Autumn Harvests: Culinary Herbs for Cool-Season Cooking

Posted by admin in Autumn Garden

Keep your garden fresh and flavorful this fall by growing your favorite culinary herbs. Easy to tend and practical to use, herbs promise exotic robust flavors and sharp, mouthwatering blends, combined with garden-ripe textures and rich, varying hues. Whether you’re hoping to harmonize a preexisting vegetable patch, or simply experimenting with a few patio pots, create your own culinary collection for season-long spice picked right for your tastes.

Hints for Herbs:

Like vegetable gardens, herbs require at least six hours of direct sunlight, and prefer fertile, well-drained soil. But unlike tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash, these zesty spices beg for minimal space—most of them proving perfect for pots—and will surprise you with their generous yields.

When possible, grow herbs close to your kitchen door; harvesting herbs should be as simple as opening your spice rack, leaving you no excuse for not eating fresh. Planting near your door also alleviates mid-cooking harvests, should you find yourself dashing out for one more pinch of herbs, either during a rain storm or while simmering pots dance briskly on your stovetop.

Amplify your herb garden by integrating variegated selections like ‘Tricolor’ or ‘Golden’ sage and ‘Variegated Lemon’ thyme, or by including cultivars with darker leaves, such as ‘Dark Opal’ basil and ‘Purple’ sage.

While herbs like rosemary, fennel, thyme, and oregano are evergreen, others like dill, basil, and cilantro are quick growing annuals that thrive in fall and spring; chives go dormant in the winter, but return each spring, promising incessant warm-season harvests.

Hot Herbs for Cool Cooking:

Basil

Sweet basil is one of the most widely used herbs in the world. Although usually associated with Italian cuisine, this intensely aromatic spice actually originates from the far eastern countries of India, Pakistan, and Thailand. A tender annual that thrives in full sun, sweet basil boldly withstands Louisiana summers, flavoring dishes until fall’s first frost. Basil can reach heights of three to five feet when not regularly manicured, but can be readily contained in patio planters where space is limited.

Protect your potted basil in the winter so as to prolong your harvesting season. Pick sweet basil simultaneously with fall fresh tomatoes and peppers, and include other Mediterranean favorites like oregano, arugula, and rosemary. Remember that frequent harvesting will extend the life of your basil. Simply pinch off the top to achieve a lush, bushy plant, since you’re primarily growing it for the foliage, not the flowers. Keep in mind also that basil leaves hold the strongest flavor when harvested just before flowering.

Chives

Chives are mild flavored perennial alliums, much like green onions, that yield clumps of slender, edible, grass-like leaves from spring through fall. Averaging 12 to 15 inches tall and around, chives also bear soft lavender pink flower puffs in late May and June, an elegant addition to spring floral displays and early summer salads. Harvest chives by snipping leaves from the plant’s base; cut flower stalks from the soil line after blooming to keep the plant more productive.

Although chives are most savory when fresh, they can also be stored for winter use in your freezer; chop prewashed leaves into small pieces and freeze in plastic containers. For best growing results, divide established clumps every three to four years in spring, spacing new plants six to 12 inches apart.

Cilantro

Cilantro, a fast growing, cool-season annual, proves perfect for spicing up Tex-Mex dishes like salsa, guacamole, and fajitas, as well as Middle Eastern yogurt sauces for flavoring lamb kabobs. The only downfall is that this short-lived herb recoils from cold winters and hot summers, so its growing season is exceptionally short. Plant cilantro in the fall to electrify traditional tailgating dishes, and again in the spring to jazz up Easter cuisine and early summer salads and poolside barbeques. Cilantro grows 10 to 12 inches tall, yielding bunches of scalloped, aromatic leaves that are best used fresh. Replace dying cilantro in the summer with Spanish cilantro, or cilantro (Eryngium foetidum), a more heat tolerant plant with stronger aromas than its relative.

Dill

Native to Asia Minor and the Mediterranean region, dill is a tender cool-season annual used not only for pickling, but for flavoring soups, salads, breads, dips, and seafood dishes as well. Dill averages 12 inches tall with its feathery blue green foliage, and yields golden umbel-shaped blossoms in late spring and summer. Integrate dill plants in small vegetable and herb gardens, or mix in containers with ‘Dark Opal’ basil, cilantro, and ‘Variegated Lemon’ thyme. Harvest dill foliage throughout the growing season, keeping in mind that the leaves are best used fresh, and shortly after picking, since they quickly lose their essence.

Oregano

Oregano, a low-growing tender perennial native to the Mediterranean region, prefers full sunlight and well-drained soil. Though different cultivars are grown, ‘Greek’ oregano offers the best flavor for classic Italian cuisine. Its downy, dark green leaves spread low to the ground and promise lush vigorous growth from spring through fall.

As with any herb, some selective pruning will aid in stimulating verdant new growth. To harvest fresh oregano leaves, trim the plant back one-third of the size; for bolder taste, chop the leaves just before cooking. Consider growing ‘Italian’ oregano (a cross between sweet marjoram and Oregano vulgaris) for a more upright, abandoned growth habit and slightly milder taste.

Parsley

Common parsley, or curly parsley, like dill, is a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae), and is best known for its use as a garnish or flavoring for many dishes and salads. A Mediterranean native, parsley has a biennial life cycle, but is often treated as an annual when winters are harsh. Like most herbs, parsley prefers full sunlight and well-drained soil, but can tolerate light shade as well. Although curly parsley is predominantly grown as container garden accents or frames for herb beds, Italian flat-leaf parsley is more commonly produced for cooking, since its smooth serrated leaves hold stronger, sweeter flavors.

Rosemary

Another excellent herb to add to your garden is rosemary. This attractive evergreen shrub can grow up to five feet in height, and prefers sunny, well-drained beds. Trusses of silver-blue flowers lavishly decorate the shrub’s needle-like leaves in late spring and summer. While upright varieties like ‘Gorizia’ and ‘Hardy Hill’ perform best in open flowerbeds, the more prostrate, creeping rosemary looks outstanding in containers with ‘Tricolor’ sage, Italian parsley, and bronze fennel.

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