With growing interest in natural foods and healthy eating, it’s not surprising that herbs are finding renewed popularity. They’re often easy to grow. And cooks throughout Texas and Oklahoma are finding just how useful they are for adding flavor — rather than sodium, fat, or calories — to recipes.
What kind of culinary herbs should you grow? That’s an easy one: whatever you like! But if you want some suggestions for filling out the kitchen pantry, here are some favorites among members of the Herb Society of America.
1. Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum) — Basil is super easy to grow, and it makes a great companion — in the garden and in the kitchen — for tomatoes. Snip it regularly for dishes, and don’t allow flowers to form unless you’re growing them as ornamentals. Speaking of which, basil works great in an ornamental garden. ‘Purple Ruffles’ basil has colorful foliage, while ‘Boxwood’ basil resembles a clipped boxwood globe. Go ahead and experiment with different varieties such as lemon, cinnamon, or Thai basil (shown in flower, pictured). Each has a unique flavor suited to particular dishes.
2. Common Sage (Salvia officinalis) — Another perennial herb with landscape appeal, sage is a shrublike plant with gray-green foliage. But you’ll also find variegated cultivars such as ‘Tricolor’ sage. Harvest the leaves when flowers appear, and use them for seasoning meat, poultry, and stews. Sage prefers full sun and a well-drained soil.
3. Oregano (Origanum vulgare) — English varieties of this perennial groundcover do best in our region. To promote bushiness, cut plants back when they’re about 6 inches tall. Harvest mature leaves to season soups, roasts, stews, and salads. Oregano is easily dried for later use. Harvest bunches in midmorning, after dew has evaporated. Hang loosely tied bundles in a cool, dark, well-ventilated room. Once they’re dry, store them in airtight containers in a cool, dark location.
Good to Know: Most herbs need good drainage, so with our heavy, clay soil, it’s a good idea to amend beds with plenty of compost and gypsum. Another option is to grow herbs in containers or in a raised bed, such as the parsley, basil, and pineapple sage here.
4. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) — This perennial herb has edible leaves you can use to flavor omelets, soups, salads, dips, and even butter. Cut a handful of leaves from several plants, allowing some foliage to remain in so the plant continues growing. Try onion chives and garlic chives — they bring different nuances to recipes. With either you get pretty flowers as well.
5. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) — Once considered strictly a garnish, parsley is catching on as a culinary ingredient. It’s full of vitamins and minerals, and even freshens the breath. This biennial herb, grown as an annual, also hosts butterfly caterpillars, so do your part for nature by planting extra. Varieties include curled- and flat-leaf. Harvest mature leaves for stews, soups, sauces, salad dressings, or to use as a garnish (of course!).
Good to Know: Sow herb seeds in furrows two weeks before your average last frost. For quicker results, use plants from your local Lowe’s. But wait to set them in the garden until danger of frost has passed.
6. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) — This perennial evergreen herb is simple to grow, and won’t object if you occasionally forget to water it. Rosemary smells great in the garden, and the needlelike leaves impart a slightly piney flavor to roasts and tomato sauces. Or place dried leaves in sachets, and hang them in closets. Most rosemary grows straight up, but a few spreading varieties can double as ground covers.
7. Lavender (Lavandula spp.) —Like rosemary, lavender is a good drought-tolerant herb to add to your Texas or Oklahoma garden. Harvest it to flavor vinegar or jelly, or use it in potpourri or herb pillows. Even if you don’t harvest lavender, you’ll be glad to have it in the garden. This shrubby evergreen smells delightful, and its beautiful summer flowers attract honeybees.
Good to Know: Most herbs prefer 6–8 hours of sunlight a day to do their best. This is especially true of Mediterranean-type herbs such as rosemary, lavender, sage, oregano, and thyme. However, basil, mint, cilantro, dill, and chives accept a bit more shade.