Fresh or dried herbs are relatively inexpensive to buy, so why cultivate your own? Only you can answer that for yourself. I like to grow as many of the herbs I use in the kitchen, myself! Why? Because they are fresh, I know they are not sprayed with pesticides etc. and they are just there right outside the back door. I only ‘pick fresh’, dry or freeze whatever I will use, so no waste of produce or of money. For me, there is also the basic satisfaction of seeing something grow, from seed in some cases, into something that adds, at its least, nutritional value and at its best may provide medicinal benefits with no inherent side-effects. Bonus – they look so good in the garden!
I am not a qualified herbalist so any of the herbs I talk about in this post are in general circulation and use. The benefits are easily researched and I will try to provide links for a deeper dive should you be interested in knowing more. Apologies in advance for the links provided. Many websites have an annoying number of ads and ‘request to subscribe’ pop-ups. So, it is just extra information if you want and, of course, you can always do your own research.
You don’t need a big garden or even a garden at all, to grow herbs. Most herbs can be grown in pots/planters. My advice would be to grow the herbs you know you will use. I have parsley, rosemary, sage, chives, lemon balm, thyme and lemon verbena. I have recently started some coriander from seed as I read that even this late in the year it will grow. I can verify that this is true as within a week the seeds have peeped above the soil. I will soon need to transfer them into a bigger tray. Another herb I will add next year is oregano. I have grown mint in the past and it grows like crazy so you would need lots of growing space for it. This would be a good example of weighing up whether to grow a herb or not. Q) What would I use mint for? A) Tea, flavouring drinks like Kombucha. Q2) Would it be easier to buy some mint tea? A2) Yes! Conclusion – the inconvenience outweighs the benefit of growing it myself.
How to use your DIY Herbs
In the past I have used herbs fresh or frozen. It is only this year that I have ventured into drying herbs for ‘future’ use. Why? It is somewhat prompted by rumours of possible disruption to food and energy supplies. My personal philosophy being “better safe than sorry” and “sure why not”! Once a herb is completely dried it can be stored long term and used in many ways.
So far I have not found it necessary to have a dehydrator to dry herbs. These can be quite expensive machines but if you can afford one – good for you. I hear dehydrators don’t use so much electricity so it would be ideal to have one if you are dehydrating lots of produce. Some air fryers, as well a regular oven, can also be used to dehydrate food.
You can air dry your herbs, especially this time of year when it is warm and dry. We are experiencing some lovely weather here in Ireland. This is what I am doing at the moment (as seen in the picture on the left). Here are the steps I follow – first pick a small amount of fresh herbs and then wash them thoroughly but gently. Dry them off with a paper towel or clean tea towel. The herbs are then ready to be ‘air dried’. I just use some net bags and hang them from a pole in the utility room which gets plenty of light. I have found that Rosemary and Lemon Balm dry quickly. Parsley and Sage seem to take a little longer. So, if you want to do your ‘storing’ all in the one day, you can finish off the drying in the oven. The leaves should feel crunchy, not pliable in any way. Spread the herbs onto a baking sheet in the oven. Heat the oven to 50°C and leave the oven door ajar. Check after 1/2 hr. to see if the herbs are crisp and dry, keep going until they are. [Any moisture left in the leaves may cause the herb to grow mouldy in time and render them useless]. You can also do the whole drying process in the oven but you may as well benefit from this nice weather we are having. Won’t cost you a thing!!
Once dried completely, just add the Sage leaves and Lemon balm leaves to storage jars, just as they are. I use the lemon balm for tea and cold drink flavouring. Fresh lemon balm leaves can be used when baking fish in the oven. Dried it can be added to any recipe to provide a lemony flavour. Lemon balm is recommended for anxiety and insomnia. It can be taken as a herbal tea at night. More about the benefits of Lemon balm here.
Sage, I would use it mostly in savoury foods like soup, meat dishes and savoury breads. It is quite delicious cooked in butter on the pan with sliced mushrooms. It can also be used to make Sage tea and its benefits are many. More about the benefits of Sage tea here.
Parsley – my favourite!! The smell always bring me back to secondary school days – cookery class – you always had to have that sprig of parsley to garnish your dish!! Shame if it is cast to one side. Parsley is full of great nutrition. It grows best in spring and summer so if you want to enjoy the taste and benefits all year round, drying is a good way to preserve it. I got flat leaf parsley seeds and started planting from seed this year for the first time. Turned out great!! It is flourishing in the garden planter. I use it liberally in salads. I’ve added it to lentil bread instead of dill and little by little I’m drying and storing it to use in the winter. Parsley is rich in vitamins and minerals, and its high cholorophyll content makes is an excellent blood purifier. After I dried a recent batch of parsley I ran it through the high speed blender to produce a powder. This would be an excellent nutritious addition to a smoothie, soup or sauce.
Rosemary usually survives the winter and flourishes again in the spring, summer and autumn. I add fresh cleaned rosemary sprigs to the bottle of any new purchase of olive oil. Though it is not ‘obvious’ to the naked eye, oils go rancid over time and rancid oils are not healthy to consume. Adding some fresh sprigs of Rosemary to the bottle slows down the ‘ageing’ process. The electrons in the oil and those in the rosemary connect harmoniously making the oil more stable, not to mention more nutritious. Place fresh clean springs of Rosemary on any meat you are going to cook. Cooking meat produces ‘carcinogens’ in the process and Rosemary mitigates some of that damage. I chopped up my last batch of dried Rosemary into really small pieces. This would be perfect for including in meat dishes, for making Rosemary potato wedges etc. The benefits of Rosemary are many and you can read more about it here.
All of the above herbs are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and rich in phyto-nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
Growing and using your own herbs costs you one thing you may need to consider – TIME! If you have a little time to spare, it is well worth the effort. I would like to think that our food and fuel supply will always be assured, but ‘just in case’ this is one way to boost your nutrition using fresh and dried herbs from your own back yard.
Once you start you won’t be able to stop.