Summer may be the season of salads and grilling, but fall and winter are the seasons for comfort food. Hearty stews and pasta dishes warm us inside and fill our homes with mouth-watering aromas. Hefty hams and turkeys beg for side dishes redolent of the season’s fresh flavors. But it’s fresh herbs that make the ultimate delicious difference when you’re cooking fall and winter dishes. So grow your own!
Just say no to pricey packages
Growing herbs is easy when you live here in the South Bay Area because most of them love our climate. Growing your own is more fun and far cheaper than purchasing those little plastic boxes of fresh herbs in the store. And whenever you need a few leaves of basil or several sprigs of fresh thyme, all you have to do is step out the door.
Another great benefit to growing your own herbs is that they make fabulous landscape and container plants. That means, even if you have only a patio, deck, or balcony instead of a traditional yard, you can still grow your own herbs.
If you’re working toward a sustainable landscape, herbs are ideal companions for your artificial grass lawn, because many of them are naturally drought-tolerant. The woody varieties are evergreen, so you can enjoy their interesting leaf shapes and colors, fragrances and yummy flavors all year long – even in the “dead” of winter. (Pretty flowers seasonally, too!) Really, since our winters are typically mild, you can grow many cool-season annual herbs, too. Now you’re cooking.
Rosemary is a big favorite because it comes in numerous sizes and growth habits (small upright, huge bushy, trailing), has various shades of blue flowers, and thrives in our weather. Large varieties can be sheared into topiaries or hedges (though you’ll lose much of the flowering). But don’t overlook thyme and sage, both of which also come in several varieties.
What about sun?
Yes, location matters when you’re choosing any type of plants to grow. Herbs love sun, but necessarily as much as you’d think. So winter’s shorter, cooler days are not a worry. In fact, some herbs prefer morning or late afternoon sun over midday heat. Good examples include cilantro, mint, parsley, tarragon, oregano, and sage. And, yes, sweet basil. (Let your cilantro go to seed, then grind the seeds to create your own ground coriander. So good with pork, chicken, and fruit.)
Other varieties like at least 6 hours of full sun a day, or more. Good choices for your sunniest spots are rosemary, winter savory, marjoram, thyme and lavender. (If you’ve never cooked with lavender, you’ll get hooked quickly.)
Even beginners can grow herbs
No reason to feel intimidated if you’re a novice gardener, or just new to herbs. Herbs are ideal for beginners and also for gardeners who are new to our climate. You can learn the essentials here.
Since it’s easy to grow herbs, you can try varieties you’ve never used. No need to buy a $9 bottle of dried whatever just to learn you aren’t in love with the taste. On the other hand, you might discover that you do love the flavor of fresh chervil. Or tarragon. Think of all the new recipes you can create.
Go wild in the kitchen in other ways, too. For example, you could stuff your turkey with whole garlic cloves and handfuls of fresh herbs – any combination of rosemary, thyme, oregano, and/or marjoram according to your preference. You can still serve “stuffing.” Just bake it in the oven (and be sure to use a recipe that calls for your own DIY herbs).
And when spring and summer roll around again, you can use your herbs to wow your family and friends with amazing warm-weather beverages, too.