Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 4/22/2005 12:37:33 AM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Many of us already know herbs are vital to the flavor of many of our favorite dishes. But you might not realize herbs are easy to grow and can add flowers, fragrance and textures to the landscape.
Louisiana gardeners can successfully grow a wide variety of herbs, although some, such as French tarragon and lavender, often succumb to our hot, wet summers in spite of careful culture.
When selecting which herbs you want to grow in your garden, consider what you commonly cook with. Look at the herbs in your kitchen cabinet and start off growing those types of herbs.
But be very careful if you decide to grow and use medicinal herbs. You must know exactly what you are doing. Used improperly, some medicinal herbs can be quite toxic.
Most herbs require excellent drainage and direct sun at least 4 hours to 6 hours a day. Raised beds are best for most herbs. If raised garden beds are not practical for you and your drainage is poor, try growing herbs in containers.
Locate your culinary herb-growing area as close to the kitchen as possible so the herbs will be convenient to use while you are cooking. If you have to walk all the way across the yard to harvest them, they’ll likely be underutilized.
For growing purposes in Louisiana, herbs can be loosely grouped into cool-season annuals, warm-season annuals (annuals live for one season and then die) and perennials (which live for several years).
Cool-season herbs can tolerate normal winter freezes. They should be seeded or transplanted from September through early February. Although we are fairly late in the cool season at this point, you can plant transplants of these herbs now and still expect to get acceptable harvests in May or early June. Excellent ones to plant now are parsley, cilantro or coriander, celery, dill, chicory, fennel, borage, arugula and chervil, just to name a few.
Terrific warm-season annual herbs are basil (in all its myriad forms and flavors), sesame and perilla. They can be seeded in pots now and transplanted into the garden as soon as they are big enough. Purchased transplants also could be planted in late March and through the summer.
Some of the perennial herbs that do well here are mints, lemon verbena, lemon balm, rosemary, Mexican tarragon, burnet, sorrel, society garlic, garlic chives, oregano, monarda, catmint, anise hyssop, mountain mint, French bay, pineapple sage and rue. All of the perennial herbs can be planted now and through the spring by using transplants available at local nurseries.
Thyme, sage, catnip, lavender and many of the scented geraniums are perennial herbs that require excellent drainage to survive the summer. They may be more successful when grown in containers and placed in a location that gets some shade in the afternoon during the summer. Even when grown under good conditions, they tend to be short lived and often succumb to root and stem rots in the hot, wet late-summer season.
Harvest herbs frequently and regularly, being careful not to deplete all of the plant’s foliage. Generally, take no more than one-third of the total foliage at any one time. The flowers of herbs also may be used as a garnish or to flavor dishes.
Sometimes the herb garden can be too productive. At these times it is important to know how to preserve the extras. Most herbs can be kept for about a week after harvesting in plastic bags in the vegetable storage section of your refrigerator or with their stems placed in small glasses of water. Ways to preserve them for longer periods are drying and freezing.
When drying herbs, harvest the stems, leaving them long enough to easily tie them together. Next, rinse with water and blot dry. Make small bundles of about three to five stems held together with rubber bands, and insert an unbent paper clip or S-shaped piece of wire to make a hook. Then hang the bundles in a cool, dry place indoors with good air circulation.
Another way to dry herbs is to lay leaves or short sprigs on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels.
When the herbs have dried thoroughly, store them in tightly sealed containers labeled with the name of the herb (or herb blend) and the date. You can leave the leaves whole or crumble them to the desired fineness.
To freeze herbs, harvest, rinse and blot dry. Remove leaves from woody stems and chop finely before freezing. Place chopped herbs in a freezer bag, spreading them out in a one-half inch layer. This makes it easier to break off usable pieces later on when the herbs are frozen solid. Force as much air as possible out of the bag and then seal it and freeze. Be sure to label the bag with the name of the herb, since chopped frozen herbs tend to look the same.
For more information on growing and using herbs, I recommend "Southern Herb Growing" by Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay from Shearer Publications.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.