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OUT IN THE YARD: Common herbs for growing and using in cooking

Eileen Slater

Ewww! What is That Green Stuff, Mom?
Have you heard this before? Children and spouses frequently snarl this statement when viewing a meal proudly and lovingly made with great health benefits. No, I am not speaking of spinach, kale or broccoli, which are great.  I am talking about those magical herbs! It is that something green that adds flavor, texture, color and aroma to a dish without adding calories or sodium. They are easily grown by beginning gardeners!
The most favorite herbs grown and sold in Texas, according to AgriLife studies, are basil, cilantro, dill, mint, parsley and rosemary. Sage is my favorite, but I will stick with the basics.
Herbs should be grown in a suitable area that has good air circulation and water drainage in pots, gardens or flower beds. Six hours of direct sunlight is needed daily.  Apply a slow release fertilizer. Water during dry periods. Mulch to conserve moisture and to reduce weed growth. Plant tall herbs in the back of the growing area and smaller ones to the front. Usually one herb plant per family is enough.
All of the herbs below are easily found in many varieties in feed stores, big box stores and grocery stores. Check local for the best selection.
Basil is a warm season annual that is the easiest and most attractive to grow. Seed or transplant in March –August or after the last frost. They like sun. The first frost will kill basil. The good news is that they will probably reseed themselves. Wash and blot dry 4-5 stems. Air dry upside down indoors with good air circulation. Place in an air tight container. Basil pesto sauce on grilled chicken is molto delizioso!
Cilantro is a cool season annual crop. Plant in the fall from September-February. Sow in sun. Harvest in five weeks. Muy deliciosa in Mexican salsa!
Dill is a cool season annual plant. Plant in the fall from September-February. Dill loves sun or part shade. The beautiful feathery green leaves, and open, umbrella-shaped heads of yellow flowers are beautiful. There is a distinct pickle odor when you rub the seeds and leaves. It is sehr lecker when making German pickles with those fresh vegetables you have in abundance.
Mint is among the easiest and most popular perennial herb to grow. Spearmint grows in most soils, is hardy and likes the sun. Mint prefers moist soil conditions like the clay found in our area. Peppermint likes the sun and shade. There are more varieties, but these are the most common. It is very delicious, ya’ll, in sweet ice tea in the South!
Parsley is a cool season annual crop. Plant in the fall from September-February. Sow in sun but it will be slow to germinate. Parsley is celebrated as a beautiful garnish and the most popular herb sold. It is tres delicieux in Cajun foods!
Rosemary is a beautiful, tough perennial that grows well in non-acid soil. This sun lover grows from cuttings or seed. Rubbing your hand over the gray-green foliage will emit oils from the plant that is soothing and relaxing.  It is baie lekker or as one of my students used to say, “The bomb diggity bomb!”
So when your children and spouse ask, “What is that green stuff?” you can say it is “very delicious” six, no seven, different ways!
Reach Jefferson County Master Gardener Eileen Slater at slater.eileen@yahoo.com or call the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at(409)835-8461.