Cooking with Herbs: A Primer
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Richard Plante
Posted on: August 27, 1998

I am interested in getting recipes using herbs in cooking. I have started an herb garden and am interested in expanding the variety of herbs that are planted, would like some suggestions on gardening and how to harvest the herbs for winter. Also, I would like to know if it’s possible to have herbs growing inside during the winter months?

Cooking with herbs is when the fun starts! Just about everything you eat and drink can be improved with herbs from your garden. Even fast foods, canned and frozen foods, snacks and more can benefit from a dash of fresh herbs here and there.

Much of the art of using herbs comes from an appreciation of the flavours and aromas of herbs and how they combine with foods. This comes with experience, and a little trial and error. It helps to be adventurous and a little willing to accept the occasional failure, but in the long run you will learn what herbs automatically improve what foods, and how they should be prepared or preserved. I wouldn’t consider making consider making tomato dishes without basil, oregano or garlic, or chicken or lamb without rosemary or thyme, or how about fresh garlic chives flowers in green salad, or tarragon with beet salad.

In addition to little chutzpah, it doesn’t hurt to have a good guide to help you get into the swing of using herbs. We have looked at hundreds of herb books, and among them we like Pat Crocker’s "Recipes from Riversong" and "Herbs in the Kitchen" by Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger the best. Both are available from Richters.

How to harvest? First and foremost you want to get into the habit of using herbs fresh from your garden from spring to fall. Leaves can be picked anytime and, of course, flowers and seeds are picked when they appear.

Drying herbs is not difficult and we have discussed that in detail in previous "Q&A" answers, so please check for those on our website. The key is to dry quickly but without losing the aromatic oils. That usually means low heat, if any, and good ventilation and placement away from strong light.

Growing herbs indoors over winter is not easy. The one thing herbs require in great abundance is light and in winter, even in a big south-facing window, that is not plenty enough to make indoor growing easy. It certainly can be done with success, and many do, but it is not for the inexperienced grower. I have written several articles on indoor growing which are in the "Magazine Rack" area of our website.

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