As everyone knows, herbs can improve the humblest of fare. Today, for example, we’re having meatloaf and potatoes. Ho-hum. But the meatloaf is a Bobby Flay recipe that incorporates lots of finely chopped, sautéed veggies, as well as fresh thyme and parsley. The potatoes are our own homegrown German butterballs, roasted with olive oil and rosemary. Suddenly, our simple menu sounds like something a waiter in one of the better restaurants could wax eloquent about when taking your order.
Rosemary and thyme are among my favorite herbs for cooking. Thyme improves any beef dish and enhances just about any vegetable dish as well. Rosemary is a marvelous addition to many dishes, especially poultry, lamb, and potatoes. I also love rosemary baked into a hearty bread. These woody perennials are easy to grow and dry, and I’ve never had a problem with rabbits going after them!
Rosemary also takes a bit of time to get going in the spring. So my practice now is to plant one rosemary and one thyme seedling in pots in the spring. At the end of the summer, I bring the pots in. They don’t grow much, so I can only snip limited quantities of the fresh herbs over the winter. But in spring, I have a good-sized rosemary plant with an established root system. I plant it in the garden, together with several small purchased rosemary seedlings. The overwintered plant has a head start, so I get more fresh rosemary earlier. At the same time, I plant another small seedling in a pot, to take inside during the following winter, and provide a larger plant for the garden next spring.
I’ve only recently started thinking about the nutritive value of herbs. I was astonished to learn that parsley contains twice the iron of spinach and three times the vitamin C of oranges (by weight)! Parsley is definitely worth growing for those reasons alone. Parsley also enhances the flavor of many dishes, and complements other herbs as well.
Grown from seed, parsley is an herb that teaches patience and faith. Germination is slow, and no matter how I try to manage the seedlings, they are leggy and limp by the time I plant them out. They (and cilantro) look like the weak sisters of the herb garden, and it seems hard to believe you’ll get much out of them. But soon, parsley seedlings take off and produce lush, abundant foliage.
One of my goals for my Backyard Nest Egg is to expand my knowledge and use of homegrown herbs for medicinal purposes. I have used some simple preparations for minor complaints for years. For example, I always dry lots of sage for use in treating congestion in the head or chest in winter. Basically, I throw a handful of dried sage in a bowl of just boiled water and take in the steam with a towel over my head. (Rosemary is also a great expectorant and decongestant, but sage is more abundant in my garden and I find a little goes a long way in cooking. So I use the sage for colds and save the rosemary for cooking.) I find both peppermint and parsley tea refreshing and good digestive aids, and parsley to be a useful diuretic.
Other herbs take more time and effort to process. Echinacea is one of my favorite native flowers and I’ve grown it for years, when I lived in Nebraska and here in Wisconsin. But for medicinal purposes, I always use commercially produced preparations. I want to learn how to dig and process the root myself. Next year I plan to add Black Cohosh, another native plant to my garden. Like Echinacea, the root is the part used for medicinal purposes.