Gardening with Herbs - Part 2
Last issue discussed history and general
culture of herbs. A number of herbs may be grown successfully in
Northern Illinois. Remember, in general herbs like full sun and
well-drained soil. Lets look at a few of them.
Basil, grown as an annual in northern Illinois, is available
in a variety of colors, textures and forms. Because basil plants
are attractive dark green or red, they can easily be incorporated
into a flower border. The spicy leaves are the main ingredient in
pesto and often used in tomato sauces.
Basil loves warmth and is damaged by temperatures below 50 degrees.
Easy to start from seed, basil can be sown directly in the garden
in the middle to the end of May. Thin to 8 to 12 inches apart. Prevent
basil from going to seed by removing the flower buds as soon as
they appear. Harvest basil by cutting back to one or two pairs of
leaves. The plants will recover rapidly in warm weather and may
be picked repeatedly. Add the edible flowers to salads. Excess basil
may be dried for winter use.
Cilantro and coriander give you two herbs (although coriander
is considered a spice) in one plant. Cilantro is the green leaves
and coriander is the seed of Coriandrum sativum. Cilantro,
also called Chinese or Mexican parsley, is used in Mexican and Asian
cuisine, and is a major ingredient in salsa.
In spring after danger of frost has passed, plant seeds one inch
apart in rows 20 to 30 inches wide. Do not thin seedlings. Gather
cilantro by cutting at the base the whole cluster or rosette of
leaves after significant growth. If flower and seed stalks begin
to form, leaves may still be harvested. If your main objective is
cilantro, you should plant slow bolting varieties at one to two
week intervals. In hot weather it may be impossible to prevent flower
stalks from forming (bolting). Plant again in late summer for fall
For coriander allow the plant to flower and form seeds. Cut the
seed heads off when they start turning brown but before they shatter-about
90 days from planting. After drying, remove the inner hearts of
the seed by rubbing in your hands. Discard the green seed, stalks,
and foliage, which have an off-taste. Coriander flavors sausage,
cooked fruits, salads, and breads. It may be added whole or crushed
to sachets and potpourris.
Lavender flowers and foliage scent perfumes, sachets, and
potpourris. It may also be used to flavor cakes, frostings, and
vinegar. Lavender is a perennial plant that often does not flower
well until the second year. Because it is borderline hardy in our
area, it must be located in a protected site with well-drained soil.
Winter mulch is helpful. 'Munstead,' 'Hidcote,' and 'Lavender Lady'
are hardier varieties. 'Lavender Lady' frequently blooms the first
year from seed. For maximum fragrance harvest leaves and flowers
just as the last blooms on the stalk are opening. The aromatic oils
peak at that time.
Oregano is a hardy perennial. Only true Greek oregano has
the sweet pure flavor needed in cooking. True Greek oregano has
small white flowers and is difficult to reproduce from seed. Buy
plants from a reputable source. Many plants and seeds sold as oregano
are its close cousin marjoram. Marjoram produces large purplish
pink flowers and is inferior in taste. Leaves may be harvested anytime
but are most flavorful just before flowers open. Use oregano fresh
Thyme is a wonderful low growing perennial with a multitude
of fragrances and flavors. French or English thyme are best for
cooking. Other thymes are grown for their ornamental or fragrance
qualities. Thyme is propagated by seed, division, and cuttings.
Three to four year old plants need to be divided or replaced because
older plants are woody and the leaves less flavorful. Harvest when
plants begin to bloom by cutting off the top five to six inches
of growth. Two or more crops may be gathered during the season.
For peak quality herbs should be harvested in the morning after
the dew has dried. Do not wash herbs for drying unless they are
covered with dirt. Clean leaves should not be washed because it
removes some of the essential oils.
Dry herbs in a dark well ventilated area. The two most common methods
are bag drying and tray drying. For bag drying bundle eight to twelve
stems together. Place the stems in a paper bag with one to two inches
of stem sticking out of the end of the bag. Tie together and let
dry. In tray drying method the larger stems are removed before drying.
Set the leaves and small stems in a single layer on trays. Turn
herbs daily for even drying.
Leave herb leaves whole to preserve their flavor and aroma. Crush
just before using. Store dry herbs in airtight containers. Under
good conditions herbs will retain maximum flavor for two years.
Exposure to light, heat, and air reduces quality.
June - July 2000: Gardening with Hebs
- Part 2 | Chlorosis of Landscape Plants
| Looking Ahead to White Grub Control