Saturday, April 25, 2009

3 Easy & Essential Herbs

Mint, parsley, and chives are all perennials, meaning they come back every year by themselves. All three look great in your garden (I put them in flower gardens and they control weeds). All three dry and freeze well, and all three make your food much more fabulous. All three grow well in pots.

First, chives. Aren't those flowers gorgeous? Chives were among the first plants in my yard to come up this spring, and they're almost ready to blossom already. To use, cut chives off at the base, and they will continue producing new shoots all spring, summer, and fall. For winter, cut as much as you can, tie them in bunches with string, and hang them in a dry place. Once dry, store in a brown paper bag or baggie in a drawer and use all winter long.

Chives are milder than onion and garlic, and often useful for those who have trouble with spicy foods. Also, kids love them. When I was small, I enjoyed cutting my own out of the garden and cutting them up over food with scissors. Chives are delicious, just ask French cooks!Parsley is key for potato salad, tabouleh (my fave!), stuffing, and good breath! I love parsley so much that put I it in salads and sandwiches. When I first realized how tasty it was, I was horrified that it was so commonly used as a garnish that people don't eat.

Parsley is available at all times in my garden, except when there's snow on the ground. It's that hearty. It's more abundant in summer, but it's there year-round. Plant parsley close to tomato plants to keep pests away. That's it. You don't have to do anything for it once it's established, but this plant keeps giving and giving. (Now we just have to wait for ripe tomato season....)Mints are the queens of herbs. There are zillions of different kinds (chocolate mint, lemon mint, apple mint, ginger mint). There are as many flavors of mint as there are martinis these days! I grow the basics: peppermint, spearmint, and, because I have cats, catmint. Mint calms your stomach by aiding digestion.

I put it in all kinds of food to add zing, but my favorite use for mint is suntea. Stick several sprigs of your favorite mint in a glass jar, cover with water, and let sit in the sun for an hour or so. Chill and drink.

Mint spreads, and some people consider it invasive. I think there's no such thing as too much mint, but you might not want to plant it near delicate plants. You can skip the worry of mint spreading by planting it in a pot. If you put the pot somewhere where it's protected from northern winds in the winter, the mint plants are hearty enough that they will still come back on their own next year.

The drying methods for mint and parsley are the same as chives. Once dry, you can crush and keep the leaves and discard the stems.

You know that by "discard" I mean COMPOST, right?

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