Sandra M. Grant P.Dt. - Registered Clinical Nutritionist
My Blog

May 2014

Spring - start an herb garden.

Time to start Planting!

Wouldn't it be wonderful to step out your back door and find yourself surrounded by pear trees, gooseberry bushes, grapevines and cascades of ruby-red cherry tomatoes? I have a recurring dream where I do just that. Except that in my dream, I'm in the south of France and at the end of this lush garden is a path of stepping stones leading to a vegetable patch, a small water pond and a wooden bench where I can watch the birds, butterflies and bumble bees enjoy the fruits of my labour. 
Of course, I never really do any labour in my dream...everything just grows naturally!

Perhaps one day, but until then, I'll have to settle for the vegetable patch...and depending on the weather and how much fun I'm having that summer, it might not be very lush.

That said,one thing we can all plant are herbs!! They are amongst the easiest plants to grow. They don't need much space, most of them can be neglected for a while and still survive, and they add flavour AND antioxidants to so many dishes! I've tried starting with seed, but the tiny little things get stuck to my fingers, then the earth sticks to my fingers, I end up with hands covered in soil and seeds and I can no longer tell what's I prefer to start with baby plants. 

Here are a few of my favourites:

Used in the south of France to make pistou and in Italy to make pesto, Basil is wonderful in sauces, sandwiches, soups, and salads. It works very well with tomatoes, as in the famous salad from the island of Capri—Insalata Caprese, made with tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil, and fruity olive oil. Make sure you keep pinching off the flower heads so that the plant will keep producing new leaves throughout the season.

One of my favourite herbs, chives add interest to the garden with their spiky stems and pretty pink flowers. They also add flavour and colour to two of my favourite foods, quesadillas and potatoes! To maximize their taste thinly slice them and toss them into your dish at the last minute since heat destroys their delicate onion flavor.

We all need more of this, don't we? ;o) It is one of the most important herbs in European kitchens. What would a bouquet garni be without it? Its earthiness goes well with meats, but being a non-meat eater I like it with sauteed mushrooms, lemon and pasta. It grows in sun or shade, comes in a variety of colours from dark green to almost flourescent yellow, and sprouts tiny purple flowers. My terrace is surrounded by it! Mainly because it grows so easily, but also because it is a low growing plant, perfect for edging and it cascades beautifully onto the cobblestones!
Lemon Balm: 
Lemon balm, a member of the mint family, is considered a calming herb. As far back as the Middle Ages it was used to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion. Even before the Middle Ages, lemon balm was steeped in wine to lift the spirits, help heal wounds, and treat venomous insect bites and stings. I have bushes of it at the side of my entry way. I find the little white flowers and lemony fresh scent immediately uplifting yet relaxing at the same time. 
Infuse fresh leaves in boiling water for at least an hour. Cool, strain, add ice cubes, lemon rind and a few fresh sprigs of lemonbalm for a refreshing, sparkling, summer drink! 

The workhorse of the herb world, parsley can go in just about every dish you cook. It's mild, grassy flavour allows the flavours of other ingredients to come through. Italian parsley or flat-leaf parsley is preferred for cooking, as it stands up better to heat, while the more decorative curly parsley is used mainly for garnish. Sprinkle a little persillade, a mixture of chopped parsley and garlic, on fish, chicken, and vegetables as they do in France. Add lemon or orange zest and you get gremolata, a blend used in Milan. I also discovered recently, that although parsley is apparently an annual, mine made it over the last two winters! Still as bright and beautiful as ever.

Mint is extremely versatile and works well in sweet and savory dishes. In the Mediterranean, it is often used in fruit and vegetable salads. Though there are many varieties (spearmint, peppermint, lemon mint...(I found "chocolate mint" last year Yummm!!) spearmint is preferred for cooking. You can add it to a bevy of dishes and drinks, my favourite, of course, being Mojitos!! 

In Latin, rosemary means "dew of the sea"—appropriate since it is indigenous to the Mediterranean. It's needlelike leaves have a pronounced lemon-pine flavor making it one of the most aromatic and pungent of all the herbs. Add a sprig to olive oil and drizzle it over facaccia, tomato sauce or pizza. For some easy pizza recipes click here

Well, that wraps up most of the info I have to share on my favourite herbs. If you'd like to plant your own, but don't have the space, remember that most herbs survive well in containers. Mint actually is best in a container as it can quickly take over your entire yard. You can keep a small herb garden on your kitchen window sill, or if you're feeling creative, visit this site on how to make a verticle herb garden for your balcony. 

Enjoy, and Happy Planting!


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