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A Beginner's Herb Garden

5/12/2011 4:50:55 PM

Tags: Lauren Holt, Stevia, Greek Oregano, Sweet Basil, Cilantro, Container Gardening,

L.HoltI’ve finally started my own container garden! I now have oregano, basil, cilantro and stevia growing on my balcony, as well as a tiny sugar snap pea plant and some springy Irish moss I couldn’t resist. (Yes, I realize it’s primarily a groundcover and I have no actual ground to cover. But it’s fun.) I’ve started my own home compost too, but that’s going to take a bit longer to show any progress.

I’ve planted them in random plastic pots my mom had for the time being (largely for the ease-of-transportation aspect), but I did at least keep water and sun requirements in mind as I tried to arrange them somewhat aesthetically. Of the herbs, the stevia and oregano (in different pots) seem the happiest so far, but they were also the largest seedlings I purchased. The moss is apparently thriving, and I’m tempted to pet it for stress release. It’s sturdy enough to be walked on, so it should be fine with acting as a surrogate fluffy animal, right?

I’m growing Greek oregano, which has a stronger flavor than Italian oregano. Traditionally used in Greek wedding ceremonies (Greek myth holds that Aphrodite created it as a symbol of joy to grow on Mount Olympus), it’s also associated with childbirth. I’m mostly growing for delicious culinary applications, but oregano has been shown to be medically useful too. It’s antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and highly antiseptic. According to The Green Pharmacy it contains at least seven components that can aid in lowering blood pressure. I’ve already failed at giving it ideal conditions for growth (dry, relatively rocky mountain soil), but I’m hoping it’ll still grow enough to provide me with at least a few chances to make awesome tomato sauces or season my weekend breakfast eggs.  I’m looking forward to harvesting it in the early summer, when the oils will be most concentrated in the leaves.

I like the slightly spicier scent of Greek oregano over the Italian variety.
Photo by Cria-cow/Courtesy

My basil is sweet basil, that common ingredient in traditional pesto. I hope to grow other types of basil in the future (Thai especially), but for now this one plant should be enough. I enjoy basil primarily for culinary purposes, in curries and pesto and with fresh mozzarella on sandwiches, but I may start using it for its medicinal benefits, too. A basil tea (2 teaspoons dried leaves or 4 teaspoons fresh per cup of hot water) can help ease anxiety, nausea, sore throats and headaches. Unfortunately my little basil plant may already be suffering. I think maybe it’s not getting enough sun, since there’s another balcony overhanging mine that blocks a lot of light. I’ll try moving it a little and hope that helps.

Cilantro is an herb I could probably snack on continuously. I enjoy it most when it’s paired with spicy dishes, as in pico de gallo or my interpretation of Vietnamese pho. It’s also great in fresh spring rolls and light salads. As far as I can tell, occasionally watering is all it needs.

Stevia (S. rebaudiana) is a plant I’ve been trying to learn more about in an effort to cut down on my sugar intake. It’s a naturally sweet herb (sweeter than sugar, in fact) with no calories. It’s used commercially in a number of countries (most notably for me in Japan, where it can pleasantly alter the taste of everything from soda to cakes to candy), but is not currently recognized as a sweetener by the FDA. If you want to cook with it (note that it cannot chemically replace sugar in baking) you have to either grow your own or buy it as a dietary supplement. We have a few recipes on The Herb Companion website for using stevia in a variety of dishes. I’m pretty interested in its applications as a beverage sweetener. The plant itself likes lots of sunshine and merely moist soil.  

Stevia is a fun herbal sweetener, especially for teas and lemonades.
Photo by Gabriela Ruellan/Courtesy

And that’s the herb in my garden this spring! What are you growing?  

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