For ease of reading, we’ve split the “Herb Bros” post into two parts since there is simply so much to tell you! In this first part we’ll highlight the origin of each herb and the first steps for garden prep. Come back soon for the second half!

This is the sixth 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!

The herbs we buy and use from the grocery store go by many names. For instance, did you know that coriander is just another name for cilantro? But, the names that are most appealing and fascinating are those with distant etymological (i.e., how a word came to be) origins, created back before they were bottled for store shelves or even cultivated commercially…or even before there were “bottles” or “shelves”. A good name can reflect the longevity of something, its power as an object, and its impact on humankind. In the culinary world, herbal names are no different. In our own soup kitchens, we use three very traditional and ancient herbs, each with interesting stories to be told about their given names…see if you can match them up!

Basil – Oregano – Rosemary

  1. “dew of the sea”
  2.  “king of herbs”
  3.  “mountain delight”

Personally, I think we should start calling these herbs by these longer designations, it just adds something to the deliciousness of it all!

Alrighty, so let’s see how you did… so basil is also known as “king of herbs” andoregano used to be called “mountain delight” and lastly, rosemary derives from a Latin spelling that translates to “dew of the sea.” Now let’s see if these three ingredients are as flavorful as their appellations!

Bio: Basil, Ocimum basilicum (OK, so the Latin genus doesn’t add much to basil’s “deliciousness”…)

Usually associated with Italian cuisine, this hardy annual plant actually originated in India. Despite its employment on margherita pizzas and in pesto, this herb is a common ingredient in Thai and other Southeast Asian cuisines.  There are a dozen different varieties of basil (we have become big fans of lemon basil), ranging from sweet to savory, and they can all be dried, crushed, pulverized into a powder or used fresh just picked off the plant.

Bio: Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis

The woodiest and hardiest of all the herbs in this article, rosemary is an annual evergreen plant and hails from the Mediterranean region.  The needle like leaves of this herb can be used for anything from Thanksgiving turkey flavoring to sock drawer sachets. There are many myths associated with this plant including one about Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love) wearing it as a garland around her neck and body as an aphrodisiac as she emerged from the ocean. Another myth explains that the herb’s delicate blue flowers were an after effect of the Virgin Mary having draped her deep blue cloak over the bush as she rested nearby. Thus the name: rosemary.

Bio: Oregano, Origanum vulgare

This herb is a perennial plant that is often confused with its close botanical cousin, Sweet Marjoram. Native to the Mediterranean region, this is another herb with varieties galore ranging from flower plants, creeping ground covers, to tall bushes that grow in rocky areas. It’s a universally pleasing herb too, and can be found in diverse cuisines including Turkish, Latin American, Greek, and, of course, Italian.

Planting:

These are perhaps the easiest items to grow no matter the shade of your green thumb or your access to space. I like to describe these herbs as the BRO’s (get it, Basil RosemaryOregano…): they like to hang out, can deal with each other’s’ individual needs, and can handle crowded spaces like a bad frat house. These herbs grow well together in a large, heavy terra cotta pot (and we mean LARGE) or in their own individual pots placed close together. The rosemary will last through most any weather, but both the oregano and basil will need to be indoors during the colder winter months so when you consider pot size, think about mobility.

How to Buy: When purchasing any of these herbs, look for a smaller, sturdier plant or plant-pack void of any blossoms or tall stalks. Most nurseries, garden shops, and farmers markets have these common herbs on hand as little herblings. The leaves should be clean, firm, with leaves a vibrant green on each herb.

Plant Prep: Once you’ve selected your little herbs consider your planting arrangement. Just as you would preheat your oven when baking or prepping your ingredients before cooking, assessing your planting space (today, in 6 months, and beyond) and then readying the soil is a key to gardening success. Since these herbs are meant for consumption, only use ORGANIC potting soil that accommodates all plant types.

So now that you’ve learned a bit about each herb and how they like to grow, go get your green thumbs ready for part two of “Herb Bros” coming up soon!