Spice up the garden with these easy-to-grow, flavorful crops

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Thyme compliments oregano in Italian dishes, and many brew it fresh or dried in teas for winter colds and other respiratory issues.They're low-maintenance, delicious additions to food and teas, usually pest-free, cheaper to grow than to buy and perfect for aromatherapy and personal care products.

On those merits alone, herbs should be able to convert anyone who’s resisting the call from their green thumb.

New gardeners looking for something fun and easy to cultivate, seasoned growers scouring for surprising new additions, passionate cooks wanting to spice up dishes with the freshest flavors and those looking to try natural remedies before heading to the drug store should consider growing herbs in a patch or pot this year.

Herbs in containers on the patio, deck or windowsill are convenient for plucking and tucking into beverages, dishes or homemade potpourri, but they also make wonderful additions to outdoor gardens, attracting beneficial insects.

There are so many to choose from, so try as many as possible. Grow herbs you commonly have stocked in your cabinet, and try something new to unlocked culinary combinations you may have never otherwise tried.

Herbs can be grown from seeds, cuttings and root divisions. According to Oregon State University guidelines, herb seedlings can be sown by the dozen in six-inch pots. They should be grown together until they are sturdy and ready to transplant.

Try to transplant seedlings on an overcast day to avoid shock. Beginners may want to try buying starts for a better chance of success.

Most herbs thrive in everyday garden soil, but most don’t like soggy conditions. Herbs can make a gardener ravenous, but don’t cut or pluck more than one-third of the plant at a time. Follow package instructions for individual herbs, and plan ahead. It’s helpful to pair herbs that require approximately the same amount of water together.

Thyme, oregano, basil, sage, cilantro and rosemary should all be part of an herb garden. Thyme and oregano are staples in Italian dishes. Sage complements meat, as does rosemary, which also turns potatoes and other veggies into savory delights.

Water-loving herbs:

• Mint — In Oregon, 21,500 acres of mint were grown in 2010. There are many varieties, including the common spearmint and peppermint. The fragrant, fresh leaves of peppermint go well in tea, cool drinks, pastas dishes and salads. Peppermint grows well in both sun and shade. Mints are aggressive and will spread easily, so they are best grown in containers.

• Lemon Verbena — This often-unsung hero has a strong lemon scent and flavor, which is the perfect compliment to teas and beverages that could use a kick of lemon. Try adding it to pesto for something different or infuse honey for a sweet and sour flavor. Grow in sun or partial shade.

Moderate water:

• Parsley — Fresh parsley is much more flavorful than dried parsley and should be considered much more than a natural breath freshener.

• Lemon grass and lemon balm — Both grow well in sun or partial shade. Lemon balm gives a touch of lemon to salads. Add lemon grass to tea, hot dishes, pasta and rice.

• Salad Burnet — This herb prefers full sun. Its sweet, refreshing taste is often used to replace cucumber.

Light to moderate water:

• Savory — Both winter and summer savory grow in full sun or partial shade.

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Roman Chamomile spreads quickly to make a soft, lush ground cover. Harvest the little flowers in the summer for teas and garnishes. • Chamomile — This herb makes a wonderful, calming tea, and some people say it soothes headaches.

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