Herbs are the edible green or leafy part of a plant, typically a low growing shrub. This includes parsley, chives, marjoram, basil, thyme, caraway, dill, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory and celery leaves. They can be used fresh or dried. Herbs appeal to our senses of sight, smell, and taste. They also have beneficial effects on our well-being such as helping with relaxation and sleep as well as mental health. Some herbs are even beneficial to our gastrointestinal tract. For this reason, herbs can be considered medicinal in addition to their culinary use, aromatic (i.e., aromatherapy), and ornamental. When used in cooking, herbs can enhance flavor while helping to reduce salt use. Some of the most common culinary herbs you may be familiar with include basil, cilantro, mint, dill oregano, parsley rosemary, sage and thyme. They can be added during cooking, however, fresh basil and oregano should be added toward the end of cooking time or just before serving. The rule of thumb for cooking with fresh vs dried herbs is 1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh herbs equals 1 teaspoon of crumbled dried herbs. It is a good idea to taste as you go when cooking with herbs- you can always add more if the dish needs it.
Fresh herbs can also be used to make refreshing flavored waters in the summertime. Your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office would be a good place to start if you are looking for recipes.
When grown in a garden or in pots, most herbs need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Mint, rosemary, thyme, and lemon balm can get by with indirect sunlight. To winter your potted herbs indoors, place them on or near a south facing windowsill. Be sure to rotate the pots often and water regularly. Rosemary should not dry out completely between waterings. If your home is dry in the winter months, consider spritzing your herbs with water.
Drying is another option for preserving your herb harvest. Simply wash and dry the herb, gather a few sprigs or branches together and tie it with string. They can be hung upside down in a cool, dry location. You can also hang them inverted inside of a paper bag with some holes cut in the sides to keep the dust off while they dry. Avoid using plastic bags as they trap moisture and can promote mold growth. Once dried, crumble the herb in your hand and store them in an airtight glass or pottery container in a cool, dark place such as a pantry or cupboard.
No matter how you choose to grow, cook with and preserve your herbs, they will enhance your taste, smell and sight senses in a delightful way.
About the Author
Diane is a former Registered Dietitian who is passionate about nutrition and community health. She is an educator in Cornell Cooperative Extension Herkimer County’s Building Healthy Habits program, educating the community about healthful eating and exercise habits. She enjoys riding her horse Levi, gardening, and spending time outdoors.
References: Kansas State University Research and Extension
Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension
Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County