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Where to place your Herb  Garden:

Since most herbs grow well in full sun to part shade, choose a spot for your garden that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Make sure there is good drainage and easy accessibility. When planning your garden, take into consideration the height and sizes of herbs; shown below.

Herb Heights and Sizes:
Small: 1- 1 1/2 feet or less in diameter and less than 1 foot tall
Parsley, Chives, Cilantro, Fern leaf Dill (other dills grow to 3' tall), Cuban Basil, Thyme

Medium: 2 feet to 4 feet wide, less than 2 feet tall
Marjoram, Basils (except African Blue), Tarragon, Savory, Thyme, Chocolate Mint and Peppermint

Short but Large: 4-6 feet wide, less than 1 foot tall
Oregano, Spearmint, Orange Mint

Large: 4-6 feet wide and tall
African Blue Basil, Rosemary, Lavenders, Sages, Lemon Verbena, Pineapple Sage

Sweet Bay Laurel (This is actually a tree but it makes a great central point of interest to your herb garden (whether potted or planted in the ground). It grows very slowly but will eventually reach 15-20 feet tall.

Harvesting and Storing Herbs
The optimum time to harvest herbs is in the morning, after the dew has evaporated, prior to the sun warming their leaves. Handle the herbs gently without bruising or injuring the leaves and stems. The distinctive oils that give herbs their aromas and flavors are volatile and can be destroyed if injured. Select just enough herbs to be used, dried or frozen, the same day. Herbs should look healthy, fresh and clean, with out any type of discoloring.

Since the flavor and aroma of herbs deteriorates quickly after picking, be prepared to use them immediately. If you must store them for a few hours, keep them in the refrigerator in a plastic bag that is perforated and can breath. When you are ready to use them, wash the herbs gently under cool, but not cold water and pat dry between paper towels.

Freezing fresh herbs is an easy way to store them for longer periods of time. Clean the herbs delicately, blot them dry, and remove leaves from the stalks. You can freeze them whole or chopped, packing into freezer safe bags or airtight containers. Chopped herbs that are to be used in soups or stews can be spooned into an ice cube tray, covered with water, and frozen. When you are ready to use the herbs, just remove what you need from the tray and add to the pot.

Cooking with Dried Herbs
Most herbal flavors and aromas are released by heat. Although fresh herbs are usually preferred, dried versions can be used. When possible, grind whole spices in a grinder or use a stone mortar & pestle just prior to using for enhanced flavor. Toasting or dry roasting whole spices in a dry skillet over medium heat before grinding will bring out even more flavor. A good rule of thumb is to substitute 1 tsp of crumbled, or 1/4 tsp powdered, dried herbs for each tbs of fresh herbs called for.

Cooking with Fresh Herbs
When using fresh herbs in cold dishes, they should be at room temperature. When preparing a dish that requires a lengthy cooking period, you can use a small, tied bunch of fresh herb sprigs. This bundle is generally known as a bouquet garni and customarily contains parsley, bay leaf, and thyme. Herbal combinations can also be minced and added to a meal immediately upon completion of cooking, and as a garnish before serving. This French practice is referred to as fines herbs. It contains chopped fresh chervil, parsley, tarragon, and chives. This blend is good on mild flavored cuisine like salads, scrambled eggs, and dishes containing poultry and fish.

There are no hard and fast rules when cooking with fresh herbs. Start to experiment using small amounts to see what you like. Here are a few ideas that will help you get started:

  • Try not to mix two very strong herbs together. Try mixing one strong and one or more with milder flavors to complement both the stronger herb and the food.

  • Usually, the weaker the flavor of the food (like eggs), the less added herbs are required to get a nice balance of flavor.

  • Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh, and powdered herbs are more concentrated than crumbled. Each herb is slightly different but a starting formula is: 1/4 tsp powdered herbs is equaled to 3/4 to 1 tsp crumbled or the equivalent of 2 to 4 tsp fresh.

  • If chopping fresh herbs, chop the leaves very fine because the more of the oils and flavor will be released.

  • Start sparingly with the amount of an herb used until you become familiar with it. The aromatic oils can be less than appetizing if too much is used.

  • Usually extended cooking times reduces the flavoring of herbs, so add fresh herbs to soups or stews about 45 minutes before completing the cooking time. For refrigerated foods such as dips, cheese, vegetables and dressings, fresh herbs should be added several hours or overnight before using. Note: Fresh Basil is an exception. If you add it to salad dressing overnight or longer, it becomes bitter.

  • For salsa, hot sauces and picante, add finely chopped fresh or dried herbs directly to the mixture.

  • Make herbal butters and cream cheeses by mixing 1 tbs of finely chopped fresh herbs to 1/2 cp margarine, butter, cottage cheese, low fat yogurt or cream cheese. Let it set for at least an hour to blend the flavor; then taste test on a plain cracker or a melba round. You will gain a great feel for the dimensions of what the flavor will be good with by taste testing in this manner.

  • Flavor vinegar for use in cooking and in vinaigrette

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