Spring is fully here...new green leaves, light rain showers, and the garden filling up with friends, old and new. I love being outside this time of year, hands in the soil, bare feet on the new grass, watching blossoms and change unfold.
I'm often asked by those new to growing herbs, which ones are my favorites, which ones would I start with if I was planting a new garden? The answer depends a bit on where you live, where you are growing them (pots or ground), what you love to use in your cooking/creating, and which ones you simply feel drawn to include.
I've always been a bit of a nomad, so have started many gardens over the years in a variety of places. Here are five of the first herbs that I welcome into my garden....
Thyme-easiest to buy a plant rather then starting from seed. Perennial. Grows well in both pots and ground. I like having two types, regular and lemon. The lemon thyme is great for combining with other herbs in herb butters. The regular one I add into everything from eggs to sauces (it goes great with mushrooms). I also make a tincture from it to use during cold season.
Greek Oregano-best to buy a little plant or get a thinning from a neighbor, as it can be tricky to grow from seed. Perennial. One of my most magical memories was harvesting Wild Oregano in the mountains of Southern Italy. In the area where I was living in Italy, they always use oregano dried, sprinkling it on slices of aged sheep cheese or pizza. When I harvest it for drying I cut the stalks when it's white flowers appear and hang it to dry in bundles around the house. Once fully dry, I strip the leaves and flowers from the stems in a process called garbling, and store them in a big jar. I use it daily...sprinkled in and on everything from sauces, to omelets, to toast.
Calendula- grows well from seeds. Perennial in mild climates, but often treated as an annual in places with cold winters and/or hot summers as it's not a fan of either. It tends to self seed readily. I think of them as annuals in most climates, but the past couple of years I have had a couple of plants overwinter here in Scotland. The petals are edible and I love adding them into salads, or sprinkling them on top of fritattas and other dishes to add a burst of color. I also love infusing the flowers in oil to making a beautiful golden oil which is great for your skin and for making into salves and creams.
Rosemary-again buying a little plant or taking a cutting from one of your friends is the best way to go with this one. Perennial. It doesn't like cold winters, so if you live somewhere it gets cold you will need to pot it up and bring it inside for the colder months. In the summers you can take it out of the pot and plant it in your garden. In warmer areas where it spends the winter outside, it grows into massive bushes. I like to grow a couple different varieties, find ones that draw you in with their scent and taste. I love to use it in cooking. I also brew it into a strong tea to use as a hair rinse, and I infuse it in oil, both for cooking with and to use in my hair.
Parsley-seeds. They take a while to germinate, but well worth the wait (especially if you use it as much as I do). Biennial. The first year you get lots of tasty leaves, which l love to add into my cooking and also freeze in jars to use over the winter. The second year you can harvest the leaves in early spring before your new batch of little parsley babies have started producing. Then they go to flower and are a brilliant food source for bees and other pollinators.
What are some of your favorite herbs to grow? What would you love to learn more about with growing herbs?