When it comes to bringing the flavours of your recipes to life, nothing beats fresh herbs instead of dried. Unfortunately, they can be expensive to buy at the grocery store and they aren’t always in season. Although you can use their dried counterparts in your favourite recipes, they just don’t deliver the same flavour profile. Fortunately, you can enjoy fresh herb flavour all year long and you don’t need a ton of space to do it.
If full-scale gardening isn’t your thing or if space is at a premium in your garden, you’ll want to get the most bang for your buck from your plant choices. Not only do you want to select herbs that are easy to grow, but you’ll also want to select versatile options that pair well with a diverse selection of recipes. The following list of easy-to-grow culinary herbs can help you get started.
Basil tops the list because it is so versatile and is super easy to grow from seed. All you need is a small pot and sunny windowsill and you can have fresh basil at your fingertips all year long.
After all, what could be better than juicy tomatoes paired with fresh mozzarella and fresh-picked basil? Top with a balsamic reduction, some good extra virgin olive oil, and a little salt and fresh-cracked pepper and you’ve got a delicious and easy lunch entrée or dinner salad.
Basil is also an important ingredient in fresh pesto recipes and it pairs beautifully with tomato-based pasta sauces. For a unique twist, add julienned basil and Brie cheese to sourdough bread for a fabulous grilled cheese sandwich. If you want to get even more creative, plant a pot of purple basil to make a beautiful and delicious purple basil jelly.
When talking about Coriander, you have to take into account your audience and recipe source. To the international community, coriander refers to the leaves and stem, and the seeds are known as coriander seeds. In the USA however, the leaves and stem are known as cilantro, while the seeds are just coriander. This can cause some confusion when reading a recipe.
Coriander is a versatile herb. The fresh leaves of young plants are a staple in Mexican cooking. Fresh coriander is a key ingredient in homemade salsas and also adds a unique flavour dimension to salad greens. It can also be used in a wide variety of marinades for beef, chicken, pork and vegetables. It is especially well suited for marinating meats for fajita recipes.
You can easily grow Coriander from seed. To extend the useable life of your plant, keep harvesting the leaves and stems, and keeping it in cooler areas. Despite your best efforts, however, it will eventually “bolt”. Coriander will form lacy flowers that will create seeds you can harvest for the next season. Alternatively, you can lightly toast them and grind to create ground coriander seed, which is much more mellow in flavour than its fresh counterpart and is a nice complement to many recipes.
Rosemary can also be started from seeds, but you may find it easier to pick up small plants from your local garden centre each spring. They can then be brought indoors during cooler weather, but you will need to keep them moist and provide access to a sunny window, preferably with a southern exposure* to keep them happy.
Not only is rosemary delicious in marinades for roasted chicken, pork, or beef, it also imparts a wonderful earthy aroma to roasted new potatoes and homemade focaccia bread.
Rosemary is also a very pretty plant with decorative appeal. It adds structure to the herb garden with its elegant upright growth habit. Plus, it can easily be shaped to look like a Christmas tree. As a result, rosemary makes a lovely hostess gift around the holidays.
This is another classic culinary herb that is so easy to grow. Fresh thyme is a staple in many types of cuisine and adds a distinctive flavour to meat-based dishes and is wonderful in stews and soups, as well. For a special treat, grow lemon thyme to add an unexpected hint of citrus flavour to your dishes.
Another thing to love about thyme is its beauty. It has a beautiful growth habit that makes it ideal in pots next to taller herbs like rosemary. Use it outdoors to edge walkways and paths to add a fragrant element to your landscape, but don’t use those plants for cooking, especially if you have pets.
Of course, these four easy-to-grow culinary herbs barely scratch the surface of what you can grow in a limited space. The herbs listed here are easy to grow and can be found in a diverse range of recipes, so not only will you enjoy growing them, you’ll love using them, too.
*Southern exposure in the northern hemisphere.