“Fresh herbs offer an astounding palette of vibrant and glorious tastes, but their delights go beyond the flavors they lend to food. For a cook, there is joy in simply handling fresh herbs in the kitchen. Who can resist stroking the proud sticky needles of rosemary, rubbing a plush sage leaf, or crushing a crinkled leaf of verdant mint between their fingers? When yous trip the fragrant leaves off sweet marjoram or tuck a few sprigs of shrubby thyme in a simmering stew, you feel connected to the soil and the season, no matter where you kitchen is.”
Jerry Traunfeld from The Herbfarm Cookbook
This time of year I’m always sad that cilantro and basil are gone, but thyme and rosemary will take their place. I have potted herbs in the house for winter eating, always thyme, and almost always rosemary.
I find thyme to be very easy to grow indoors, there are always a few different varieties. Lemon thyme is my favorite one, I use it almost daily. Rosemary can be hard to maintain as a houseplant, I have trouble with it dying on me. Recently, I read that if you plant it in the soil during the summer and dig it up for winter it will survive the winter much more easily. I’ll definitely be trying that method next year.
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“The herbs are essential to the kitchen and we aim to provide ourselves with a limitless supply of the principal herbs so that we can cook generously with them rather than treating them as a precious garnish.”
Monty Don from Fork to Fork
In my garden grow many herbs, they’re one of my favorite things to have around. There are culinary herbs, medicinal herbs and tea herbs. It would be very hard to me to sit down and list all of the herbs in my garden, there are far too many. Consider thyme, there are 15 different varieties of thyme growing at Chiot’s Run.
I use mass quantities of herbs every day, at every meal. Of all of the herbs I grow, lemon thyme is probably my most favorite. If I had to choose only it would win. A close second would be cilantro.
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Last week I harvested the first items for the pantry: herbs. Each year I harvest herbs and dry them in the attic to add to our meals and to enjoy as tea. I grow a wide variety of herbs in the garden some perennial, some annual. I won’t list all the herbs I have in the garden as there are quite a few. Each year I try to add a few more and learn how to use them both for culinary and medicinal purposes.
You’re supposed to harvest herbs right before them bloom; in the morning after the dew has dried, but before it gets too sunny and warm. At least that’s what I read you should do to get the best flavored herbs for your pantry. I’ve never done any experiments to see if it matters or not, but it makes sense to me that the plants would have more oils in the morning before they it gets too warm.
What made it into my harvest basket?
Peppermint – (Mentha x piperita piperita) Peppermint tea is a refreshing alternative to coffee and regular tea. Excellent for stomach indigestion. Lends its spiciness to many dishes. Don’t be fooled by seeds labelled as ‘peppermint’, peppermint can’t produce seeds because its flowers are sterile. (source of plants: Richter’s)
Sage – (Salvia officinalis) The main culinary varieties popular with onions for poultry stuffing and for flavouring rich meats like pork or duck. Also in homemade sausage, omelettes, cheese and bean dishes. Sage tea gargle is valuable for sore throat. It has highly aromatic leaves and along soft spikes of blooms that invite hummingbirds to the garden. (source: Renee’s Garden)
Mountain Mint – (Pycnanthemum pilosum) Hardy U.S. native. Leaves possess a wonderful menthol fragrance; may be used just like peppermint. Excellent beeplant. (source of seeds: Richter’s)
Greek Oregano – (Origanum vulgare hirtum) This is the true oregano collected wild in the mountains of Greece. White flowers; very hardy. Excellent flavour. (source: seeds from Richter’s)
Bodegold Chamomile – (Matricaria recutita ‘Bodegold’) Improved strain of German chamomile for commercial production. Erect, sturdy growth habit and larger flowers containing up 0.7% essential oil high in bisabolol and other medicinal compounds. (source: Renee’s Garden)
I’ve read that you shouldn’t fertilize your herbs too much or it will lessen the amount of oils in them, which will make them less potent. In my experience I have found that herbs are carefree and don’t really mind lean dry conditions. Once established, perennial herbs can take a good amount of neglect if they’re well suited to your climate and soil. Annual herbs can be a whole different ball game. I find some annual herbs to be picky and difficult to grow – at least here in my soil conditions. I have trouble growing cilantro, which is quite a shame because I enjoy it so much. Growing it in a container seems to be the best option for me.
It certainly looks like it will be a savory winter here at Chiot’s Run. I’ll be so glad I took the time to harvest these herbs and others while I’m enjoying sage stuffing at Thanksgiving or sipping a cup of hot peppermint tea on a chilly evening in January.
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I have a large number of ‘Walker’s Low’ Catmint (Nepeta x fassennii ‘Walker’s Low’) in the garden. It’s a beautiful plant, so easy and carefree to grow. Contrary to what you might think, the name does not imply that it is a small plant, it’s named for a place in England. I have a few mature plants that are about 3 ft square each.
Catmint is a tough as nails. It takes just about any kind of soil but thrives in those dry areas where other plants might languish. ‘Walker’s Low’ doesn’t reseed so you don’t have to worry about invasiveness, although it’s very easy to propagate with cuttings if you want more plants. (from what I understand other varieties of catmint may reseed, but I don’t have any so I can’t say first hand if they do). This plant is also unpalatable to deer, which is a huge bonus here at Chiot’s Run.
This plant is also fabulous because it looks good all summer long. With a little pruning it will bloom from spring to frost. It’s carefree, bugs don’t bother it much, bees and other beneficials love it! The only pests that will bother your catmint plant are CATs! It’s called catmint for a reason. I find our outdoor cats sleeping in it all the time. Small branches are also brought in for the indoor cats as well, who spend hours rolling on them on the floor.
I like this plant so much I would love to acquire a few other versions of catmint like ‘Six Hills Giant’, ‘Dawn to Dusk’, and ‘Little Titch’ which is a dwarf variety that I think would make a fabulous ground cover.
Catmint isn’t just a pretty face in the garden, it’s an herb that can be used medicinally for a wide variety of ailments from arthritis to menstrual cramps. I dry a lot of it for tea as it’s calming, helping ease stress, anxiety and insomnia – it’s perfect for nighttime tea. Since it had natural antibiotic properties, it’s also said to help when you have the flu or a cold. I’ve also read that it can help with arthritis since it’s an anti-inflammatory. I mostly use it for evening teas along with chamomile and mint from the garden.
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The peppermint is blooming in my garden right now and the bees, butterflies and other pollinators are loving it. I’m so happy that it’s blooming at this time of the year when nectar and pollen are quite scarce. I love watching the peppermint patch as it’s abuzz with all types, sizes, and colors of pollinators.
I must divide these plants and add more clumps around the gardens. I know they can be invasive, but in my woodland gardens invasive things barely hold one against the saplings and wild flowers. I find myself trying to incorporate more and more plants that bloom and provide nectar or pollen throughout the season just to provide sources of food for these lovely little insects.
Do you have any plants blooming for the pollinators? Do you plant with them in mind?