Herbs are certainly an essential part of any cuisine. They can enhance the taste and add freshness to any meal. Much to the pleasure of food lovers, many varieties are available on the market, which also means a wide range of flavours. Discover fresh herbs and their versatility!
Fresh herbs can be divided into two distinct categories.
The first category is composed of herbaceous and tender plants, also known as fine herbs. These can be eaten whole and are used to season meals. Parsley, cilantro, chives, tarragon, chervil, basil, mint, and lemon balm are part of this group.
The second category is that of woody herbs, which generally grow into small bushes. Only a part of the plant, such as the leaves or flowers, are consumed. Thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay leaves, sage, marjoram, hyssop, satureja, and lavender are part of this group.
When buying fresh herbs, choose those with the brightest and crispiest leaves. Make sure they are intact, and not crinkled, discoloured or moldy, so you can keep them as long as possible.
You have to consider many things when growing herbs at home. More precisely, consider the type of herb, the container in which you will place it, as well as the time of the year. Indeed, some plants, such as basil, rosemary, bay laurel, parsley, and cilantro, are annual, meaning you will have to buy new seedlings the following year.
However, parsley, rosemary, and bay laurel can be kept longer if stored in a warm and sunny place during the winter. Cilantro does not grow very well in a pot as it rapidly bolts before dying. Furthermore, parsley has a bitter taste the second year and produces few leaves.
Perennial plants, such as chives, tarragon, marjoram, lemon balm, mint, oregano, sage, and thyme, can however return in the spring.
They are also tougher than annual plants. But, in Quebec’s climate that often goes below -15°C in the winter, sage does not act as a perennial plant like it usually does. It must therefore be transferred into a pot and kept from the cold during that season.
When you bring inside your garden herbs because of the cooler weather, place them close to a sunny window. However, make sure not to stick them right next to the window, or they might get cold! Plus, there are fewer sunlight hours during winter, so get a LED grow lamp with a timer for your plants. It’s the best choice to give your herbs the optimal sunlight time (between 14 to 18 hours a day).
A good maintenance is however essential to their survival.
Maintaining this herb is easy during spring since there is more sunlight. In the summer, take your plant out so it can grow strong. It is however more difficult to keep it in the colder months since basil loves warmth from morning to night and requires good lighting.
Chives’ growth is weaker when inside because they require a lot of light. Take your plant out in the spring to maximize its sunlight time and bring it back inside in autumn when it starts to freeze at night. Plus, chives need to be trimmed to promote their growth.
The survival of this plant requires a sunlit place and a nice humidity level. It should be kept in a less heated room, at a temperature similar to that of a garden in the summer.
Parsley can grow in the sun or in semi shade. It should also be kept in a cool place. Its growth will be slower inside, but it should survive the winter.
Mint must be planted alone in a separate pot. It must be kept humid, so water it abundantly.
Sage should be kept in a less heated room with lots of sunlight. Its dirt should also never be completely dry. Water it more frequently, just like mint.
In contrast with dried spices, fine herbs don’t do as well when cooked for long periods of time, simmered, or braised. It is therefore better to add them by the end of the cooking process or when serving.
When making cold dishes such as dressings, salads, or beverages, it is recommended to incorporate the herbs at the beginning of the preparation instead so that the flavours can permeate the dish.
Dried fine herb’s flavours are not as distinct as those of fresh herbs, especially when it comes to tender plants such as basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, and mint. The difference is obvious, but if you don’t have fresh herbs on hand, you can divide the quantity required in your recipe by 3 and use dried herbs.
In the opposite case, you will need 3 times more fresh herbs to bring the same intensity to the dish since the taste is less concentrated. However, it’s always better to add herbs progressively and to adjust the seasoning after tasting the preparation.
Fresh herbs are unique and handy ingredients to have when cooking. Indeed, these plants can add multiple flavours to your favourite meals.
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