Monday, March 19, 2012 Herbs in the Spotlight
The National Garden Bureau has declared 2012 the Year of the Herbs!
Each year representatives of the professional horticulture industry select one flower, one vegetable and one perennial to be showcased. Each is chosen because they are popular, easy-to-grow, widely adaptable, genetically diverse, and versatile. This year the vegetable being showcased is the nearly endless world of herbs.
How do you define an herb? Probably the most fitting definition was coined by Holly Shimizu, director of the U.S. Botanic Garden. She says "Herbs are defined as plants (trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, biennials or annuals) valued historically, presently, or potentially for their flavor, fragrance, medicinal qualities, economic or industrial use, or in the case of dyes, for the coloring material they provide." This definition defines herbs by their usefulness rather than by their appearance, so even trees such as witch hazel, bulbs such as garlic and shrubs such as boxwood are included.
For the gardener, the majority of herbs are grown for their culinary use. There are so many herbs available on the market today that we can't begin to tell about them all, so we'll just mention our Top 10 seed-grown herbs.
1/ BASIL - We could feature this category all on its own as there are so many types of basil with distinctive fragrances such as lemon, cinnamon, anise, clove and camphor. Red-leaved varieties are available as well as green ones. Once mature, plants can be harvested repeatedly for their leaves and flowers. The most popular basil for culinary use is Ocimum basilicum, which is widely used in Italian dishes. Basil is an annual that needs to be replanted in the garden each year.
2/ CHIVES - The leaves and pink, globe-shaped flowers of chives (Allium schoenoprasum) smell and taste of onions, adding a mild onion flavor to vegetable dishes and salads. Chives love a sunny, well-drained location and are Zone 3 hardy.
3/ CORIANDER/CILANTRO - The leaves of Coriandrum sativum are referred to as cilantro which is best known for its use in salsa and guacamole. The dried seeds are called coriander and when finely ground are one of the main ingredients in curry powder. The ground seeds are also used in desserts and baked goods. Cilantro is an annual. Sow successive plantings each season for a continual supply of leaves.
4/ DILL - What would pickles do without dill? While it can be biennial, dill is usually grown as an annual. Young dill leaves are referred to as dill weed and are used for flavoring salads, soups, dips, fish, pasta and much more. Ground dill seed is used in condiments and for flavoring in cooking meat, onions and cabbage. The flower umbels are sometimes used, both fresh or dried, in floral arrangements and for crafts.
5/ THYME - There are many different types of thyme, all perennials, that vary greatly in plant habit, leaf color, flavor and fragrance. The most common culinary types are T. vulgaris (Common Thyme) and T. x citriodorus (Lemon Thyme). The aromatic leaves of common thyme are often used as a salt and pepper substitute for seasoning meats, poultry, stews, soups, sauces and dressings. It is hardy in Zone 4.
6/ ROSEMARY - This very aromatic herb matures into shrub-like proportions, about 24 to 36 inches tall. It's sometimes pruned for use as a topiary. In the kitchen, it is used with pork, veal, chicken and in vinegar blends. The fragrance and texture make it popular for sachets and potpourris. Seed germination for rosemary is generally quite low, but even one plant yields a lot. A perennial hardy to Zone 6.
7/ OREGANO - Greek oregano and Italian oregano are popular culinary herbs used in stuffing, casseroles, soups, stews, egg dishes and meat dishes. Greek oregano has a sizzling, spicy flavor while the Italian type is milder and sweeter. Both are perennials that survive Zone 4 winters.
8/ PARSLEY - Both curly-leaf and flat-leaf types of parsley are commonly grown, popular additions in soups, stews, casseroles and meat dishes. The flat-leaf Italian types are usually the first choice for cooking. Curled parsley is eye-catching and most often used as a garnish. Parsley is grown as an annual.
9/ SAGE - Sages come in a variety of flower colors and fragrances. Garden sage (Salvia officinalis) is the one used in the kitchen, known for flavoring turkey, stuffing and sausage. It is perennial to Zone 4.
10/ LEMON BALM - This perennial herb, hardy in zone 4, has lemon-scented leaves that are used in teas, soups and desserts. It can also be dried for potpourri and crafts. Bees love it, too! It can become invasive if not contained and also spreads by seed, so spent flowers should be removed. Planting in containers is a good way to keep control of this prolific grower.