By Lori Bosworth
Fresh herbs grown in your garden offer nutrition, convenience, and cost savings. Adding a few leaves from fresh herbs to your meals instantly increases the vitamin content of your meals, as well as punches up the flavour. Many herbs also have health benefits such as reducing inflammation, clearing up skin disorders and removing heavy metals from your body. If you’ve never grown herbs before, we recommend that you start with the following easy herbs to grow in your garden.
Basil has a sweet, earthy aroma and one of the easy herbs to grow. Basil contains Vitamin K, which is good for preventing blood clotting, iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, Vitamin C and potassium. Basil’s essential oils help reduce inflammation in the body. Place basil in full sun and harvest frequently to ensure new leaf growth. It also contains powerful antibacterial properties. When harvesting, cut the small leaves at the top of the plant as opposed to the larger leaves at the bottom to ensure plant grows fuller. One of the most versatile herbs, it can be added to salads, omelets, smoothies, pizzas and pasta dishes.
Basil Marinade for Chicken
Combine ¼ cup of olive oil, ¼ cup of Balsamic vinegar, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh basil, sea salt and pepper and use as a marinade for chicken. Best if chicken is refrigerated in marinade for up to 24 hours.
Cilantro has a citrusy, nutty smell that will wake up your olfactory senses. It not only smells wonderful, it has significant nutritional benefits including being rich in Vitamin A and K. Cilantro also:
- Removes heavy metals from the body;
- Helps to clear up skin disorders;
- Helps reduce swelling due to kidney malfunction;
- Helps to heal ulcers;
- Prevents nausea, gas and vomiting and settles digestive upset;
- Freshens breath.
Cilantro needs its own space in a full-sun garden because it will self sow. It grows fast in the spring or in cooler temperatures and then in summer, you will see a flower stalk with white blossoms. These blossoms contain coriander seeds, which you can store in a cupboard or the fridge to use for cooking. If you let the seeds fall, they will produce smaller plants, hence the need for a fair bit of space in the garden. For cooking, cilantro blends well with chives, mint, cumin and garlic. Adding cilantro to spicy meals can help prevent heartburn. One of my favourite ways to use cilantro is in the following recipe:
Cilantro Marinade for Shrimp
Combine juice and zest of 2 limes, 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, 2 garlic cloves and 2 Tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro. Use to marinate 1 pound of shrimp. After marinading, place shrimp on skewers and grill on medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes on each side.
Mint tops the list of easy herbs to grow since it’s a very hardy plant, but leave enough space if you are planting it in the garden because this perennial spreads quickly. Mint is best placed in a spot with morning sun and partial shade in the afternoon. One way to contain the root system, is to plant mint in its pot or in a mesh bag into the garden. Applying mulch to the plant will also prevent the roots from spreading. As far as mint’s health benefits are concerned, mint aids digestion and reduces heartburn so you will want to add this flavourful herb to your meals. Mint can also relieve headaches by applying a compress of mint leaves to your forehead.
When harvesting, keep in mind that the young leaves are more flavourful than the old leaves. Never remove more than 1/3 of the leaves at any time. Immediately before the herb starts to flower, cut the stems to one inch from the ground. That will result in more leaves appearing.
Mint comes in many varieties including Mojito Mint, Strawberry Mint and Pineapple Mint. Add chopped fresh mint to yogourt and fresh fruit, or add several chopped leaves to salad. I love to add about half a dozen fresh mint leaves, along with slices of half a cucumber, and slices of one lemon to a pitcher of water for thirst-quenching refreshment in the summer. Refrigerate overnight to increase flavour.
Mint Lemon Dressing
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 2/3 cup of olive oil
- 1/3 cup of fresh mint, chopped
- Salt and pepper
Mix all ingredients and serve on salad.
Tips for Pruning All Herbs
- Herbs should be cut often to produce new leaves;
- Cut just above a set of leaves in order to create a fuller plant. Cutting just below a leave will result in taller, skinnier plants, which you don’t want;
- Cut new leaves at the top, not the older leaves at the bottom of the plant;
- Cut flower buds of herbs as soon as they appear to increase the growth of leaves;
- Most herbs, especially those outside in sunny conditions, need to be watered every other day in moderate amounts.