Unless we’re talking bleu cheese, anyone will tell you that fresh food just tastes better. Herbs are no exception, but their supermarket price seems be steadily climbing. A growing number of shoppers are choosing to cultivate their own herbs at home.
The home vegetable farming trend might be a bit daunting to the novice grower, and herbs are the perfect way to dip your toes into the dirt. Herb cultivation is an easier endeavor than that of veggies as herbs can thrive in smaller spaces. Also, there is no need to take precautions against one of the home grower’s worst enemies: rabbits. Due to the strong flavors of herbs, bunnies aren’t particularly fond of them.
Wendy Fereshetian, owner of Rosewood Gardens, offers her expertise: “Herbs like full sun,” she says. “Just don’t overwater them. That’s when they start to get moldy.” For the greenhorn green thumb, Fereshetian has her own “fantastic five” recommendation: rosemary, basil, thyme, parsley, and sage. “You can put them all in a pot together,” she says, adding that one can harvest from this pot all summer long if they are planted by mid-May. “If you have a good mix of sandy soil and compost, you should be able to start harvesting by the beginning of June.” Fereshetian also recommends edible flowers called nasturtiums. With a strong peppery taste, these bright orange beauties are fun to pick and eat right off the stem! For the more inspired grower or chef, nasturtiums can add a splash of color and a bite of flavor to salads. Fereshetian has seen them pickled and used in place of capers, and even candied and used as decoration on cakes. “Nasturtiums are very simple,” says Fereshetian. “Once you plant them, if you regularly water them, they pretty much grow like weeds.”
Claudia Butler Wallace, proprietor of local gourmet chocolate shop Ambrosia, blends her homegrown herbs into her sweet treats. She too has some advice for the beginner. “Definitely begin by just thinking about what you like to eat,” she suggests. “From those, select a few that you would use a lot. You have your classics, and they’re classics for a reason.” Wallace echoes Fereshetian’s five easy-to-grow herbs, adding chives to the mix. She discusses her personal favorites: “I like the whole parsley family, and especially lovage, which has a deeper flavor. It’s very popular in historic gardens, and it suits a lot of the foods that we eat in this area, like whitefish and soups.” Wallace agrees that a simple planter or even a window box is a suitable container for growing herbs. And although bunnies aren’t a big worry, some insects do manage to find herbs that they like to munch. Wallace recommends a natural bug prevention method: “Mix some cayenne pepper with water in a little spray bottle, and spray it gently over your herbs.” She adds, “Also, this is weird, but cinnamon keeps ants away!”
In my garden, the aroma of fresh herbs mingles with the crisp Nantucket air, signaling that the island harvest is lingering into autumn. By next fall, you too can have a small garden of fresh herbs, bringing you better tasting food and a thicker wallet!