ADD SPICE TO YOUR LIFE
GROWING YOUR OWN HERBS IN THE OZARKS
Our climate in the Ozarks is almost perfect for growing most herbs. Herbs like Lavender, Sage and French Tarragon struggle to survive with the high humidity of the Deep South. Many Mediterranean herbs which survive hot dry summers drown with the tropical rains of the fall in that part of the country. The winters in the Upper Midwest and shorter growing season may turn perennial herbs into annuals and not leave enough growing time for others to mature and produce seed. Due to the climate changes we are experiencing in the Ozarks, many of our tender perennial herbs no longer die back in the winter or are available for harvest earlier in the season. Others like Rosemary are more likely to survive our winters if a few precautions are taken.
GROWING HERBS Herbs are classified as annuals, biennials, perennials or tender perennials. Annual herbs grow, produce seeds and die at the end of the growing season. Basils, dill, fennel and cilantro are some examples. They may drop seed and new plants will come up in the spring Tender perennial herbs are those which may grow year round outdoors in more tropical climates. Some may even die back to the ground but will leaf out in the spring while others may have specific temperature requirements and must be brought indoors.. Some tender perennials would be cardamom, ginger, turmeric, lemongrass and Sweet Bay trees. Perennial herbs live outdoors for several or many years. Some examples would be thyme, oregano, chives, sage and sometimes rosemary. If you’re growing herbs in the ground, you may want to get a soil test done prior to planting them. If not, well drained soil is essential with at least 4-6 hours of sunlight daily for many herbs. Lavender will do better in a slightly raised area with full sun.. We added compost to our existing soil seven years ago and have rarely fertilized since then. If you fertilize herbs as you might other plants, you’ll get lush foliage but will sacrifice flavor. The oils in herbs are more concentrated when the plants are slightly stressed. The best way to get the full effect of an herb’s scent is to rub the leaves and smell your fingers. This releases some of their oils on the underside of the leaves. The scent of many herbs comes from a combination of several different essential oils found in them. Herbs grown in pots may require monthly fertilizing with half of the recommended dose and will require more watering, possibly twice a day in a very warm summer. We water the herbs in our garden only if we haven’t had rain in a while, at planting time until the plants are growing well or if they look like they need it. Pineapple Sage can be used as an indicator that it’s time to water when its’ leaves start to droop. Mulching is useful but some herbs are more likely to die or have insect damage if the mulch is too close to the pant for good aeration. Fresh wood chips may prove too acidic for some plants. Many herbs cab easily be grown from seed with the exception of rosemary, lavender, French tarragon, bay trees or any varieties of specific herbs like lemon thyme or purple sage which are propagated by stem cuttings and can be purchased as established plants.
SPICE OR HERB? —An herb is a plant with aromatic leaves such as basil or oregano. Spices are the bark (cinnamon), root (ginger, garlic), buds (cloves), seeds (coriander, dill, poppy), berry (black pepper), or fruit of a tropical plant (paprika, allspice). Some plants like cilantro, dill, and fennel are both because leaves and seeds are both used.
BASILS— Annual. Native to Africa, Asia and India, arriving much later to Italy. Basil loves warm weather. Seeds will not germinate until the soil temperature is 50 degrees and even then, those plants will struggle to grow. Basil should be planted outside in mid May or when you put tomatoes out. Basil can develop damping off or Fusarium wilt from cool wet soil. If you see brown creeping up the stems of your basil and they don’t look well, you probably have the wilt and will need to destroy the plants and plant basil in a different spot. Look for varieties that are Fusarium wilt resistant. There are over 50 varieties of Basil including lemon, lime, Mexican cinnamon spice, licorice, Thai, clove, Purple Ruffles, Genovese, Greek, Bolloso Napoletano ( 4-5” leaves-good for wraps), Holy and many more. Basil is an annual though there are several columnar basils which don’t set seed and may survive over the winter indoors. Basil is best preserved in pesto. Consider planting again in August to ensure good harvest throughout the fall.
BAY LAUREL —Perennial. Sweet bay tree is the source of Bay leaves used in soups, stews, Cajun cooking etc. Bay trees are hardy to 20 degrees. They will grow well indoors in pots. If placed outdoors in the summer months, grow in the shade. Our Bay tree is now 35 years old and more of a shrub than a tree. Propagation from fresh seeds or cuttings can be difficult so it’s easier to purchase a small tree.
CHIVES / GARLIC CHIVES - Perennials. Chives have been used for over 3, 000 years but were not used in Europe until brought back by Marco Polo. Chives have a mild onion flavor and garlic chives have a mild garlic flavor. Both the leaves and flowers are edible. Chive seed grows slowly and may take 4-6 months from seed germination to table use. Chives prefer rich moist soil in full sun. Harvest chives by cutting them to within 1” of the ground up to 4x a year .Does not dry well. Freeze in ice cube trays. Harvest garlic chives by using the younger leaves. Garlic chives will reseed everywhere in your garden but plants can also be divided. Their blooms are a great butterfly attractor. Divide Chives every 2 years in the early spring.
CILANTRO TIPS AND SUBSTITUTE HERBS
CILANTRO— Annual. Brought to Mexico by the Spanish in the1600’s from the Orient.It resembled native herbs in flavor. The Latin and Greek names for it translate as “Bedbug”. It‘s a cool weather plant and will go to seed in about 2 months in hot weather. The seed is known as coriander and has a lemony flavor. The harvest can be prolonged by planting a slow bolt variety of Cilantro in the shade, watering often and fertilizing monthly. Also if you use it often, plant seeds every 2 weeks throughout the summer for a continuous supply of leaves. Best preserved by freezing.
PAPALOQUETTE— Annual. Native to Mexico. Young leaves used as a fresh herb in salsa and added to foods at the end of cooking. Used before Cilantro was introduced to Mexico. Will also reseed itself, remaining in your garden for years. Lives for about 3 months. Has a cilantro- arugula flavor.
PEPICHA—Annual grass like herb with cilantro flavor from Central, South America and Mexico. Tolerates heat. Both Papalo and Pepicha are the preferred Cilantro flavored herbs used in their cooking.
CULANTRO— Tender perennial. Native to Central America. Grows well in hot steamy climates where cilantro will not thrive. Leaves are tough but tasty if sliced and chopped. Will stand some cooking and dries well. Cilantro- green pepper -parsley flavor.
VIETNAMESE CORIANDER— Tender perennial. Native to Southeast Asia. Good bog plant. Grows well indoors. Leaves are added at end of cooking. Will root in water.
DILL--Annual. Does not transplant well due to a long taproot. Cool weather herb. Plant when you plant broccoli with night time temps at 55 degrees and day time in the 70’s. Plant will go to seed early if temps are below 45 degrees or damage occurs to the root during transplanting. Place in partial shade if growing in pots and water regularly. Do not fertilize. Dukat and Fernleaf are best varieties to grow in pots. Will reseed and come back each year. Host plant for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. It is a myth that you cannot plant dill and fennel next to each other because the flavor of each will be affected. f you let some dill go to seed, you’ll l have a permanent bed in your garden.
FENNEL—Semi hardy perennial with licorice/ anise flavor. Will reseed. Sweet fennel is used for its’ leaves and seeds. Florence fennel or Finnochio is Bulb Fennel and takes 80 days from planting small plants to produce a bulb. Used in sausages, fish, vegetables, herb butters and cheese. Ripe seeds are great to snack on, they taste like licorice. Plant in the spring in well-drained soil and water until germination occurs. Host plant for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Will not form seeds if planted near cilantro. Can harm tomatoes, beans, kohlrabi and caraway. When you see the bulb begin to swell on the Finnochio Fennel, mound dirt around it until it’s the size you want.
LAVENDER—Fragrant annual or perennial in our climate depending upon the variety. There is much confusion in the naming of Lavender varieties .There is no such thing as English Lavender because Lavender originated in the French Alps. L. augustifolia is the lavender most associated with England hence those varieties are often identified as such and are the most cold tolerant to zone 4. French Lavenders (L. dentata) have indented leaves and do not survive our winters outdoors usually but are the one variety that will live well in the house and bloom year round. Spanish Lavender (L. stoechas) are the most ornamental but not as fragrant and are tender perennials. Also known as French Lavender in the U.K. The lavenders grown commercially in France are actually Lavandins which are a cross between L. spika and L. augustifolia lavenders and known as L. intermedia. The Lavandins have 5x more oil, more blooms, later bloom time and larger stems than either of its parents. Lavender grown from seed may not always resemble the parent plant. A few lavenders like Elegance Purple or Lavender Lady which can be grown from seed may bloom the first year but most lavenders tend to bloom the 2nd year. It is a must to plant lavender in a raised well drained area with sufficient calcium in the soil. You can add a cup of gypsum to the hole before planting for that purpose. Avoid mulching close to plant. Placing white sand or white gravel around the plant will increase essential oil and flower production by 771%. Lavender needs full sun and must be clipped back by 1/3 each spring for the first 3 years when the nodes on the branches begin to swell and after blooming or the plant will die out in the middle. After that just trim it back after blooming is finished but not late into the fall. Lavender will live inside with daytime temperatures of 50-60 degrees and nighttime temperatures of 40-50 degrees. Water sparingly if the plant is indoors til spring. Once the plants are established, use a low nitrogen fertilizer if needed. A side dressing of bone meal before blooming may give the plants a boost. Lavender can be dried by tying bundles together and hanging them upside down or drying them flat for use in bouquets. Lavender wands may keep their fragrance for 20 years. The L. augustifolias or English lavender and pink blooming lavenders are the best for culinary use. Hidcote, Munstead,Provence, Pink Perfume and Melissa are some examples of culinary varieties.
MARJORAM /OREGANO— Marjoram is a tender perennial grown as an annual here. Has a mild oregano flavor. Oregano has a hotter flavor and is a hardy perennial. There are pink blooming Greek oreganos which are great bee attractors and very ornamental. However, their leaves have no flavor and the flowers are used instead for flavor. Greek oregano and Za’atar (Syrian Oregano) can be grown from seed but Sicilian, Kaliteri and Hot’n Spicy are grown from cuttings. Harvest and dry by hanging in bunches in June. Cut back when blooming and plant will produce another harvest .Divide plants every 2-3 years.
MINTS- Perennials- Hardy “weed”. Buy plants or obtain some roots from a friend. Seed grown mint has no flavor. Many mints are in the peppermint or spearmint families but there are 19 varieties of mint with many hybrids. Considered invasive and will grow anywhere. Mints can be grown in beds or large barrels. Grow in a bowl shaped pot if using a pot and occasionally remove and trim off roots which will wrap around plant and eventually kill it. Harvest for strongest flavor just as plants bloom. If growing more than one mint, you may get some inferior mints if cross pollination occurs. Remove flowers from mint to prevent cross pollination. Propagate by division or cuttings rooted in soil or water. Blooming mints are great butterfly attractors. Mint will grow in sun or shade.
PARSLEY— Biennial herb. Italian or flat leafed has more flavor than curly parsley. Seed can be sown in the spring when the soil temp is 50 degrees. Seeds may take 4 weeks to germinate but soaking the seed in warm water for 24 hours before planting will speed up the process. Curly parsley is slower to germinate and grow than flat leafed (Italian Parsley). Will grow in a cool sunny window. Flat leafed dries better than curly parsley. If parsley is put outside too early with temps below 45 degrees for several weeks, it may go to seed prematurely. Otherwise it comes back the next year with the purpose of producing seed and the flavor will not be as good. It is a host plant for the swallowtail butterfly.
ROSEMARY—Tender perennial this far North. May survive winter outdoors if placed in a sheltered location with some reflected heat as against a South facing wall. Varieties which are a little more winter hardy are Arp, Hill Hardy and Salem. Seeds may take up to 6 months to germinate so it’s best bought as a plant. If grown in a pot, a cactus perlite mix may be beneficial. Needs full sun and well drained soil. Prefers a cooler room and increased humidity to survive indoors. Humidity can be increased by using a humidifier or placing the pot on a saucer full of gravel with water added to it. You can also run a humidifier near it or place in bathtub twice a month and let the steam from the shower add humidity around it. Be careful not to over or under water it. Good with poultry, poultry, lamb, roasted vegetables, and beverages and as a hair rinse for brunettes. Dries easily by hanging in bunches. Rosemary will sometimes survive most of the
(Rosemary con.) winter but if there is warmer weather in the spring followed by a major cold snap, the plant may be heaved out of the soil due the ground refreezing. Mulch the plant heavily prior to the cold snap. Two year old plants are more likely to survive the winter outdoors.
SAGE—Hardy perennial. Used primarily in stuffing, meats and vegetables. Grows well from seed but seed does not store well. Dried sage has stronger flavor than fresh. Prune back every spring to prevent plant from getting woody and will need to replace every 3-4 years if it gets woody. Sage sometimes gets blight and will die off suddenly. Just rotate it to another area of the garden. Golden, purple, tricolor, Bergarrten and Greek sage all have the same flavor as garden sage. Spanish sage (also known as lavender sage) is best used in soapmaking. Pineapple, honeydew melon, wild watermelon and fruit sage are also edible and great hummingbird attractors in the fall with fuchsia or red tubular blooms.
SCENTED GERANIUMS—Tender perennials. Discovered in South Africa in the 1690”s by English sailors on a quest to find unusual plants for royal gardens. Thought to be geraniums because the leaves of some varieties resembled those of what most people call geraniums. We now know that they are a unique species (Pelargoniums), distantly related to the typical garden geranium. Each of the 200 varieties has a unique leaf and scent. Occasionally they will develop a sport (a different shaped leaf and /or scent as well) and a new variety is formed. There were 600 varieties at one time. Rose, lemon, lime, orange, ginger, black pepper, peppermint, strawberry, pine, apple cider are but a few. Many of them are culinary. Some are used in traditional African medicine or potpourri. Rose varieties are grown on plantations for their rose oil which is less costly than growing roses. They are great xeriscape plants. If grown in the ground, dig up 1 month prior to frost, cut back on watering and then cut back by 1/3 before bringing indoors. Prefer full sun unless variegated. Skeleton Rose and Mosquito Shocker have much more citronella oil in them than the Citronella one touted to deter mosquitoes. Most varieties are not known for their blooms which are small and sometimes rare.
TARRAGON, FRENCH---Hardy perennial. Taste like licorice. Fresh or frozen tarragon has better flavor than dried. Does not come from seed. Russian tarragon grows from seed, has no flavor and blooms. Prefers cooler temps. Needs 6-8 hours of sunlight but will tolerate partial shade. Needs chill time in the winter to do well. Grow in sun/partial shade and don’t overwater. Snip often to produce fuller and less straggly looking plant. Best preserved in vinegar or frozen. Used in fish, poultry, vegetables, eggs and salads. If unsure of variety, taste a leaf for the licorice flavor and numbing of lips.
THYMES-Usually hardy perennial but check hardiness zone before purchasing. Some varieties can be grown easily from seed .Needs well drained soil and mulch in winter. Used in soups, stews, Cajun cooking, poultry and even as a tea. Also comes in lemon and orange scented varieties. Easy to dry. Divide plants every 2-3 years.
GRAS STATUS This is an FDA abbreviation for generally regarded as safe which means that the FDA has done research on their safety for human consumption. There are many herbs which have been used for centuries that don’t have this status because no research has been done on them. There are some herbs that are dangerous for pregnant women to consume so do your own research from at least several reputable sites. Several herbs in this paper do not have GRAS status.
PRESERVING TIPS Harvest in the morning after the dew has dried but before afternoon when the sun depletes the leaves of color and fragrance. When freezing herbs, rinse, let dry, place in plastic freezer bags and squeeze the air out before placing in the freezer. You can also freeze herbs and pour more water over them. It’s best to boil your water first and cool it before use or use distilled water in a mold. First partially fill your mold or ice cube tray with water and freeze. Next add the leaves or flowers and top with water. These frozen molds can be added to soups, stews, punch or teas. For drying herbs either lay flat on a screen or dehydrator tray and air dry or dehydrate at 95 degrees. To hang herbs for drying, gather 3-6 stems and rubber band them together, tightening the bands as the bundles shrink in drying. Dry herbs in a dark airy place. You can also hang herbs for leaves or seed collection in brown paper bags with holes punched in for air. This will catch the seeds and keep dust off the plants as they dry.
END OF THE SEASON TIPS- Tender perennials that will not winter over outside should be gradually acclimated to the move indoors. Place in pots, water well and then decrease watering unless wilting occurs. After several days, move them in and out of a protected, warmer, darker area for several more days and then inside to an area that does not get below freezing in the winter. Plants require less water in the winter since they will not grow as much. To prevent overwatering indoors, push your finger into the soil around plant. If the soil is dry up to the first knuckle, water it. Water at base of plant til water runs out. Check to make sure that roots are not plugging up the drainage holes. If you live in an area with very cold winters, you may need to mulch some of your herbs with 4-6 inches of mulch. Remove annuals like basils after your last harvest. Take notes of what did well, what should have been in a different area and plan for the next year. If you see unusual things hanging on your plants, leave them alone. They may be the egg sac of the praying mantis or butterfly larvae.
PESTO—Any herb can be made into a pesto and frozen but Basil is used the most often. There are many recipes for Pesto. Place 2-3 cups of fresh basil leaves, 5-6 cloves of garlic, 6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, ¼ cup pine nuts or walnuts into a food processor or blender. Combine at high speed til a paste forms and gradually add ½ cup of olive oil til smooth. Use then or freeze in ice cube trays. Place the frozen pesto cubes into a baggie, freeze and use as needed
GREEK CHEESE—Adapted from Southern Herb Growing book. Mince 1 garlic clove, ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, 1tsp. dried dill or more if fresh, ¼ cup minced chives, 1 tblsp. fresh chopped mint, 2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano. Add 1 tblsp. Lemon juice, ¼ cup plain yogurt or sour cream, 8 oz cream cheese, 2 oz. feta cheese, dash of nutmeg and cinnamon. Blend in mixer and refrigerate for several hours to let flavors develop. Serve with crackers.
ROSE, ROSEMARY or LAVENDER LEMONADE—To 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar mince and add 12 rose scented geranium leaves or several sprigs of rosemary or 1 tsp. lavender flowers. Bring to a boil and remove from heat for 30 min. Strain and add 1 cup lemon juice and 6-8 cups of water. Add ice and serve with sprig of that herb in glass.
HERB MEAT BRUSHES-Tie sprigs of sage, rosemary thyme or all 3 together and use as a basting brush. Can also throw sprigs of these herbs on hot coals prior to grilling.
CALENDULA OIL-To moisturize very dry skin. Add 1 cup calendula petals to 1 cup olive or almond oil and place in glass jar. After 1 week, remove the petals, pressing the petals with the back if a spoon to extract all the oil. Refrigerate and use within 1 month. May decrease the amounts as long as they are in a 1:1 ratio,
VERBENA VANILLA SUGAR-Cut a 12 inch length of lemon verbena into 3’ pieces Place on bottom of 4 cup container. Add 2 cups sugar and 3 split vanilla beans, covered by 2 more cups of sugar. Remove the herbs in a week. Sift sugar if lumpy.
ROSE SCENTED GERANIUM SUGAR- Alternate rose scented geranium leaves with sugar. Remove leaves after 2 weeks. Use in cookies, cakes and teas.
HERBAL VINEGARS-Sterilize a glass container with anon metallic lid. Add herbs of your choice, pushing into bottom of bottle with a skewer or toothpick. and fill with apple cider vinegar.
SORE MUSCLE SOAK-Combine 4 ½ cups rosemary,11/2 cups dried chamomile, 2 cups dried thyme, 2 cups dried marjoram, 1 cup dried calendula petals, 1 cup dried spearmint leaves, 1 cup dried catnip leaves, 1 cup dried lavender and 4 cups of Epsom salts. Store in airtight container for a week. Pour 1 cup of mixture into a muslin bag; pour 4 cups boiling water over it. Steep for 10 minutes and then add to bath water
GARDEN TEA PUNCH-Place 2 cups water, 2/3 cup sugar, 3 tbsps. snipped fresh mint and I large stem of lavender into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Let it steep for 20 min. and strain. Add 1 cup orange juice, ½ cup lemon juice and 2 cups strong brewed tea to the syrup. Chill. Add 32 oz. club soda before serving. Garnish with a mint stem.
HERBAL INCENSE-Throw dried herb stems into the fireplace to scent your room.
HERB BUTTERS Soften 1 cup butter. Add 1 tsp. or more to taste of a dried herb like dill, garlic, chives or your choice. Spread on breads, fish poultry or vegetables. May also use a combination of herbs.
LEMON ICE CREAM—Add 1 cup finely chopped lemon thyme leaves and 4 tsp. lemon peel to your favorite vanilla ice cream recipe.
MISC.--- Be careful not to overdue rosemary in recipes. Remove bay leaves at the end of cooking. They are not edible and could perforate the intestines. Deep fried sage leaves as a flavorful garnish or fry til crisp with fried potatoes. Also great in potato pancakes. Any variety of lemon flavored herbs can be combined with different mints and /or stevia for unusual teas .Dried herbs have a higher concentration of flavor than fresh herbs. A good rule of thumb is to use twice as much of a fresh herb as a dried one if your recipe specifies dried herbs. After experimenting with herbs in cooking, I sometimes even triple the amount of fresh herbs when I substitute them for dried herbs.
These recipes were found in magazines, on line and in various books about herbs. There are great recipes to be found on the websites of many mail order herb nurseries.
Reference Books and Sources
Good reference books are at the library. The National Herb Society has a great website and the International Herb Association publishes booklets on growing and using the Herb of the Year. The Herb Society of America is also a good source with bonus info for members.
HERB BOOKS—Any books by Jim Long of Long Creek Herbs He has numerous booklets about herbs. Mints by Barbara Perry Lawton, The Lavender Lover’s Handbook by Sarah Berringer Bader, Lavender, The Grower’s Guide by Virginia Mc Naughton , Herbs in Bloom by Jo Ann Gardner, Growing Herbs from Seeds, Cuttings and Roots by Thomas DeBaggio, Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Herbs , The Encyclopedia of Herbs by Art Tucker and Tom DeBaggio and The Complete Herb Book by Jekka McViccar.
HERB COOKBOOKS—Any of Jim Longs’ booklets. Southern Herb Growing by Madeline Hill and Gwen Barclay Lemon Balm, ,Scented Geraniums, Bay, Dill, Calendula ( Herb of the Year booklets ) by the International Herb Association , Not Just Desserts Sweet Herbal Recipes by Susan Belsinger ,Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs by The Herb Society of America, Edible Flowers by Donna Frawley, The Lavender Gourmet by Jennifer Vasich, and Jekka’s Herb Cookbook by Jenna Mc Vicar.
HERB NURSERIES-- Scented Geraniums of Nebraska, Richter’s Nursery, Nichols Herbs, Companion Plants, Well Sweep Herbs, Goodwin Creek, Pantry Garden Herbs and Mountain Valley Herbs are great sources for unusual as well as common herb plants or seeds. Seeds of Italy, Evergreen Oriental seeds, Johnny s’, Pinetree Gardens, Baker’s Creek, The Thyme Garden and Seeds of Change are good seed catalogs.
Red Barn Herb Farm
Can be contacted at 417-732-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org for herb related questions
New Website at www.redbarnherbfarm.com