Herbs: From the garden to the kitchen

Herbs are easy to grow, decorative and delicious. Why wouldn't you grow them?

Most herbs like sun and well-drained soil but they don't need a lot of space. They can be planted in pots or small gardens and are happy on a sunny kitchen window sill.

You'll find lots of choices at area nurseries, from packets of seeds to 4-packs of seedlings and more mature, larger plants in 1-quart and 2-quart plastic containers.

Almost any culinary herb grows well in eastern North Carolina, so plant the ones that you prefer. Or try some you've never tasted before.

Herbs we planted:

Boxwood basil - Onion chives - Curly parsley - Spearmint - Sweet basil

Boxwood Basil

Basil is one of the most popular kitchen spices in the world. It has a warm spicy flavor. There are many varieties of basil and Boxwood Basil is a relatively new one (it was introduced in 2008).

In the garden: Boxwood Basil grows in an upright form that resembles a boxwood shrub. The plant is packed with small leaves on short stems. It make a lovely formal container plant or may be used to edge garden beds.

Shear the plant occasionally to encourage its boxwood-like form. Remove the flowers that appear in late summer, because blooms discourage leaf growth.

To harvest: Trim the tips of the stems, then strip off the fine leaves or use the entire piece. Harvest Boxwood Basil often to encourage new growth, but don't remove so much that your cut into the woody stem.

In the kitchen: Sprinkle over pasta or salads. Strip the fine leave off the stem and add them whole; they are so small there's no need to chop. Or use the entire piece.

Tip: Don't keep basil in the refrigerator; it turns brown.

Double Tomato Bruschetta

6 roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil

3 cloves garlic minced

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 fresh basil, stems removed

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 French baguette

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven on broiler setting. In a large bowl, combine the roma tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, salt and pepper. Allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes.

Cut the baguette into 3/4-inch slices. On a baking sheet, arrange the baguette slices in a single layer. Broil for 1 to 2 minutes, until slightly brown.

Divide the tomato mixture evenly over the baguette slices. Top the slices with mozzarella cheese. Broil for 5 minutes, or until the cheese it melted.

Onion Chives

Chives are a member of the lily plant grown for their their edible leaves and spiky purple flowers, both of which have a mild onion flavor.

In the garden: Chives are perennials that grow in clumps in full sun to part shade. After the leaves are damaged by the cold, cut the plants back to the ground; they will come back in the spring. After 3 or 4 years, the chive plant will

have grown into a clump of smaller plants; divide them and plant the divisions in early spring.

To harvest: Snip the thin green spires at the base of the plant, about a half-inch above soil level.

In the kitchen: Chop chives and add them to salads, egg and cheese dishes, cream cheese, potatoes and sauces. Use the blossoms in salads or as edible garnishes.

Tip: Add chives to dishes at the very end of the cooking process; the flavor is destroyed by heat.

Buttermilk and Chive Salad Dressing

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup buttermilk or sour cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh chopped chives, depending on preference

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingedients. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Curly Parsley

The two main types of parsley are curly parsley and flat-leaf Italian parsley.

In the garden: Parsley has beautifully frilly leaves that are packed with vitamins and minerals.

Plants prefer rich, moist soil; mulch in the hot summer to keep the root cool.

To harvest: Cut the stems of the large outer leaves at the base of the plant.

In the kitchen: Parsley is much more than just a garnish. It has a sharp, fresh taste. Chop it and use it in pesto. Make a tabbouli salad with tomatoes, onions and cucumbers. By the way, the stems have a stronger taste than the leaves and can be added to homemade stock or a pot of beans.

Tip: If you notice that the leaves have been devoured from the stems, don't be too upset. Parsley is a favorite food of the caterpillars that become black swallowtail butterflies. Many gardeners plant parsley specifically for them.

Oven Baked Parsley Red Potatoes

1/2 cup butter, cubed

2 pound red potatoes, halved

1 tablespoon minced onion, or to taste

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place butter in a large baking dish and melt in preheating oven. Toss potatoes and onion in melted butter to coat well. Bake in preheated oven until potatoes are tender, about 40 minutes. Sprinkle parsley over potatoes and season with salt and papper; toss.


Spearmint is a sweet mint that's a perennial in eastern North Carolina. The flavor is released by bruising or crushing the leaves.

In the garden: Spearmint, like other mints, grows rampantly, so it's best to plant it in a pot or planter in part shade to full sun. Mint loves moist soil. It dies to the ground in winter, but fresh shoots appear in the spring. Harvest frequently to encourage tender new growth. Remove late summer flowers to keep leaves from becoming bitter.

To harvest: Pick leaves or snip off whole stems.

In the kitchen: Spearmint is the best mint variety for beverages. Brew it into tea or garnish cold drinks with it. Sprinkle it on fresh fruit salads. Make a fruit sauce or jelly to serve with meats.

Tip: Freeze whole spearmint leaves in ice cubes for party beverages.


2 ounces Cuban rum

1 ounce lime juice

4 ounces 7UP (may substitute Sprite, Perrier or Club Soda)

6 spearmint leaves

2 teaspoons brown sugar

Put lime juice, brown sugar and mint leaves in a highball glass. Bruise the mint leaves using a spoon to release the flavor. Allow the mix to rest (a few hours, if possible) for best results.

Fill the glass with ice. Add rum and stir.Add 7UP and a spring of mint for decoration.

Nojito: Omit the rum for a mocktail.

Sweet Basil

Basil is one of the most popular kitchen spices in the world. It has a warm, spicy flavor. Sweet basil is the classic basil found in most gardens.

In the garden: Large green, crinkled leaves grow from a main stem. The plant grows fast and tall in full sun. Harvest the top four leaves often to encourage growth

To harvest: Pinch off lower leaves at first, then pinch the tips of the growing stems as the plant gets bigger. For a lot of leaves, clip off the top third of stems, being careful not to cut the brown part of the stem or it won't regrow.

In the kitchen: Use it in soups, Italian sauces, pizza, salads and omelets and as the base for pesto. Make caprese salad with slices of tomato, fresh basil leaves and slices of fresh mozzarella cheese.

Tip: Keep leaves handy by putting cut stems in a glass of water on the counter top. Your kitchen will smell great!

Homemade Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce

1 tablespoon butter

8 small tomatoes, diced

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon garlic salt

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 cup water (or red wine)

1 clove garlic, grated

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat; cook the tomatoes in the melted butter until they begin to fall apart, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the basil, olive oil, garlic salt, salt and pepper. Slowly stir the flour into the mixture and cook until it begins to thicken, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir the water through the mixture to break up any lumps of the flour. Mix the garlic into the sauce and simmer another 5 minutes. Serve hot over pasta.