Are You Ready for Gardening Season?
While writing this article, I’m enjoying the sunshine and spring air on the patio. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see my herb garden bed, which looks a little sad in its current state. I spent some time yesterday cleaning out the pine needles and branches that died off from last season. The surviving plants, including my chive, sage, and lavender plants, are flourishing with new growth. I’ll head to my local nursery within the next week to bring home new garden additions. The herb garden is one of the garden beds I spend the most time with at the start of spring. Having fresh herbs provides access to the freshest flavors possible and culinary inspiration at the tip of your green thumb! To give your garden a jumpstart this year, let’s talk about some of my favorite herbs to plant and products to make your plants flourish.
Which Plants Should You Add to Your Herb Garden?
If you’re planting an herb garden for the first time this year, narrowing down which herbs to plant can feel like being a kid in a candy shop. New variations of herbs are available each year, one of my favorite hybrids being chocolate mint. While herb hybrids are great for experimenting with recipes, especially teas, you may not have the garden space or budget to splurge. So to help you choose which herbs you may often use to make the most of your garden space, let’s talk about the most common herbs and their uses. We’ll discuss two major categories today, culinary use and homemade herbal tea blends.
Aromatic Herb Garden Plants
- Basil is one of the most versatile plants you can add to your herb garden. Having basil in your garden allows you to make fresh pesto, margherita pizzas, and pasta sauce. You can also steep basil leaves and lemon slices overnight to infuse water with flavor!
- Chives are one of my favorite herbs to add to potato dishes, as soup garnishes, and even in salads! Chives aren’t leafy herbs, instead growing as long, thin strands with a mild onion flavor. Chive also forms edible purple flowers with an even milder onion flavor.
- Cilantro is used widely throughout Mexican, Indian, and Thai dishes. The flavor is fresh and citrusy to help brighten dishes and offset spices. But, of course, that’s assuming you don’t have the gene variation that makes cilantro taste like soap. Cilantro can be added during the cooking stage or as a final garnish for a pop of color.
- Dill is an herb that forms feathery leaves and bright yellow flowers. While dill is most commonly associated with pickles, that’s the tip of the recipe iceberg! The flavor of dill can enhance potato dishes, seafood recipes, tzatziki, dips, and dressings!
- Parsley is another herb that packs a punch with a peppery flavor with notes of citrus and a slightly earthy flavor. Parsley is commonly added to Italian dishes, poultry, fish, bread doughs, and dressings! You’ll commonly find two variations of parsley: flat (also known as Italian) and curly. Flat parsley has flat, broad leaves with pointed tips and is used for cooking. Curly parsley has smaller leaves and is more commonly used as a garnish.
- Oregano is a woody herb with a predominantly sharp and spicy flavor with subtle layers of sweetness and bitterness. Oregano’s flavor pairs best in acidic recipes such as tomato-based sauces and vinaigrettes. Fresh oregano is an aromatic spice and should be added in small amounts to avoid overpowering a dish. Once oregano is dried, much of the flavor remains, but it’s easier to add with more control.
- Rosemary features top notes of pepper and woody flavors with more subtle notes of mint, lavender, and sage. Rosemary’s flavor profile makes it a diverse herb that can be used in various dishes, including potatoes, poultry, bread doughs, and homemade butter! You can even make simple syrups, including one in my Rosemary, jalapeno, and bourbon cocktails.
- Sage is a more diverse woody herb with a savory flavor with subtle pine notes. Sage’s flavor is perfect for poultry recipes, pasta dishes, soups, teas, water infusions, and homemade butter!
- Thyme is an earthy herb with subtle notes of mint and pepper. Some have even described the flavor of thyme as a milder version of oregano and more friendly when adding fresh to recipes. Thyme works well in recipes featuring potatoes, tomatoes, and proteins.
Brewing Tea from Your Herb Garden
For tea drinkers, planting an herb garden allows you to make tea blends from the comfort of your home! Once the leaves or flowers have dried, add the tea to a steeper, boil water, brew, and enjoy! Not only will you save money versus buying tea at the grocery store, but you’ll also be helping out the environment. You’ll say goodbye to cardboard waste, staples, and tea bags ending in landfills. Steeped looseleaf tea can be added directly to your compost pile for an eco-friendly caffeine fix. You can even purchase loose-leaf black or green tea to create a variety of caffeinated blends. When choosing herbs to plant specifically for tea brewing, there are plenty of options for various flavors and tea experiences. Some inspirations for herb garden tea plants include:
- Catnip may be commonly associated with cats, but it can also brew a calming tea for humans! Catnip’s flavor is woodsy with mint notes and an almost grassy undertone. For more of a mint flavor, catmint is available as a variation.
- Chamomile is a feathery herb that produces small flowers resembling daisies used in teas. The flowers have a lovely taste and aroma resembling apples and brew a light and refreshing tea. Chamomile tea is commonly enjoyed at night to help improve sleep and calm your mind.
- Lavender flowers are picked while still in bud form and dried for culinary and tea use. Lander tea is a sweet and floral drink with mint notes that can sometimes be slightly bitter. However, lavender tea can improve sleep and even help anxiety and depression!
- Fennel is a feathery plant with a bulb that can be chopped and used in recipes. The taste closely mirrors the flavor of licorice, and all parts of the plant are edible. Whole fennel seeds are used in teas and can aid digestion, calm upset stomachs, and even improve your breath!
- Lemon balm is an herb that produces leaves that look like spearmint but have hints of lemon rather than mint. Lemon balm is an herb commonly used for its medicinal benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, aiding sleep, improving digestion, and treating nausea.
- Sage has plenty of culinary uses, but tea made with sage leaves can also provide a few herbal healing benefits. Those potential benefits include supporting heart, brain, and oral health, being rich in antioxidants, and helping to improve blood sugar levels.
- Spearmint produces a refreshing and minty tea that can vary in intensity depending on the amount steeped and strain of mint. Spearmint tea has several potential benefits, including aiding digestion, relieving tension headaches, aiding in weight loss, and improving sleep! Spearmint can be enjoyed alone or blended with chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm for an herbal blend to unwind with before bed.
Always Discuss Health Concerns, Supplements, and Treatments with Your Doctor
Always discuss supplements you’re taking with your doctor, including herbal remedies. Your doctor can tell you if any herbs or vitamins will interact with medications you may be taking and provide guidance about what is safe to take and the dosage. I am not a doctor or other form of licensed medical professional. The information in this article is purely informative and not meant to replace professional medical guidance. Use the information at your own discretion.
How to Dry Trimmings from an Herb Garden
Growing herbs at home provides fresh flavors on demand, but you can also dry herbs for year-round use! Best of all, you don’t need fancy equipment to dry herbs. There are methods for every budget and kitchen size, the simplest being air drying. You can also use an herb drying rack or oven when drying herbs. No matter your method, the steps to prepare herbs for drying are universal.
Preparing Herbs for Drying
When drying plants from your herb garden, trim the amount you’d like to dry using a pair of garden shears. Unless it’s the end of the season and you’re harvesting an entire plant, trim no more than 1/3 of the plant. If you cut more than 1/3, the plant may not have enough leaves to convert sun into food and not grow back. Once trimmed, remove any leaves that are discolored or showing signs of wilting. Next, rinse the herbs under cold water and lightly pat them dry with a soft towel. You can then proceed to dry using the method of your choosing.
Air Drying Plants from Your Herb Garden
When Drying On a Tray
Arrange the herbs in a single layer on a baking sheet. Keep the leaves attached to the stem when drying feathery or small-leafed herbs such as dill, fennel, and rosemary. Remove the herbs from the branches for broad-leafed herbs such as basil, parsley, and mint.
When Drying in Bunches
Once the Herbs Have Been Arranged or Tied
- Find a warm, dry area in your home that gets sunlight, if possible. Hang the bunches from a hook or place the tray flat. To prevent herbs from blowing off the tray, you can drape a single layer of cheesecloth over the herbs. This will prevent leaves from blowing away but still allow airflow.
- As the herbs dry, rotate bunches and flip herbs on a tray every few days to encourage even drying.
- After about a week, check on the drying progress. Once the leaves crumble easily and no moisture can be felt, the herbs are ready. Depending on how well you dried the herbs after rinsing, the time of year, and your home’s humidity level, air drying can take up to 3 weeks or more.
- Once the herbs have completely dried, remove the flowers and leaves from the stems if dried in bunches. Transfer to an air-tight container and store in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight.
Drying in an Oven
- Keep the leaves attached to the stem when drying for feathery or small-leafed herbs such as dill, fennel, and rosemary. Remove broad-leafed herbs such as basil, parsley, and mint from the stem.
- Preheat your oven to the lowest temperature possible. I suggest using regular bake and not convection mode to reduce the chance of airflow blowing the herbs around.
- Once preheated, place the tray of herbs in the middle rack of your oven.
- Leave the door cracked slightly only if your oven is electric to lower the oven temperature. This will prevent the herbs from burning. The goal is to dry them, not cook them. If you have a gas oven, open the door every five minutes for about 10 seconds before shutting the door again. Leaving a gas oven cracked open while heating can emit toxic gasses into your home!
- Check on the herbs at least every ten minutes to prevent burning them. After an hour, remove the tray from the oven and allow the herbs to cool. The herbs are dried if the leaves crumble easily and no moisture is felt. If moisture is detected, place the herbs in the oven again, repeat step 4, and check on them every five to ten minutes.
- Once dried, crumble the leaves or remove the flowers, transfer them to an air-tight container, and store them in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight.
Products to Make You an Herb Garden Guru
Gardening is a great way to connect with nature, add natural beauty to your backyard, and grow ingredients used in cooking. Whether you’re new to creating an herb garden or have been growing for years, check out the product recommendations below to help your herb garden thrive this year and produce even bigger yields!
Starting From Seeds
Starting plants from seeds is one of the most rewarding forms of gardening. The process begins with something that can be as small of a grain of sand that forms a tap root and in time becomes a blooming plant. Starting from seed is also more economical if you have an herb garden with lots of plants! For what you may spend on one plant, you could have dozens of seeds sprouting in your herb garden bed. Some of the products I use each year to start seeds are:
Planting Mediums and Trays
- As soon as seeds are available, I use MIXC Growing Trays. Compared to other brands I’ve used, the plastic is more durable, and the domes are higher, allowing seedlings to grow taller. In addition, there are four adjustable vents to control the humidity level, and with included seedling tray inserts, you can use seed pellets or soil!
- Seedling pellets are one of my favorite soil mediums when starting seeds in trays. ZeeDix 100 Piece 30 mm Pellets are the best value, and they expand well without breaking apart. Once your seedlings are ready for transplanting outdoors, the pellet can go right into the soil without harming the root system. The pellet casing will break down as the plant grows, allowing the roots to develop.
Temperature and Lighting
- When starting seeds indoors, heating mats will maintain the temperature of the plants and increase the likelihood of successful germination. VIVOSUN’s Heating Mats come in various sizes and can be used with VIVOSUN’s Heat Mat Thermostat Temperature Controller for precise temperatures.
- For plants to grow, they need enough light to convert the light into food. If you don’t have an area of your home that receives at least 8 hours of sunlight, Bseah’s Grow Lights can provide enough light for all stages of growth! Various styles are available, from front clamp lights to tripod styles, each with adjustable timer and brightness settings.
Herb Garden Planters
- Pots that can stack for smaller herb gardens or balconies will save space without making you lose out on the available growing area. For example, Mr. Stacky’s 3-Tier Stackable Planter Set is 18 inches tall and has room for up to 12 plants. They can be used indoors or outdoors and are perfect for herbs, peppers, and lettuce! Mr. Tacky also has a 5 tier version!
- VIVOSUN’s 5-Tier Vertical Gardening Planter has 15 planting cells with more volume for larger plants. What I love about VIVOSUN’s planter set is that a filter is included to contain the soil but allow for drainage, and it can be used with a chain to hang up to three tiers with!
- If you want more vertical planting space, VIVOSUN’S 4 ft. Vertical Raised Garden Planter Box has five levels, each holding a planter box.
Herb Garden Maintenance
- Sleek Garden’s 8-Piece Gardening Tool Set includes everything you need to start and maintain an herb garden. The set will handle everything from digging holes to maintaining your garden bed! The handles are coated in rubber and weighted to create a comfortable grip. The set also includes gardening gloves and a foam pad to kneel on and reduce knee stains and pain.
- To help reduce back pain, using a stool to sit while gardening can create a more ergonomic position to work in. Home & Garden Trends Garden Kneeler and Seat can be used as both a kneeling pad and seat for a 2-in-1 design that saves your knees and back! It quickly converts between a chair and a kneeling pad and comes with side pouches for your favorite tools. In addition, you can fold the seat for storage in narrow spaces when not in use.
- When watering plants, I use RESTMO’s Garden Hose Nozzle. I’ve used it for the last three years, and it hasn’t started to show signs of leaking or rusting. There are seven spray options, ranging from a mist for delicate plants to a jet for removing dirt from walkways.
- If you have hanging plants and want extra reach when watering, RESTMO also sells a 15-inch watering wand to provide extra reach when watering. It has ten watering options and a thumb flow control nob to reduce wrist strains.
- RESTMO sells a telescoping sprayer extending between 3 and 5 feet for the ultimate reach! It has seven spray patterns, an adjustable head for different spray angles, water flow control, and a lock to reduce wrist strain.
Herb Garden Fertilizing & Plant Cuttings
- Dr. Earth’s Organic Tomato, Vegetable & Herb Fertilizer can boost the nutrients in your garden soil to produce larger plants and more vegetable production! And because the formula is organic, you can add cuttings from your herb harden to recipes with peace of mind about the ingredients.
- Rooting Powder is used to create new plants from cuttings of an established plant. It’s best to take cuttings during late spring or early summer for the best success rate, cutting a piece of new growth about 4 inches long. Remove the lower third of the leaves, dip the stem in the rooting powder, and then place the stem in a pot filled with soil. The rotting powder contains vitamins and minerals that will encourage new root growth, and you will have new plants for more production!
- Plant propagators are another way to establish root systems from cuttings. Once cut and the lower third of the leaves are removed, the stems are placed in vials of water to root. The one advantage of water vial propagation is that you can see if the root system has successfully developed. However, do not place propagators in direct sunlight or grow bulbs! Placing the vials in direct light can create a magnifying lens effect and may concentrate light reflections with enough heat to start fires. It may be rare, but a risk worth mentioning. Place the vials in an area that receives indirect light.
Do You Plan on Having a Green Thumb This Year?
We’ve talked about quite a bit today, from which plants to add to your herb garden, herbal use in recipes, drying herbs, and some product recommendations. Hopefully, you’re excited to take that knowledge and start your herb garden this year! Take a weekend trip this spring to your local plant nursery and see what herbs are available to add to your garden. Once you have selected your plants, arrange the pots in your garden bed to find a design you like, and get planting! Gardening may take some time and love, but having access to fresh flavors and some added landscape design makes the work more than worth it! Which herbs do you have in your garden already, or which are you planning to add? I’d love to hear in the comments!
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