Let’s take a closer look at a few popular herbs:
Parsley is probably the most commonly used herb in the world. You will find both flat (Italian) and curly types. Parsley complements the flavor of everything from sauces to hearty stews. It is used as a garnish on plates, or cut up and added to soups, dressings and salads. Parsley adds vitamins and color, and quietly brings out the flavor of other ingredients in the dish. It is a biennial, flowering in its second season, and prefers a little shade on a hot sunny day. Be sure to water frequently to avoid wilting and drying. Pinch back older stems to the base, allowing new leaves and branches to grow.
Bay leaves add a favorable hint of spice to stews, soups and spaghetti sauce. The bay laurel is a small tree that grows about a foot per year, which makes it suitable for growing in a container. If you live in a mild climate zone, you can leave the container outside.
You can find many different kinds of basil, and all grow quite rapidly, requiring frequent pruning to prevent them from becoming tall and leggy. Pinch off any flower buds to promote more leaf growth. When the plants have reached about six to eight inches tall, you can begin harvesting. Pinch off the top 1/3 of the plant, just above a leaf intersection. Six to eight plants should provide enough basil for the entire neighborhood!
To grow your own garlic, simply break apart a whole bulb of garlic and plant several individual peeled cloves about four inches apart, two to four inches deep in a light soil. Lightly water and watch them grow! You may harvest them when the tips of the leaves turn brown, in about seven to eight months, but do not let them flower. Just dig up the bulbs and you have fresh garlic. To keep a ready supply, take a few cloves from each new bulb and replant them.
A perennial ground cover plant, oregano is a prolific grower that can send out shoots that reach six feet in a single season. If pruned and bunched, oregano becomes a small border plant. Oregano prefers light, thin soil and lots of sun, so keep it on the south side of your garden. When the plants reach four to five inches, harvesting can start. Pinch off the top 1/3 of the plant, just above a leaf intersection. The young leaves are actually stronger dried than fresh, and are the most flavorful part of the plant. To dry, lay the leaves on newspaper or a drying screen in the sun until the leaves crumble easily. Oregano will retain its flavor for months.
These five herb plants are all you need to take your everyday meals to a whole new level and create your next Italian feast!
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