Make the Most of Your Herbs

Chive blossoms

I love herbs. All of them. Mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme, lavender, chives. We grow them as flowers and greenery, as bushes and ground cover. Some of them fill in as quiet background plants, others steal the show in their corner of the yard. I have a dedicated herb garden just outside the back door; the basil is always tucked in beside the tomato plants; the horseradish has taken over my old herb garden; and there’s a smattering of dill and cilantro and parsley all over the place, planted with no rhyme or reason at all.

I love these plants because they feed all my senses — they are beautiful to look at, wonderful to breathe in, soothing to the touch and tasty in my dinners. I make flower arrangements from them, dry many of them in big batches to keep throughout the year, and, of course, cook with them as many ways as I can imagine.

Right now many of my herbs are at their peak. And some — cilantro, dill, parsley — will very soon shoot to flower and be gone — at least until the weather cools again and I can sow a new round of seeds. So I am greedily meal planning around these herbs: making Mexican to take advantage of the cilantro; stirring up lots of salads with the herbs as both added zip in the salads themselves and stars of the salad dressings, and cooking dishes that highlight the herbs’ unique flavors and textures.

Below is a list of what herbs I grow with links for how to eat them. Most can easily be raised in pots, often inside as well as out. Mix them together in a small garden bed or a large patio planter. And then experiment with their flavors. There’s nothing like biting into a crunch of dill in your salad or tasting a hint of mint in your dessert. A quickly sautéed mix of freshly chopped thyme, oregano and rosemary elevates any meal to a whole new level. (I just added this trio to a batch of crepes I made; all I can say is: ooh la la!)

What are your favorite herbs to cook with?

A Guide to Eating Herbs

Basil: Add this to your stir fry, pair it with tomatoes or turn it into pesto. Its licorice-y smell and taste are one-of-a-kind.

Chives: Think mild onions. Chop the stalks with your kitchen scissors into salads, dressings, dips, omelets. They make a tasty garnish for soups and spring rolls. Their beautiful pink flowers are edible as well and add a touch of elegance when sprinkled atop your salad. (Click here for my friend’s easy to make chive dip recipe.)

basil pesto

Cilantro: A must in guacamole and pico de gallo. Cilantro is also used in Asian salads. It’s especially good in this pork dish. You either love or hate cilantro. If you’re a hater, sub parsley instead.

Dill: Fresh dill is notably good in coleslaw, egg salad, potato salad and added to a mix of greens in a tossed salad. It’s also a great garnish for soups and spring rolls. At the end of the growing season, I dry as much dill as I can; I like to have it on-hand to sprinkle atop soups and mix into dressings.

Lavender: This is the “it” flavor in desserts these days. Think lavender ice cream, lavender scones or lavender shortbread. My local coffee shop is even serving up a yummy lavender latte.

Lemon Balm: This is a new herb for me. But what I read says to add it to dishes as you would add lemon juice or zest. Chop and add to water for an herby summer drink. Or create an herby butter with lemon balm and honey. Yum! Here’s a guide to everything you’d ever want to know about lemon balm.

Mint: Perfect minced and sprinkled on desserts (think Lemon Pudding Cake or even homemade brownies) Also great in salad dressing, tzatziki sauce and lentil salad. Got a lot of mint? Make mint pesto!

Mustard: I eat this as a green that I pick and layer with lettuce and spinach and beet greens in my salads. Would also be a tasty addition to a Buddha Bowl.

Oregano: This is a standard herb that can enhance any dish you add it to. It’s great in chili and chicken noodle soup. It’s also essential in my Taco Seasoning mix and Herby Alfredo Pasta.

Parsley: This leaf has a brightness that brings a crunch to salads and is a wonderful garnish for pastas. It’s a good addition to coleslaw, chicken dishes and salad dressings, too.

Rosemary: This herb smells and tastes of pine. Strip its leaves from their stem, chop coarsely and add to your sauté pan. It’s wonderful with new potatoes, most roasted vegetable dishes, many chicken dishes and soups. I add it to my marinara sauce. It pairs great with oregano and thyme.

Thyme: Expect an earthy, woodsy flavor. It’s great in spice mixes and rubs. Pairs well with oregano and rosemary in soups and is a standout in this stellar turnip meal. Try it with egg dishes.