Down To Earth: A Garden Tour with a Hands-On Approach

Visitors bag their own soup seasoning as they go along.

| December/January 2009

  • Sometimes the visitors look past me at the beds of plants and I can practically hear them thinking, “Surely all of those plants aren’t edible?”
    Jim Long
  • The edible herb garden provides adventure for the palate as well as the eye.
    Jim Long

Every autumn, when my garden tours switch focus from summery herbs to those of winter, I bring out my special soup-pourri (a potpourri of soup herbs) packets for my visitors. The packets begin as empty bags, with my special instructions attached; by the end of the tour, visitors have an herb blend perfect for making soup. During the tour of my garden, I hand visitors herbs to smell and taste; I learned long ago that they need something to do with the herbs after the tour.

“Should I just throw this on the ground?” is a refrain I used to hear, before I implemented the soup-pourri bags. Sometimes once the person had sniffed and tasted the featured herb, they didn’t know where to put it. Lots of herb novices, whose only exposure to herbs may have been opening a spice jar and dusting a bit over a dish of food, didn’t know that you actually can eat a whole, fresh basil leaf. Or that a lemon verbena leaf is as delicious plain as it is in tea and baked goods.

Observing this reluctance to eat herb leaves, I devised the soup-pourri packets to give folks something to do with the herb once they had nibbled the edges. I pass out paper sandwich bags, which allow the moisture of the herb leaves to wick away (plastic won’t work for this). I’ve printed instructions on the bags, explaining that the leaves I hand out, after they’ve been tasted and smelled, are to go into the bag; and that every plant I hand them is free of pesticides and is completely edible. Sometimes the visitors look past me at the beds of plants and I can practically hear them thinking, “Surely all of those plants aren’t edible?”

The bag has a label attached which has directions for what to do once the bag is filled. There’s also room on the reverse side of the bag for writing notes, as I’ve found people often want to remember some of the suggestions I make.

I begin my tour on the Herb Shop porch and pick leaves of the spicebush (Lindera benzoin), one of the few shade-loving culinary herbs. I encourage the group to smell the leaves and I describe how this herb is perfect in soups and stews, as well as in venison and chicken dishes.

Next are the basils. I grow 10 to 12 varieties, including Thai, sweet, lemon, lime, spicy globe and green pepper. I pass around leaves of several, and even avid gardeners can be surprised at the difference in flavors. When we get to rosemary, each garden tourist receives a little sprig for their bag. I explain that, when cooking with any herb, add it during the last five or 10 minutes of cooking for best flavor. “Put it in at the beginning of a soup or casserole,” I say, “and you lose a lot of the flavor. Some herbs even turn a bit bitter if cooked too long.”

8/23/2018 7:16:46 AM

You can buy inexpensive large tea bags (meant for iced tea usually). Just pop your snipped herbs inside, fold over the top, then throw the whole thing into your soup pot (or stew pot, etc). No muss, no fuss - just a delectable and healthy way to cook.

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