While it continues to be grey and cold, it’s a good time to take stock of the culinary herb supply. There’s still time to make adjustments to the planting plans and increase or decrease the number of plants needed. Starting with the herb shelves, it is obvious that there is an ample supply of anise hyssop (on the left) because I don’t use it very often. I mostly grow it for the butterflies, the pretty purple flowers, and the scent. It’s a perennial, but since I still have an almost-full jar, there should be plenty already in the garden for next harvest. That’s not the case with basil (center.) It should be noted that one jar of basil has already been emptied, and this last jar has to last until there are new seedlings in the flats to snip, usually the very end of May. I always start enough basil seed so that I can begin using some fresh and still have plenty of plants to put in the potager. Looking at my notes, I admit I grew plenty of basil, but I was a bit tardy in getting it all harvested before the nights got too cold. So, the same number of plants as last year should be sufficient and I must be more vigilant with harvesting. Two jars are usually sufficient for us, but some years I do three so there is enough for “housewife’s tea.” The last jar is dried red hot peppers, still full because we used up a half-pint jar first, and I have a spice jar of dried peppers that were ground that I tend to use more often. That’s oregano on the left, and it appears I should have dried more. We use it mostly in tomato sauce, pizza, and lasagne, but it is useful to combat colds and this has been a bad season for colds. Obviously I need to let my perennial oregano plant spread a bit more so I’ll get a larger harvest next fall. Center jar is winter savory, which is great in any bean dish, and with pork. It’s also a perennial, so I won’t need to add plants. I also grow summer savory, which I tend to use fresh. The jar on the right is parsley, and unfortunately, it’s almost empty. There was another jar used before this one, which tells you we use a LOT of parsley because I was able to harvest fresh parsley from the potager until Christmas and only began using the dried after that. I’ll add another 6 plants to the planting plan.
These are peppermint, rosemary, and sage. I had a jar of spearmint, but it’s gone for tea. I think I’d better divide my hanging baskets of mints and double my production. The rosemary will be fine, because I have a big, healthy plant near the sliding glass door that I can steal leaves from if the jar is emptied, although we use a lot of rosemary in roasted chicken, roasted potatoes and squash, and in teas. There’s a big bay tree next to it, so I have leaves all winter. The jar on the right is sage, a perennial, and used here mostly for Thanksgiving stuffing and teas. I made a half-gallon of dried tea containing sage, honey powder, and vanilla bean which explains why I have so many sage plants. I also make a lot of sage, rosemary, mint and thyme tea. And that explains why there is no jar of dried thyme to show you…it’s all gone, as well as the lemon thyme. Obviously, I need more thyme plants. Thyme is also great for colds, and helps with mild depression, which is probably going to get worse since today, on Groundhog Day, we had the first sunny day in ages!
There are jars of calendula petals (which are for teas and salves yet to be made); elderflowers (I LOVE, love, love elderflower tea, which tastes wonderful and is used like aspirin); elderberries (to be made into immune-boosting syrup one of these winter days) and a nearly empty small jar of tarragon…I used most of my young tarragon plant making cornichons this summer, so I really need to add two more to the potager. (NOTE: Tarragon does not grow from seed, so purchase plants of true French Tarragon. Seed-grown tarragon is Russian, which gets 5-6′ tall, is a rampant weed that self-seeds all over the neighborhood and sends roots rambling underground, with no flavor to redeem itself!) There’s still 3 jars of hyssop (used mainly for tea) and 1 of rose geranium leaves (also for tea.) Have you guessed that I am a tea-aholic? Half a jar of lavender remains (for tea and scones, and many other luscious things.) I do keep my dried herbs in clear jars (with tight-fitting lids) because they are stored in a dark cupboard. If you keep herbs on an open shelf, use tins or dark-colored jars. Keep them away from heat, which destroys the essential oils and therefore the flavor.
I prefer to freeze snipped chives, stems of dill, and lemon balm because they all turn beige when dried. I just rinse, pat dry, and store them in freezer bags, breaking off pieces when I need them. Already out of all three, so I need to do more next year, which means adding plant space. Still have plenty of garlic and shallots, so I’ll repeat those quantities again. We’ll tackle the vegetable supply another day!