Your Own Herb Garden

How to Make Your Own Italian Herb Garden

It is not always easy to go to the store last minute when you realize you need that sprig of basil for the pasta, or bushel of rosemary for the lamb. So how about knocking out that need completely by planting an herb garden of your own?

Planting and maintaining your own herb garden is simple and will provide you with endless seasoning opportunities for your foods. Whether you have acres of garden or simply an apartment window box?the opportunities are endless.

Most all of the herbs mentioned below will thrive without your supervision and do not require a lot of care. So with or without a green thumb, the steps are simple.


Basil

Basil is not only the most known of all Italian herbs, but it is also one of the easiest herbs to grow. Basil is absolutely essential in almost all Italian cooking. Mixed with olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts, it is the base of pesto. Basil is also the perfect compliment to the flavor of tomato sauce and is generally added to most marinades, soups, salads, and on top of pasta dishes.

Sweet Italian Large Leaf basil is what you will find at most stores or outdoor markets. You can either buy the seeds, or the grown plant, depending on the amount of work you want to do. Remember that you can always start with the seeds in a pot and move them into a garden.

Whatever you do, always have the basil in a sunny location. Basil does not like too much shade, rain, or fog, so a sunny window box or heat drenched area of your garden is perfect. Also make sure that you do not over water basil?or any herb. Moist soil is a death wish for your herb garden.

To keep your basil growing out (rather than up), trim the flower buds below the node, keeping the tall stalks always at a low height. Harvest the leaves just before the plants actually flowers, as those leaves will have the most aroma and flavor.

After you pick your basil, it will generally keep for about a week. If you want dried basil, hang up the sprigs in a cool, dry place to allow for optimum dehydration.


Oregano

Another herb used in most Italian dishes is oregano. Oregano pairs beautifully with basil and is widely used in tomato-based dishes, with fresh seafood, and infused in meats like lamb and beef. It also works wonders in bean dishes and risotto.

Oregano is very easy to grow. It is best planted from root divisions or with stem cuttings from existing plants. You can find these at most nurseries, or by stealing a cut from a friend. Oregano needs a lot of light and does not do well in damp soil. The more sun the leaves get, the stronger the flavor they will provide.

Pick your oregano leaves just before the flowers bloom, when the buds are fully formed. Prune your plants and trim back any dried or dead leaves as the plants grow to allow for the most from your plant.

After you pick your oregano, it will generally keep for about a little over a week. If you want it dried, hang up the sprigs in a cool, dry place to allow for optimum dehydration.


Rosemary

Rosemary comes from the Latin word rosmarinus, which is presumed to mean "dew of the sea." It is found in the cuisine of almost every Mediterranean region because of its intoxicating aroma and uncanny ability to transform a dish. No roast is complete without rosemary?whether you are roasting lamb, beef, carrots, potatoes, or corn. Rosemary is also found on top of focaccia as it provides the bread with extreme depth.

Rosemary can be planted from seeds or cuttings. It does not like wet soil, so make sure and choose a well-drained spot in your garden or window box. Rosemary also loves light?lots of it. It is a totally independent plant and will grow with little care or cannonading. This is not a tough herb to keep and in some cases it can last for over 20 years.

The leaves of the rosemary plant resemble pine needles and are bluish green in color. You can pick the leaves as often as you like. Dried rosemary is also an excellent soothing agent and is found in many teas or bath soaks. So make sure and keep a little aside for that purpose!


Parsley

Flat-leaf Italian parsley is arguably more flavorful than the then the typical decorative variety which you find as garnish. Italian parsley is used in soup stock and with many vegetable dishes. It also contributes to salads and in marinades for grilled meat or fish.

Parsley seeds are different then the rest as they do not necessarily need complete sun exposure. They can be planted in direct sunlight or in shade. The leaves from the first years' plants will be the most flavorful, so it?s best to re-plant year to year.

Pick the parsley when the plants reach six to seven inches in height. Cut the leaves and as much of the stem as you can, as the stems provide a lot of flavor. Fresh parsley is best, so although you can dry it, it?s not recommended.


Sage

Because of Sage?s slightly peppery flavor, it is another herb which pairs wonderfully with meat dishes. Sage is also found in a lot of Italian salads and dressings. It makes a perfect addition to stuffing for poultry, pork, seafood and lamb.

As with oregano, use cuttings from existing sage plants for your garden or go buy it pre-planted. Sage can be frustrating as a seed because it is unreliable and take a long time to germinate. But be patient. The plant must have partial sunlight, but don't let it get too dry. Make sure and watch how you water it. Sage is more temperamental then the rest.

Pick the sage before it blooms. Trim off the stems and strip the leaves to use fresh. Or dry your sage?as the leaves are fairly thick, so they will not dry hard and crumbly like other herbs.