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Fresh herbs--do you have them, how do you use them?

I started an herb garden in pots outside this spring. I messed around with this last summer, but went into it more completely this time around. I have rosemary, thyme, two basils, parsely, fern leaf dill, oregano, orange mint and two sages. I don't know how well these guys will perform all summer, but I am getting herb cuttings now. I like to add the various chopped herbs to salad greens. I want to use the oregano with some chiles in adobo to make a lively pimiento cheese or dip. I do plan to make a nice Caprese using my basil.

I wonder what your experiences are with your freshly harvested herbs. How do you use them? And how do you know how much to add to various dishes? When do you add them, if the dish is long cooked? (I believe I have read to add later in the cooking.)

I don't have dryer, so any that I save in October, I suppose I will try to freeze. Does that work?

I brought the oregano and one of the sages through the winter, by leaving the pot they were in close to the house. I was able to begin harvesting herbs from those plants quite early.

Anyone else do this? I have to say, I am enjoying this a lot. I've always wanted an herb garden.

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  1. Couldn't live without my summer herbs, I grow them on the side porch for easy picking. I tend to use them mostly in marinades for the grill through September. And tons of pesto with the basil.

    What is left in the fall, I dry it on the dining room table. It only takes a couple of days, then into small glass bottles to use over the winter. No need for any fancy equipment!

    1. seeded and sliced cucumbers with rice wine vinegar and dill.

      chopped tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and basil

      1. I like to blend them with a little mayo and/or buttermilk and vinegar or lemon juice for what we simply call "ranch" in my house even though it's not ranch at all lol

        1. My oregano is in the ground and overwinters here (NJ 7a) with no problem. I wait until it is good and tall, but right before it flowers, and I cut it all. I tie it in bunches and hang it in my laundry room (warm, dry) for three months. Then I destem and store it in glass jars. I use it for pizza, garlic bread, sausage, gravy, grilled chicken, eggplant, etc. funny, I don't use it fresh.

          Every year I plant a window box with annual herbs: thyme, lemon thyme, sage, tarragon, parsley, rosemary. I use them on chicken, fish, ratatouille, etc. I can sometimes keep the flat leaf parsley alive until Christmas! Basil goes in the garden for fresh tomato/mozz stacks, tomato salads, chicken sandwiches.

          16 Replies
          1. re: Jerseygirl111

            yes: hang, dry, stem, jar. boom.

            this year I planted the mint at the edge of the yard, some gripe that it will become invasive (a perennial), but I like that idea.

            1. re: hill food

              My last house had an invasive spearmint problem. The entire side yard had no grass only mint. No matter how much we dug it up, it still came back (I refused to use chemicals). It smelled fantastic when we mowed but the dirt itself got very dry and dusty.

              I want to plant horseradish very badly but I am terrified from everything I've read.

              1. re: Jerseygirl111


                I want to plant horseradish very badly but I am terrified from everything I've read.



                I was JUST talking to one of my vendors at the weekday farmer's market who was selling jarred horseradish about that matter.
                I had no Idea how invasive it becomes.

                I had a local architect friend plant bamboo in his front yard only to find how much of a nuisance and how invasive it became over time.

                I had no idea horseradish root was that type of plant nor could even grow here locally, much less take-over. Yowsa.

                I stopped growing a big patch of strawberries on my empty adjacent property I own years ago but the blossoms and small berries from them still find their way into my lawn and gardens as the birds eat the small berries and them "cycle them thru."
                Year after year.

                Mother nature is funny that way. LOLZ.

                1. re: jjjrfoodie

                  I will be digging up bamboo shoots and roots tomorrow. I suggested my neighbor consider it for privacy, but they didn't plant it properly with deep metal sheeting to prevent free for all spreading. It has now jumped the fence. Any landscaper worth their salt should know how to properly plant spreading plants. I bet sheeting would help with horseradish as well. Not sure about mint though.


                  1. re: Bellachefa

                    getting OT, but it also depends on the variety, there are some which will not thrive in full sun or full shadow, making it a good edge of the woods border (if you have woods)

                    1. re: Bellachefa

                      It cost us 16k to get the invasive bamboo planted by our seller removed, and barriers placed. Not steel, but 65ml plastic is used as barrier, and it must be sealed where the ends meet, or the bamboo just runs along til it finds the seam.

                      I would never plant mint in anything but a pot!

                      1. re: mcf

                        yikes $16K? - I'd just go jungle-style at that point, sure would cut down on the mowing.

                        1. re: hill food

                          New town ordinance.You can have it, but must contain it. And it was a nuisance for us, not just neighbors. We could have just placed the barrier and contained it within our property for 10k less, but DH really wanted it GONE.

                          Most towns have begun instituting bans on planting running bamboo and requirements to contain existing around here. It is extremely invasive, damages structures, roadways, etc, where it has been allowed to become jungle.

                          1. re: mcf

                            There is a house I pass every week that has been overrun by bamboo, and it looks as if it is invading the neighboring yard. It is a horrifying mess. I wouldn't have it in my yard, in the ground or pot.

                            Previous owner of this house planted lemon balm and then let it run all over a planter that runs the width of our back yard. It was a royal pain to get rid of. I pullled plants, then roots all of last year. I finally laid down thick newspaper sheets, and mulched over to kill any of that stuff that might be left. I pulled a tiny plant out of the cranny of the planter wall today.

                            I agree about the mint family. Contain it. I have orange mint in a pot.

                            1. re: sueatmo

                              We need it grown back so we have privacy. I guess the previous owner wanted a fast growing screen for the area overlooking the patio, deck and hot tub and outdoor shower here. I already had the bamboo guy back to remove three that came up where we didn't dig, but we expected that. That area was not populated by it, really, and so far, no more have arisen. 6', one of them, literally overnight.

                              We plan to plant a clumping bamboo (within a container anyway) that only grows to 8' around as a hot tub screen, too. Non invasive, not running bamboo.

                  2. re: Jerseygirl111

                    Plant each one in a pice of plastic pipe. Or grow it in a deep container like a wine barrel .

                        1. re: magiesmom

                          Barriers are supposed to be non decomposable, though.

                        2. re: magiesmom

                          The whole point is for each clump to spread to its full 8' in width. My bamboo guy can create a barrier around them. My first thought was to sink bottomless black trash cans, may still do that.

                        3. re: Jerseygirl111

                          I planted a bit of horseradish at our first house. I am glad I didn't mention it to the buyers; we were only there 12 years or so but whoa, talk about a weed taking over. If you mowed the lawn you didn't notice that much.

                    1. mint is used by muddling with various liquors and the fixings.

                      Otherwise, I just like to go out and get a bit of what ever I would use dried for fresh. If its a long cooked dish (marinara, etc) then I start with dried and finish with fresh.

                      And today, added some fresh thyme to my jerk chicken marinade. Yum!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: autumm

                        Yes to muddling! I grow chocolate mint for food and banana and pineapple mint for drinks.

                      2. Yes, pesto. I only have one plant though, so I don't know if I will have enough. And my one plant is not growing much. I think it has been a little cool here in the PNW. We have a day or two of sun, then days of cool and clouds.

                        The dill is amazing though. It obviously likes this weather.

                        1. I make a basic oil/herb pesto with any of the following: basil, cilantro, arugula, parsley, mint.
                          It's possible to dry herbs without a dryer. Do you have a cookie/cooling rack? Easiest way for me is to clip the herbs in the morning. Tuck into a mesh bag (i.e., for laundry), and then spread onto a cooling rack. Set in the sun for the day (inside or outside). The mesh bag prevents the herbs from being lost in the wind, or knocked off the counter. Once the leaves are completely dry, strip the leaves off the stems, and store in jars or bags. I prefer jars, so that the leaves stay intact. You could add the stems to a vegetable stock, if you like.
                          Another way to preserve herby goodness is to infuse vinegar. Loosely pack herbs into a mason jar. Add white wine or white distilled vinegar to cover. Leave in a dark place for... a while. I prefer to use vinegar which has been brought to the boil, as I think the infusion is a bit stronger (think "tea"). Some folks like to leave the jar in a sunny window to steep. Taste the vinegar from time to time. When it's the strength of flavor you like, strain the vinegar into a clean bottle. Store at room temp, preferably away from bright light.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: KarenDW

                            You are sharing some good ideas. Thanks! I like the vinegar idea.

                                1. re: Bellachefa

                                  Infused vinegar, once the solids are strained out, is shelf-stable.
                                  Pestos, and such, with oil must be frozen or refrigerated.
                                  Garlic in oil is NOT SHELF STABLE unless produced using the long-infuse method on homecanning.com Or, store in the fridge!

                            1. We also make simple syrup (one part each water and sugar) and steep with mint. Very good for mojitos.

                              1. In case of excess herbs I just chop them finely, put them in an ice cube tray, pour some water over it and throw them in the freezer. It works pretty good and does liven up a meal if you don't have fresh.
                                Most of my herbs grow year round, but coriander (cilantro) is a problem as it just bolts when it gets too hot.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: butzy

                                  I even do this with basil--it will turn very dark & unattractive in its ice cube, but it's fine for adding to a soup or stew.

                                  1. re: pine time

                                    Good idea! I've never had any luck drying basil.

                                    1. re: pine time

                                      If pureed with oil and a splash of lemon or vinegar, before freezing, even basil and mint will stay "relatively" green.

                                  2. If you have a lot of parsley, make pesto and freeze. You can also make a good parsley soup -- light and healthy. Other herbs can be dried and put in small jars... or chop fine and freeze. I do a lot of freezing chili pepper.

                                    1. We grow lots of herbs and I love using them fresh in salads, marinades, dips, dressings.
                                      We eat various pestos in the summer also.

                                      1. I love my fresh herbs. Right now we have, mint, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, dill, chives and sage. We're in a new house this year and in a colder climate ( snow) so I'm going to try bringing them in over the winter into the sun porch.

                                        I've never tried freezing, I've previously always lived far enough South so there was no snow and at most they might have a little die back. The herbs I grow are ones I prefer fresh over dried so I haven't tried dehydrating them.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: rasputina

                                          I totally forgot a tarragon plant! I hope I can track one down now. . .

                                          1. re: autumm

                                            For more southerly climes (I am in Austin) Mexican mint marigolds an attractive plant and a terrific tarragon substitute. Mmm, makes me want Bernaise on grilled steak!

                                        2. Earlier this week I seared some chicken thighs (with the bone & skin) then sauteed a sweet onion and braised with a can of tomatoes. I put the thighs under the broiler to crisp the skin while I added oregano, basil & parsley to the tomato sauce.

                                          We love to do something like pernil with our oregano. Tyler F's recipe is quite close to the one we use, but we use 1.5 - 2 cups oregano & cook ours in the crock pot. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ty...

                                          We like Martha S's rosemary dijon marinade for flank/London broil. http://www.marthastewart.com/313801/r...

                                          We like Ina G's parm-thyme crackers. Also good when substituting rosemary. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/in...

                                          I make a compound butter using about 2 parts whatever herbs I feel like to 1 part softened butter, add coarse salt & pepper. Put under the skin of chicken breasts and roast with diced potatoes. The chicken is moist and flavorful and the potatoes pick up the herb, butter & chicken flavors.

                                          1. If you are in a really hot climate they may bolt in the summer. That's what happened to mine last summer. This year I'm going to try shade cloth and see if that makes a difference.

                                            I like to layer the herbs when I'm cooking. For example, if I'm making a simple tomato/basil sauce I'll put basil in with the raw tomatoes and then add more later on when the tomatoes have cooked down.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Barbara76137

                                              If you have the perseverance, try pinching out the beginning flower bud to prevent full-on bolting. I do that regularly, especially w/ basil, and it can extend the life of the plant by weeks.

                                              1. re: pine time

                                                yes, diligence with pinching the flower buds tells the plant it needs to keep growing

                                                1. re: hill food

                                                  keep sn eye out for one of the columnar basils - they continue producing leaves and shoots and do not go to flower or seed. One of these sitting by our back door keeps us in leaves for salad etc through the summer. Has a bit of a spicy flavor
                                                  I grow the genovese type to harvest for pesto and a few plants of lemon and thai for asian dishes,.

                                            2. I had high hopes (pesto! caprese salad! basil on everything!) for two basil plants that I bought a few weeks ago (indoor plants) but they haven't taken off like I thought they would. They get a ton of sunlight but the leaves have yellowed quite a bit (not dry crunch yellow; just a pale sad yellow). Maybe I am watering them too much?

                                              2 Replies
                                                1. re: weezieduzzit

                                                  And basil likes it warm.
                                                  Cold will turn it yellow as well.

                                                  I just put two out of my three nice plants in the ground a few minutes ago.

                                                  I;ve never had luck growing basil in containers as in the hot weather they jusst can't draw enough water even if watered every day.

                                                  Meanwhile, if in the ground I end up with basil bushes that are up to my chest by July or early August.

                                                  For my sage I use it in saltimbocca.
                                                  For my mint I do mint julips or use in tea.

                                                  For basil, pesto , caprese salad or yummy white pizza.

                                                  Fresh oregeno in pasta sauce or use to infuse oil. But it does get a little "piney" aka coniferous to me at times

                                                  That's just a start.

                                                  Basil feta provalone fresh roma tomato base spread of olive oil and fresh garlic white pizza.

                                                  &^%$ yum!

                                              1. I too grow my herbs in pots. I have a yard, but I like being able to move these plants. I currently live in the Midwest so I bring them inside in the winter. I sometimes use them as "houseplants" or centerpieces. I think many are beautiful and the fragrance is enchanting.

                                                When I lived in Texas I had great luck with rosemary and cilantro. These two stand out for me as "herbs that grow like weeds"...in hot dry weather. Both are more difficult for me now in the cool/wet!

                                                I like to add quite a bit of sand to my herb pots. I find that most herbs like "well-drained" soil. More well-drained than most potting mixes.

                                                I really like using fresh herbs (especially rosemary and thyme) in their whole form. I don't like to eat them so much as I like to infuse foods with their flavors. I make a bouquet garni for soups and stocks or just throw whole sprigs on the baking sheet while roasting veggies.
                                                I am also partial to purple basil in Asian inspired dishes, as well as drinks. I find the hue striking.

                                                1. When at my parents they have a huge amount of rosemary and we use it often (soaked) then as skewars for bbq-ing (grilling?) which adds a great aroma yet not an overwhelming flavor.

                                                  Muddled basil in lemonade is wonderful

                                                  I add two or three sprigs of thyme to soups and tomato sauces (at the beginning) and just fish out the twigs at the end

                                                  1. I just put a large amount of snipped chives in a pasta salad. I made a white bean puree (like hummus) with thyme. It has a topping of parsley and lovage. The lovage has a very strong celery taste. I you google each herb for recipes, you will find a lot. Make your own boursin cheese (I grow garlic too). Yes, add herbs near the end of cooking for things like soup. I had a buy a mandolin slicer so I could thinly slice potatoes and zucchini for a gratin with fresh oregano. Make herb salts! Dill self seeded in my veggie garden so I ended up with a small forest. I think it's equal parts sea salt and fresh herb pulverized in a blender. I thought the dillweed salt was nice on scrambled eggs. The salt preserves the dillweed. Also add fresh dill to turkey soup (Moosewood recipe for mock turkey soup). Enjoy your garden!

                                                    1. Yes, I do this because I prefer to use fresh herbs always. I don't save and dry mine, but rosemary, oregano, parsley, thyme all winter over really well in a sheltered spot.

                                                      I grow basil annually for caprese salad and other dishes, too, like adding to roasted ratatouille.

                                                      I use them with grilled meats and veg, salads, in scrambled eggs (summer savory, must plant for eggs)... I just love being able to go outside and snip what I need.

                                                      Last year I discovered how easy it was to grow enough salad for two of us in a big pot and around the perimeter of a tomato plant that I'd potted. Lettuces grow new leaves after you pick some, and quickly!

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: mcf

                                                        Yes, I also prefer to use them fresh. It really does make a huge difference in flavor for most things and I find that having them available (in pots for me, on the porch) means I can use the amount I need at the moment, without buying a bunch that is usually more than I need. I have a couple of pots of things I tend to use more of, like basil and mint. Also single pots of rosemary, oregano, parsley, chives, thyme, jalapenos and cayenne peppers, lavender and tarragon.

                                                        The one herb I have completely given up on growing in pots is cilantro. When I had a garden it was easy enough to keep it going in the ground - it basically kept replanting itself and just had to kept from spreading. In containers, even with constant re-seeding I was just barely ever getting enough to cook with. So annoying since it's one of the fresh herbs I use most.

                                                        1. re: ratgirlagogo

                                                          I didn't have the best luck with it in a pot last year, either.

                                                      2. With hardier fresh herbs like thyme and sage I sometimes like to use a method I saw in the Faviken cookbook and chop them as fine as possible then mix with an equal mass of fine sea salt. It's somewhere between fresh herbs and dried herbs and flavored salt and seems to keep for a month or two in the refrigerator. One way I like to use this is sprinkled over seared chanterelles and apricots.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: lamb_da_calculus

                                                          this is like the "seasoning" used by caribbean cooks or the "erbe salees" made in french canada. great method.

                                                          1. re: jen kalb

                                                            @jen I'd never heard of either of those things. Thanks for pointing them out. It's nice to see similar techniques pop up in different places.

                                                        2. I don't have a large garden so herbs have to be grown in amongst the more decorative plants, rather than in a defined herb bed. It means they have to have other features as well as simply being herbs we use. They have to be perennial and they have to look good.

                                                          We have chives, garlic chives, applemint, fours different thymes, oregano, marjoram and sage. The bay is on the critical list - it may have died. I've cut it right down to ground level and think there are signs it's sprouting. And, OK, the mint isn't at all decorative but it probably gets used more often than any other, with the possible exception of the chives.

                                                          As for using them, it's an almost daily occurance to add them to quick cook dishes or salads.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                            I find that herb plants ~always~ look great.

                                                            Perhaps I'm just happily delusional. :)

                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                              There's really nothing like walking outside and harvesting fresh herbs or collards or any such green plant to eat fresh! The chlorophyll is SO good for us...nice to see so many 'hounds enjoying herb gardening!

                                                            2. You don't really need a dryer to dry most herbs (unless you live in a super-wet climate). You can attach the stems of the herbs to a hanger with a clothespin and hang for a few days until dry and crispy. Or I've lined a basket (for better air circulation) with paper towels and dried herbs in a dark room for a few days. It can make the room smell wonderful (-:.

                                                              When the herbs are dry, crumble and put in a jar -- either recycle old herb jars, or use small cup-size mason jars. You can also make up your own herb mixes if you like a convenient something to sprinkle on a morning egg.

                                                              There are so many wonderful ways to use herbs. One of my favorites is to make a simple syrup (1 cup sugar -- especially brown cane sugar -- to 1 cup water, brought to a boil and then heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved). When I turn off the heat, I pop in the herbs, and let the mixture sit for at least five minutes, but sometimes overnight depending on the herbs. I think your orange mint would be very good. Then you can add the syrup to tea (iced or hot), or add ice cubes and a sparkling water to make "herb soda" -- you control how much you use.

                                                              1. I forgot to mention that herb mustards can be very interesting. I had a recipe for a grainy tarragon mustard that was very good on roast beef sandwiches.

                                                                1. Fresh herbs are the best. I like to freeze mine in ice cube trays filled with olive oil or water. Great to add to any dish and especially good with pasta. I'd suggest adding catnip if you can. It makes a great tea.