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Edible Delight from My Herb Garden

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Our herb bed is my favorite spot in the garden. I love the heady scent as I work the soil, the way they magically reappear each spring and their delicious flavors. In my book, they are second only to a perfectly vine-ripened tomato in terms of garden payoff. The sunniest spot on our hill is home to a happy tangle of perennial herbs of rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, mint, tarragon and lavender. We add in annuals such as basil, parsley and cilantro by sowing seeds. The cilantro bolts quickly when the weather warms up but it often self-sows and it’s the first to appear after winter. Mint can be invasive so I plant this in a separate box. Poppies and bachelor buttons have managed to pop up in the mix and add paint box colors. Bees are constantly buzzing and butterflies are frequent visitors. Such joy! 

I love to pick herbs early in the morning when their fragrant oils are at their peak. They benefit from frequent harvesting, so once a week I cut a basketful and bring them in to wash. While I’m in the garden I grab a few snippets of whatever is blooming—lavender, poppies, sweet peas, chive blossoms, nasturtiums, even the celery or arugula that has gone to flower. I rinse off the dust, shake them dry and place bundles of them in a couple of plastic drink cups filled with water. I hide these in a ceramic planter next to my stove and no two arrangements are ever alike. This saves me a trip out to the garden when I need herbs to cook with and brings me a smile every time I walk into my kitchen. I change the water a couple of times during the week and then compost whatever is left at the end and start again.

With a miniature herb garden such as this at your fingertips, it’s easy to instantly elevate everyday cooking. Snip some chives into your morning scrambled eggs. Shred a few basil leaves onto your BLT at lunch. Crumble thyme leaves into melted butter and brush on grilled corn on the cob. Fry up a few sage leaves in butter to top roasted cubes of butternut squash. Chop some oregano into store-bought pasta sauce and you’ll swear it’s from scratch. Use a rosemary stem to skewer chicken kabobs for the barbecue. The possibilities are endless! Once you experience the flavor punch of fresh herbs, you’ll find it hard to go back to the dry jars at the grocery store. 

Herbs grow prolifically in our sunny San Joaquin climate and soon you will find yourself with an abundance. I love to take a charming bouquet of herbs and flowers as a hostess gift when we are invited to dinner. When the basil is knee-high, I make pesto to freeze.

I also dry herbs for future use. I tie them in small bundles and hang them in a cool, dry place. Alternatively, I can speed up the process by spreading washed herbs on cookie sheets and drying them for a couple of hours in a low oven. When the herbs are completely dry, I crumble them and store them in small glass jars. Tied up with a pretty ribbon, these make sweet gifts as well. Open up one mid-winter and I am instantly transported back to the warm, relaxing days of summertime. 

If you don’t have a garden, herbs are easy to grow in a pot in sunny location. They don’t mind if you forget to water for a few days and the foliage and flowers are a delight on the patio, or in the window box. For a small investment of time and money, these little garden treasures pay big rewards.

Written by: Laurie Eager 

Laurie Eager is the author and illustrator of In Papa’s Garden. A seeker of beauty every day, she works part time as an interior designer, loves adventure travel, all things French and dark chocolate. She lives in Stockton with her husband, Steve, and can be found most mornings enjoying a cup of coffee and the first rays of sunshine in their abundant vegetable garden.