Gardening for Life: Fresh herbs are easy, why not try?
By JOSE GERMAN
For Montclair Local
Jose German is a New Jersey environmental activist, Essex County certified master gardener and Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition (neearth.org), a nonprofit environmental organization.
With fresh herbs just steps from your kitchen, you can spruce up meals while saving on exorbitant supermarket prices. As long as they have some sun, these beautiful additions to the garden are easy to grow in small spaces, including containers or window boxes, and attract pollinators.
What’s not to like?
One caveat: some herbs (I’m looking at you, mint and oregano!) are a little too easy to grow and best confined to containers. If you plant them in the ground, you may soon find nothing but mint and oregano.
There are infinite uses for herbs, including in drinks. Can you imagine a Mojito without spearmint? You can even add a twist to the flavor of the Mojito by switching to lemon balm mint. On hot summer days, nothing is better than an iced herbal tea. Chamomile, coriander, fennel, lemon balm, mint, and lemon grass can all be used for teas.
Herbs fall into two categories: annuals and perennials. Basil, dill, cilantro (coriander), and parsley are annuals: you’ll need to replant them every year. Rosemary, sage, chives, lavender, French tarragon, mint, oregano, and thyme are perennials, although rosemary needs some shelter in New Jersey winters.
Herbs require full sun to thrive, but accept light shade, in a light, well-drained, average garden soil.
They can be grown in containers or planted directly in the ground in a sunny spot.
I prefer using containers separated into annuals and perennials. Rosemary, thyme and oregano can be grown together, and sage and chives combine well with their spring-blooming flowers. The chives bloom in early spring, followed by the sage with its beautiful purple/blue flowers.
Herbs have environmental benefits as well when added to a pollinator garden. The flowers of all herbs attract adult butterflies and honey bees, but parsley, dill and fennel have special value as host plants for black swallowtail butterflies.
You can also dry leaves of your favorite herbs to use in cooking or teas. Most herbs, including dried chamomile, rosemary, thyme, and oregano, keep their fragrance even if kept for months in Ziplock bags. The same goes for fennel seeds.
In addition, dried herbs can be used in a miniature cushion to place in a clothes drawer or on your pillow to refresh the air with their fragrance.
If you do not have an herb garden, you can start one right now.
It is simple, beautiful, and very beneficial.