Wisconsin Home Cooks: Nine herbs to plant soon and enjoy later

Staci Joers is a contributor to our group and author of this list.  Staci is a Caledonia resident, has a degree in culinary arts and has taught cooking demonstration classes all over SE Wisconsin since 1992.   http://www.cookingwithclass.us


One of Staci’s upcoming classes on April 29, 2015 is Fresh Vietnamese Flavors at Uncorkt wine shop at 240 Main Street in Racine.   Staci shows the class how to make  spring rolls, pork banh mi, and pho, all perfectly paired with wines.   Sign up, you won’t regret it.  (see her website www.cookingwithclass.us (click here) to register.)  (Vietnamese Pho pictured below)

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Staci Joers:   Herbs are very easy to grow with a little sunshine, soil that drains well, some watering, and a little fertilizer or compost. Herbs can be grown in pots; however, the plants always prefer to be in the ground where they can spread out. I grow 90% of my herbs in the ground and I use 50% purchased garden soil and 50% composted soil (I contribute lots of goodies to my neighbor’s composter and get a bit of soil from them every year). Since I have begun using composted soil, I get double size plants that replenish faster. I dig nice size holes, remove some of the old soil and mixing the new soil with the compost and plant my herbs. Really having nice loose worked soil helps the herbs to drain and spread and generally grow better.

I start with healthy, strong plants rather than seeds (but I’m a lazy gardener). Most herbs like to be watered as soon as the soil located a couple of inches below the surface is dry to the touch. Since temperatures and humidity cause drying times to vary every week, you must check the soil often. Do not over-water. Most herbs prefer drier conditions to wet and too much water can lead to diseases or poor growing conditions for your Herbs, which will result in reduced growth.

To harvest most herbs, cut off about 1/3 of the branches when the plant reaches at least 6-8″ tall. By cutting close to a leaf intersection, your plants will regrow very quickly. Some plants, such as parsley, grow new leaves from their center. In this case the oldest branches need to be completely removed, leaving the new tiny branches growing from the center.  (All pictured herbs were photographed at Milaegers, Racine, Wisconsin)

1. Basil:

The leaves have warm, spicy flavor. Use in soups, sauces, salads, omelets and with meat, poultry and fish. Also a basis for pesto. Very versatile. I generally grow Italian Large Leaf Basil. I am personally not a fan of the hybrids like Lemon-Basil or Pineapple-Basil. I stick with the basics as that is what I will get the most use of and tweek the flavors with items like lemon zest to replicate that flavor when needed. Although I do also grow Thai Basil. This tropical variety of sweet basil provides the unusual Anise-like basil flavor present in so many Thai dishes that it has come to be identified as “Thai basil” in America, even though the Vietnamese and Laotians also use lots of it in their cuisines.


2. Chives:

One of my faves and impossible for even the worst gardener to kill. The leaves have a mild onion flavor and can be added to salads, egg and cheese dishes, cream cheese, mashed potatoes and more. Use flowers in salads or to flavor a vinegar.

3. Mint:

Lots of different varieties to choose from but be warned, mint is very aggressive and will take over a garden. I plant it under trees where I have a hard time controlling weeds. The mint will choke out everything else and it smells great on a warm summer day. I grow Peppermint which is the most famous of all mints; it requires little care and makes excellent teas and candy. Brew leaves into tea, or to garnish cold drinks. I also grow Spearmint is very intense in flavor and is generally used to make mint sauce or jelly. Sprinkle dried or fresh leaves over lamb before cooking. And the last mint that I grow is Chocolate Mint. This herb has dark, rich foliage. It tolerates hot, dry conditions and is not as invasive as most mints. A nice desert mint!

4. Parsley:

I only grow Italian Flat Leaf which is the best parsley for flavor. It’s super easy to grow, tolerates most soil and doesn’t need optimum growing conditions. You can mix it into salads, soups, stews, casseroles, and omelets. Serve fresh as garnish with meat, fish, and onion dishes.

5. Sage:

Love, love, love it! But, again, an aggressive herb. Plant it where you can control it. It needs a good 3 ft. of room to spread. Dried leaves are a traditional constituent of poultry stuffing. Use also with lamb, pork, sausage, and in cheese dishes and omelets. Try slapping a little sage between your palms and adding it to your next Gin cocktail—yum!

6. Tarragon:

Mild anise-like flavor, it can be used in soups, salads, egg dishes, stews, and soft cheeses. Excellent with lamb and pork. Serve in melted butter with fish, steak, or vegetables; it is also the base for traditional Béarnaise Sauce. Makes good flavoring for vinegar when steeped for 2 or 3 weeks.

7. Thyme:

Lots of uses. Fresh thyme is milder and easier to eat than dried thyme so use it whenever possible. Rub chopped leaves into beef, lamb, veal, or pork before roasting. Sprinkle over eggs, cheese dishes, vegetables, fish, or poultry. Brew into tea with a little rosemary and mint.


8. Rosemary:

Tough plant that can take heat well if kept moderately moist. You should prune regularily to promote new growth. I use Rosemary stems as a natural skewer for kabobs which infuses the food pieces with a mild rosemary flavor. It’s also great for vegetables, poultry, beef, seafood and Vodka or Gin cocktails.

9. Oregano:

Easy to grow perennial: plants thrive on little to moderate water. Oil is strongest when the plant is in bud but before flowers open. Cut back to 4 inches tall in late spring, summer, and fall. Used extensively in Italian cooking it is also great for beans, cheeses, eggs, meats, pastas, salsas, sauces, soups, stews, and vegetables.


I am going to try something new this year, a vertical garden made from an old Pallet. I’ll take pics and report on my success (or lack of it) later in the spring/summer.

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