10 Herbs for your Kitchen Garden

| 3/26/2010 12:14:53 PM

KCThis is a totally subjective list—let’s just get that out of the way at the outset. However, these are the herbs that I simply have trouble envisioning any kitchen garden living without. Feel free to correct and tweak my list, and to add recipes of your own (particularly for tarragon, my favorite, for which I have oddly few recipes). Here’s the list:

1. Basil: Is there a better flavor in the summer than fresh basil, tomato slices, fresh mozzarella and basil leaves, drizzled with a bit of balsamic vinegar? I can’t imagine it. And for sheer beauty and generosity, basil has to rank at the top of any gardener’s list. Even in my earliest, dumbest gardening days, I never killed a basil—which tells me it’s one fabulous, hearty plant. I know people can live without pesto, but really. What kind of life is that? Genovese remains my favorite variety, although I also love growing a purple basil (‘Opal’ or ‘Purple ruffles’), just because they’re so pretty. I haven’t grown lemon basil, but might try that this year if I get myself together to do a container garden.

2. Dill: The unmitigated joy of dill—other than the fact that it’s this year’s Herb of the Year—rests in its beauty, aroma, flavor and gardener-friendly growing habits. As Susan Belsinger wrote in her article “2010 Herb of the Year: Dill”, dill is “stalwart and accommodating all year.” You can plant it in the early spring with your first lettuces, and watch it bloom into beautiful umbrellas at summer’s end. And if you leave them be, those seed heads seem perfectly designed to catch the first snows of winter and arrange themselves artfully even after every green, growing thing has turned brown and called it a wrap.

3. French Tarragon: I don’t know anyone nuttier for French tarragon than I am. My friend, Cheryl Long, editor in chief over at Mother Earth News, is my tarragon pusher. I asked her eagerly last week if hers had started greening up yet. She said No, but she still had some dried from last year. The next morning, I found on my desk a bagful of the sweet-smelling stuff and I could have just buried my head in it then and there. Pure deliciousness. The odd thing is, I don’t like licorice at all, and tarragon has a little licorice-y under-flavor. But tarragon is one of those aromas that just make me swoon. Oddly, I have only two favorite recipes with it—Tarragon Chicken and Tarragon Vinegar. So if you have suggestions, I’m open.

A word of caution, however: Some nurseries don’t know the distinction between French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.) and Russian tarragon (A. dracunculoides L.), a weedy and not wonderful plant with a resin-y flavor. You need to start French tarragon from cuttings or live plants, as it’s very difficult (maybe impossible?) to start from seed. If you’ve tasted tarragon that isn’t happiness in your mouth, my bet is that you got Russian rather than French. Ptooie.

This kitchen garden includes parsley, chives, lovage, fennel, dill and lots of basil.
Courtesy Flickr/Photo by Lydiat

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