Fresh herbs are a great way to bring the flavours of your dishes to life. Unfortunately, they can be expensive to buy at the grocery store and they aren’t always in season. Although you can certainly use their dried counterparts in your favourite recipes, they just don’t deliver the same flavour profile. Fortunately, you can enjoy fresh herb flavour all year long and you don’t need a ton of space to do it.
If full-scale gardening isn’t your thing or if space is at a premium in your garden, you’ll want to get the most bang for your buck from your plant choices. Not only do you want to select herbs that are easy to grow, you’ll also want to select versatile options that pair well with a diverse selection of recipes.
The following list of easy-to-grow culinary herbs can help you get started.
Basil tops the list because it is so versatile and is super easy to grow from seed. All you need is a small pot and sunny windowsill and you can have fresh basil at your fingertips all year long.
After all, what could be better than juicy tomatoes paired with fresh mozzarella and fresh-picked basil? Top with a balsamic reduction, some good extra virgin olive oil, and a little salt and fresh-cracked pepper and you’ve got a delicious and easy lunch entree or dinner salad.
Basil is also an important ingredient in fresh pesto recipes and it pairs beautifully with tomato-based pasta sauces. For a unique twist, add julienned basil and Brie cheese to sourdough bread for a fabulous grilled cheese sandwich. If you want to get even more creative, plant a pot of purple basil to make a beautiful and delicious purple basil jelly.
2. Cilantro (Coriander)
This herb does double duty. The fresh leaves (cilantro) of young plants are a staple in Mexican cooking. Fresh cilantro is a key ingredient in homemade salsas and also adds a unique flavor dimension to salad greens. It can also be used in a wide variety of marinades for beef, chicken, pork and vegetables. It is especially well suited for marinating meats for fajita recipes.
Cilantro is also very easy to grow from seed. You can extend the life of your plant by keeping it plucked down and keeping it in cooler areas. In spite of your best efforts, however, it will eventually bolt to form lacy flowers that will set seeds that can be harvested. Those seeds can be lightly toasted and ground down to create coriander, which is much more mellow in flavour than its fresh counterpart and is a nice complement to many recipes.
Rosemary can also be started from seeds, but you may find it easier to pick up small plants from your local garden center each spring. They can then be brought indoors during cooler weather, but you will need to keep them moist and provide access to a sunny window, preferably with a southern exposure, to keep them happy.
Not only is rosemary delicious in marinades for roasted chicken, pork, or beef, it also imparts a wonderful earthy aroma to roasted new potatoes and homemade focaccia bread.
Rosemary is also a very pretty plant with decorative appeal. It adds structure to the herb garden with its elegant upright growth habit. Plus, it can easily be shaped to look like a Christmas tree. As a result, rosemary makes a lovely hostess gift around the holidays.
Thyme is another classic culinary herb that is so easy to grow. Fresh thyme is a staple in many types of cuisine and adds a distinctive flavour to meat-based dishes. It is wonderful in stews and soups, as well. For a special treat, grow lemon thyme to add an unexpected hint of citrus flavor to your dishes.
Another thing to love about thyme is its beauty. It has a beautiful growth habit that makes it ideal in pots next to taller herbs like rosemary. Use it outdoors to edge walkways and paths to add a fragrant element to your landscape, but don’t use those plants for cooking, especially if you have pets.
Of course, these four easy-to-grow culinary herbs barely scratch the surface of what you can grow in a limited space. The herbs listed here are easy to grow and can be found in a diverse range of recipes, so not only will you enjoy growing them, you’ll love using them, too.