Herbs are hardy low-care garden companions that don’t take up much room and add colorful, fragrant, flavorful sparkle to summer eating. If you have an herb patch or pots, now is the time to use them liberally and often in everything that comes out of the kitchen.
One of the joys of garden-picked herbs is that it can pick as much or as little as you need in exactly the right combination of flavors. The garden will keep the rest perfectly fresh until the next time you need some.
While you might only need a pinch for a recipe, when it comes to herbs, the more you pick, the better. Snipping at your herbs actually stimulates the plant to keep growing and keeps them nicely shaped.
This year my garden has basil, chives, cilantro, dill, bronze fennel, oregano, parsley, sages, thymes, lavender and mints.
As a frugal gardener, I love perennial herbs such as thyme, oregano, chives, sage and mints that grow back year after year. But I certainly don’t begrudge buying annuals like basil and parsley because a $1.99 six-pack of seedlings produces in such abundance.
Cilantro is a spring superstar. For a few weeks I have plenty to chop up for salads and salsa. Once the summer heat hits, the cilantro bolts to flowering and stops producing tasty leaves.
Basil is of course the centerpiece of summer pesto and the perfect dance partner for garden tomatoes. Keep harvesting leaves from the top and pinch off all the flowers to prevent the leaves from turning bitter and the plant from getting leggy.
Rosemary is my favorite herb for grilling now and flavoring fall stews later on in the season. (I envy gardeners just a little bit south of us who can watch their rosemary plants grow year after year into gargantuan bushes.)
Drying and potting are two ways to enjoy summer’s herbs all winter long. Dry herbs now while the plants are at their fullest and healthiest. Take care to dry herbs completely before storing. Snip healthy three-inch cuttings now for rooting and potting up.
West Orange’s garden centers and retail stores still have some herb plants in pots for sale. You can also buy bunches of fresh-picked herbs at the Farmer’s Market every Friday afternoon from noon to 6 p.m. in the West Orange Public Library parking lot.
With plenty of summer left to enjoy, try a new recipe that features herbs prominently or in ways that are new to you. Here are two to try from my garden.
1 cup fresh mint leaves, firmly packed
1 cup of sugar
1 cup water
Combine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to boil. Remove from heat and cool. Strain mint leaves and discard. Add mint syrup to plain seltzer to taste. Garnish with fresh mint leaves. Keep refrigerated in a closed container.
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup finely chopped herbs, assorted (try the lyrical combination of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme)
Combine in bowl until blended. Place butter on wax paper and gently form into a log. Refrigerate until hard. Slice rounds to use. Try this butter to season grilled meats and vegetables or smeared on bread for toasted bruschetta. Freezes well tightly wrapped. Note: Go easy on sage, a little goes a long way
Garden Almanac Notes: Our total July rainfall clocked in at 2.6 inches, with half of that amount falling in the month’s final week. August 1 marks halfway between the Summer Solstice and the Fall Equinox. Traditionally this day has been celebrated as a harvest festival.