For ease of reading, we’ve split the “Herb Bros” post into two parts since there is simply so much to tell you! In the first part we highlighted the origin of each herb and the first steps for garden prep. This second half will discuss the planting process, long term storage, and various kitchen uses.
This is the seventh post in an ongoing series featuring “grow-your-own” produce and how to make the most of it this summer. Our hope is to demystify the process … help your “green (or maybe not-so-green) thumb” emerge … have some fun, particularly with the kids hanging around your house or neighborhood this summer … and help everyone understand a little bit better how their food comes to be!
We hear you…“Gardening tips from a soup company?” Hey, we’re foodies – for us, food is endlessly fascinating and we think the more you know, the better you will eat; the better you eat, the better you’ll feel. Pretty simple notion and one that is fundamental to New England Country Soup … so let’s go play in the dirt and have some fun!
Now, we know you are eager to hear more about the Herb Bros, and seeing as summer is almost over, let’s get those herbs in the ground! You’ve purchased your herblings and are prepped and ready to plant…
1. Till or lightly toss any old soil and break up any large clumps. Add water if soil is dry. If you are adding new soil to a pot, make sure you are using organic made-for-edibles soil types (lawn soils and flower mixtures are created with those plants in mind and include pesticides and other chemicals you wouldn’t want in a home cooked meal).
2. Take the herb package and gently squeeze the lower end of the plastic container and slowly pull around the base of the plant from the other end. The plant should slide out complete, but it’s okay if a bit of soil remains in the container. Break up the roots with your fingers as if you were gingerly combing through tangled hair, trying to separate, but not break the roots.
Rosemary is a particularly wonderful companion for the long winter months. Hearty as it is, it grows enthusiastically indoors throughout those dark days providing instant flavor (and the promise of spring) to a wonderful array of meals: soups to pizza, roasted chicken to mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs to grilled cheese!
3. Dig a 3-5 inch well depending upon your plant and tuck the plant in, filling in the sides with extra soil, and level the base of the plant with the soil line in your container or garden bed. The plant should be level with the ground, rather than lower or built up on a mound. Pat the ground surrounding your plant to ensure a safe base. Pop off any lingering buds or flowers. This will allow the plant to concentrate on growing its roots and sort through the ground without giving up too much energy to flowering or growing new buds.
4. If using a large single pot, space the herbs about 4 inches apart, but grouped in a neat cluster in the container. If using individual pots, simply plant in the very middle of the container. Remember that rosemary and basil grow really big, really quickly (if the conditions are right). Make sure to accommodate these plants while still allowing little oregano his own room to grow at his own pace.
– If it’s hot and dry, water your oregano and basil every day, keeping the soil moist. Basil will tell you when it’s thirsty and will curl its leaves in on themselves and slump as if it were tired.
– Rosemary on the other hand doesn’t need water every day and will drink what it needs. If the weather is temperate, let the plants be so that the rosemary doesn’t get water logged.
– The plants are ready to be harvested at any time and you can use all parts (stems, leaves, flowers), but let the plant grow for a few weeks before using anything from it so that it can get adjusted to its new home. Take only what you need – a leaf of basil, a small sprig of oregano, a stalk of rosemary – and if used wisely, the plant will repair and grow again.
In the Kitchen:
The greatest thing about these herbs is their intense flavors and smells. They do wonders in dishes and allow the food to shine without the extra addition of salt. Using simple herbs is one of the reasons our soups taste so great and so fresh without the high sodium count. You can replicate this flavor in your own home by using your fresh and dried herbs in your every day cooking!
Like any flower or herb cutting, basil, rosemary, and oregano all store best in a small jar or vase of water. You can also tuck the cuttings into a large zip-top bag with a layer of clean paper towel to absorb excess moisture. To dry rosemary, oregano or basil for long term storage, simply cut several plants, gather into a bunch and tie stems together with kitchen twine. Place upside down into a paper bag with the stems at the top of the bag and crumple the edges around the stems to close. Hang the whole thing in a cool, dry place (we recommend using a clothespin to secure it to a line or a wire hanger) until the herb leaves easily crumble. The paper bag will catch any falling leaves throughout the drying process. Once dried, store in an airtight glass jar or in a zip-top bag.
You can dry and store individually or dry all together to create your own homemade Italian seasoning mix (sans salt!). Simply add some fresh cracked black pepper and maybe some dehydrated garlic granules and your store-bought days are over! These make great hostess gifts or house-warming presents when paired with a pizza stone or quality bottle of olive oil.
While the culinary properties of these herbs is endless, these plants are also well known for the medicinal qualities. Fresh sprigs of these herbs have been used in herbal teas, calming sachets to tuck into clean laundry or to carry around to ease a headache. My own personal suggestion: if you are having an off day or a rough start to your morning, skip the morning caffeine rush and simply bury your face in your rosemary plant and inhale deeply. The scent is said to increase brain function, alert the senses, and help students ace tests…I just think it smells great. And I think we can all agree, especially here at New England Country Soup, modern cooking would be nothing without these great tasting herbs!4