cilantro, but has deeper green leaves and a different flavor. Rabbits love parsley so be aware! Removing flowers from parsley will stretch out its growing season.
The Plant Lady is a regional horticulturalist with the goal is of making Bluff Country more beautiful – one garden at a time. Follow her on Facebook