Saturday, May 07, 2005

Herbs - An Introduction

Herbs have an endearing way of becoming an obsession when given half a chance. Once you start learning about them and begin using them you’ll become hooked! They are a delight to touch, see, smell, and especially taste. They really become part of your life.

I am by no means an expert on herbs, but they are a passion of mine, and I’ve learned to incorporate them into my life in many ways, especially in the kitchen. I’ve also gotten a number of friends and family hooked on them, and am happy to share with you what I’ve learned.

I first became aware of herbs (really aware) of herbs when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Many Saturday mornings, from May-October, my friends and I would trek down to the Capitol Square where one of the nation’s biggest Farmer’s Markets is held. If you ever get a chance to go, please do so – it’s terrific. Anyways, one of the “regulars” sold their homemade pesto each week, which my most of my friends and I just loved. (They had free samples) What is pesto, you ask? It is a mouthwatering condiment made typically from fresh basil leaves, with olive oil, parmesan cheese, a bit of garlic, and usually pine nuts or walnuts. It’s terrific on pasta, bruschetta, fish, chicken, and on toasted pita as a dip, etc, but I digress. What I really want you to know is that this was my first introduction to basil, and once I learned that basil was a plant that actually grew in Wisconsin, I knew I had to get some.

I’m not Martha. Can I really grow herbs?
Let me tell you some good news…herbs are simple to grow! They really are. They thrive in average soil; they love sun, and don’t need intense watering. Most herbs hail from the Mediterranean, and so they are used to intermittent showers, sunny days, and fairly thin soil. As long as you plant them in an area of adequate sun, they will thrive with minimal fuss. However, make sure your soil isn’t heavy (i.e. full of clay) because they don’t like to sit in soggy soil – they need decent drainage. Herbs also do remarkably well in containers! I will write more about my favorite herb container combinations later.

Where should I put my Herb Garden?

Please put your herb garden, or containers of herbs, as close to your kitchen as possible. This sounds simplistic, but it is true, and essential, if you are going to actually use the herbs, and make them a part of your life. My herb garden is right off my patio, and I can step right outside my patio door, grab a handful of delectable herbs, and leap back inside in less than 5 seconds. Because they are with in easy reach, I use my herbs on dark and stormy days, not just on beautiful bright days when I feel like strolling about the garden. If you can’t locate a garden conveniently close by to your kitchen, please consider planting a container of herbs near your kitchen door, with some of the essential every-day herbs such as parsley, chives, oregano, etc.

I'll write about my favorited ways to use herbs soon. Right now, I need to get busy planting the new herbs I just bought!