Farm Horizons, April 2018

Carver Co. gardening event gives a taste of what herbs have to offer

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

Homegrown herbs are trendy. At least, they fit well with current food and gardening trends.

According to Carver-Scott Extension Master Gardener Maren Christopher, the top three trends for food are:

• adding plants and flowers to beverages,

• transparency (knowing where food comes from), and

• plant-based diets.

On the growing side, two trends are edible gardening, and gardening for pollinators.

“Herbs and spices are both valued for their culinary, medicinal, and aromatic qualities,” Christopher said March 3, while presenting at the 20th annual Horticulture Day in Chaska.

Christopher explained that while herbs and spices may seem similar, they come from different parts of the plant – herbs are the leafy part, while spices are from other parts of a plant (such as the seed).

Not all herbs are suitable for culinary use; only eat herbs that are known to be edible.

Herbs can be “ornamedibles,” which means they’re grown for both ornamental and culinary purposes. Curly leaf parsley, for instance, has an eye-catching texture.

Theme gardens

Growers may want to consider a themed herb garden. One idea Christopher gave was a pizza/Italian theme, featuring basil, bay laurel, fennel, oregano, and rosemary.

“Basil is one of the most nutrient-dense herbs,” she said, adding that it’s also easy to grow and widely available.

Other themes could be fragrance (with chamomile, jasmine, lavender, etc.), natural dyes (goldenrod, marigold, hibiscus, etc.), or tea (lemon balm, mint, angelica, etc.).

Even if one decides not to do a theme, it’s a good idea to plan before planting.

“Herbs are sun-lovers,” Christopher said, adding that most need six to eight hours of sun per day. “The intense sunlight helps oil development, which will give the herbs stronger flavor and aroma.”

Fertilizer should be used sparingly, and chemicals should not be used if the herbs are for eating. Water needs will depend on the weather, how quickly the soil drains, and the type of container (if any) that’s used.

“Planting in pots is a great way to start,” Christopher said.

Pots can be moved to areas of sun through the day, and they can also be moved inside for the winter. While keeping plants thriving indoors is tough with Minnesota’s weak winter sunlight, Christopher said it’s worth trying.

Storing herbs

Herbs can be preserved either by freezing or drying. Christopher said she does both, depending on the type of herb. Some herbs she recommends for freezing include basil, chives, dill, fennel, french tarragon, lemon grass, and mint. A few herbs that dry well include bay laurel, lavender, lemon verbena, oregano, and thyme.

Some herbs, like rosemary, can be preserved well either way.

Drying of herbs can be done by air, oven, microwave, or dehydrator. There are benefits and drawbacks to each method. Air drying is considered the preferred method, as it saves the volatile oils better.

“Preserve what you will need for the winter and then use fresh during the growing season,” Christopher noted.

About the speaker

Christopher was one of four featured speakers at the Carver-Scott Extension Master Gardener Horticulture Day at the Chaska Event Center March 3. She is a Master Gardener who serves on the Carver County Extension Committee, owns a garden management business, and produces an educational TV series about gardening in a northern climate.

How to make herb butter

This recipe was provided by the University of Minnesota Carver-Scott Extension Master Gardeners:

Combine one stick of softened unsalted butter with two to four tablespoons chopped fresh herbs of choice. A single herb or a blend can be used. Refrigerate several hours to allow the flavors to blend. May be frozen later for future use (up to six months).

Uses: Topping for steak, fish, poultry, vegetable, baked potatoes, and as a spread for breads and crackers.

Also try flavoring mayonnaise, mustard, or cream cheese with herbs.

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