Five Common Herbs to Grow and Enjoy

The five most important herbs to grow for the home cook are the ones the cook would use most frequently.  Many recipes include parsley, thyme, rosemary, oregano and basil although some home cooks may use other herbs as well.  It is difficult to choose just five herbs, but the following are the ones used most in many kitchens. 


It is said that parsley goes six times to the devil before it sprouts and that is because germination of the seed, or the time it takes from planting to showing above the ground, does take a long time. Parsley seeds take six weeks to sprout, but once they do they keep growing and even come back after a cold winter.  parsley doesn’t transplant well, so it is best to plant it in the ground during the spring in cold weather areas, once the soil warms to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Prior to planting, soak seeds in warm water with a little dish soup mixed in overnight. This softens the hull of the seeds and allows them to germinate a little faster.  Rinse the seeds, let them dry and plant in a 1 inch deep trough, cover with soil and water just enough to keep the soil damp. Plant curly parsley for garnish and flat leaf Italian parsley for flavor.  Harvest parsley by snipping off what you need.  If you have a bumper crop, snip springs, put them loosely on a baking sheet and place in a low oven at about 200 degrees. Stir the parsley leaves around every 10 minutes or so until they are dry and put them in an air tight container.  use parsley in stews and soups, on roast beef or chicken and include in salads. 


Thyme is a low growing herb with tiny leaves that pack a punch of flavor.  Thyme goes well in soup and stews and compliments the flavor of poultry, fish and beef.  Sprinkle thyme in cooked vegetables or in a salad.  Thyme is a Mediterranean  plant and does not like too much water because it rots the roots.  About 1 to 2 inches water per week will satisfy its needs.  It is not advisable to grow thyme from seed because varieties are usually hybrids and they will not grow true.  Instead use plants from the nursery or divisions from a friend’s plant.  Plant them 6 inches apart and harvest when you see a considerable amount of new growth.  Cut sprigs and hang them from rafters or walls to dry.  it doesn’t take long because leaves are very small.  Just run the stem between your index finger and thumb from top to bottom to extract the leaves and store them in an air tight container.  Thyme is a perennial and will return next spring in cold climates.


Rosemary is a bit difficult to keep alive when the temperatures get a little low, but it flourishes in really hot temperatures.  The plant looks like an evergreen with stiff pointy leaves that lend their earthy flavor to poultry and fish.  Rosemary goes well with beans, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes and other vegetables.  It’s flavor is strong yet pleasant.  Purchase plants and space them 8 inches apart.  Rosemary grows very well in pots even if they are placed on hot concrete.  The plant is a sun and heat lover, so water sparingly as too much will rot the roots.  Harvest springs whenever it is needed and strip the leaves by pulling them along the stem from top to bottom like thyme.  Hang to air dry, strip leaves and store in an air tight container.  


Oregano is a popular herb in Italian and Greek cooking and is delicious with tomatoes and tomato sauce.  It also gives flair to soups and stews and flavors fish and poultry.  Oregano gives extra flavor to potatoes and other vegetables.  It is also found in Mexican and Spanish dishes.  Air dry and store the leaves in an airtight container.  Plant oregano in the ground or in containers and the perennial should return year after year.  Greek oregano is less flavorful the Mexican type, but still has a lovely flavor.  Set plants about 12 inches apart and always snip off the flowers before thy bloom to keep the flavor strong.  harvest when the plant reaches 4 to 5 inches tall as needed. 


Basil is a annual and you have to plant it every year in cold climates as it dies when the temperatures plummet.  Basil looks like mint and is in the mint family.  The leaves are large and have licorice-like flavor that is popular in Italian dishes including tomato sauce and pesto, but it is also good in salads and sandwiches.  Space plants 6 to 8 inches apart and start to harvest after the plant is about 6 inches tall.  Do not let basil flower at the top because it reduces flavor in the leaves.  Just pinch the wholes of blooms off before they open.  Basil does not air dry well because it turns black. Place leaves in a single layer between two paper towels and microwave on high at one minute intervals until the leaves are dry.  You can also freeze leaves to use in soup and stew.  

Always grow herbs in a place that gets 6 to 8 hours of sun per day.  Don’t fuss with herbs, just water when conditions are dry and keep weeds away from them.  Herbs are all used in dishes from meats to breads,to vegetables and all the way to dessert.  The five most important herbs to grow for the home cook might be parsley, thyme, rosemary, oregano and basil, but don’t stop there.  herbs come in many flavors and do so many things, it is worth it to try them all.