There is nothing better for flavoring a dish than fresh herbs, and being able to grow and use the ones that you've grown yourself is a fantastic experience! Growing Herbs in Pots is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable and easiest technique to grow an herb garden that even a novice gardener can do.
Most herbs prefer a light soil (pH between 6.5 - 7.0), good drainage, and full sun. If your soil doesn’t drain well, consider a creating a raised bed. The more fertile the soil, the less flavor and aroma your herbs will have. Therefore, choose organic compost which release nutrients slowly, e.g. well-rotted manure or compost.
There is no set rule for planting other than you own personal taste. Spread 2" of mulch to prevent weeds and conserve water. Most herbs do not like "wet feet" so beware of too thick an application of mulch, which might retain too much moisture and cause your plants to rot. Herbs make excellent container plants. Set your mini herb garden close to the kitchen door for ease of use!
Each spring, top-dress with well rotted compost or manure and lime. In the fall, mulch your herb garden with year old shredded leaves which can be worked into the garden the following spring. For bushier plants, pinch back the growing tips at an early stage of growth.
For peak flavor and fragrance, harvest foliage before the plant goes to flower.Lay the stems on paper in a single layer and turn daily, or tie in bunches (5-15 stems/bunch depending on thickness) with rubber bands and hang upside down. If the herbs will be used for cooking, it is best to dry the bunch in a paper bag with many small holes punched in to allow air in and moisture to escape. These methods require a warm, dark, and airy location that is preferably dust-free.
Drying this way will take about two weeks. Alternatively, if you don't have the space or time for air drying, you may dry your herbs in the oven. Gas ovens work better than electric because electric ovens do not have a low enough temperature setting. Set your oven to a low temperature, place herbs in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and dry for approximately 24 hours. The actual drying time depends upon the moisture level and the thickness of the plant material. Be careful not to "cook" them!
Once dry, you must store your herbs properly so they retain their flavor, aroma, and color. Keep them in a cool, dark place.
White wine vinegar is best to use, but any vinegar on the market may be used. Put clean, fresh, coarsely torn herbs in a jar and fill with vinegar of your choice. Set your jar in a warm, sunny spot for approximately two weeks.
After 2 weeks, strain the vinegar into a clean bottle, discard the old herbs, and place a fresh sprig of the herb in the vinegar to identify the flavor and make it look more attractive. With oils, you can put your herbs directly into the oil, after two weeks you have a nice flavored oil that you can use in your cooking.
Whether it is oils or vinegar's, just keep them in a dark and cool place.
Note: First published in June 2012 in I Support Lagos, updated August 2017. Author: Laurinda Seabra