The Lushness of Spring and The Iniquitous Price of Fresh Herbs

It's been one of those days where I am racing in and out of the house like a crazy person, without two consecutive half-hours at home to get anything done. Late this afternoon I had twenty minutes before the ballet run, and wondered whether a nana nap might be in order... but no, I thought, I want to achieve something today other than driving. I popped out into my micro herb garden and picked oregano and sage to dry. My 'herb garden' consists of about a square foot of earth in front of some garden pots and rose bushes next to the drive way.

Three years ago I bought a sage plant and an oregano plant at the nursery, totalling maybe $6. I will have both herbs in my garden forever. The sage has a couple of tiny self-seeded babies, but also grows well from cuttings, and the oregano? Well, beware oregano, it grows everywhere:

It is also the secret ingredient which transforms any tomato dish from mundane to sublime. I find that some herbs, particularly oregano, and sage for some dishes, taste better dried. I air dry them in baskets and just crumble them up. Easy peasy. They need to be crumbly-dry before you store them in anything airtight. If in doubt, store them in paper bags for a few weeks. I like to pick and dry them in spring, when they are in full growth, just before they flower. Harvesting a year's worth of oregano and sage takes five minutes. Fast food!

If I had to choose only one herb to grow (that would be a mean, mean thing to do) I think it would be a little bay tree.

This is one herb that needs to be used fresh. A dried bay leaf is a travesty, a shadow of the wonderfully fragrant bouquet of a fresh crushed bayleaf. Almost impossible to kill, you can buy a tiny baytree from a nursery for a few dollars, and it will grow happily in a pot for years. Mine was only a few inches high when I bought it, and this is about three years' growth. Or you can take a cutting  from a friend's baytree.

For the price of a packet of seeds you can have annual herbs forever, if you let them go to seed. The persistent and profligate parsley, for instance, currently growing in a crack between the driveway and the house wall.

Ditto chives.

I do find it extraordinary that there is still a market for fresh herbs. When you can grow them in paving stones. When their abundance is embarrassing in its lushness. When you can gather a year's worth in a matter of minutes, and then wonder what to do with the rest.

When you can overwinter tropical herbs in the laundry, like this hardy lemongrass.

I do wonder what more I could be doing in the garden to feed us. Really, the earth just does want to feed us. It wants to grow stuff. If I was to devote more than a few minutes between errands to producing food, imagine what we could be eating from our little yard...


Anonymous said…
"Starship to Enterprise...3.05am Starfleet time...My "new thing for today" has been achieved captain. I have noted and absorbed the presence of the word "Iniquitous" and shall be allowing it to seep into my word bank over the course of the day where I will overuse this word badly in order to make it my own. Message over...and out"
Judy said…
My bay tree is rather large and I was going to have a go at it with some shears this week. The amount I keep to dry is minuscule, because like you I just pick it fresh. I will have big cardboard boxes full, and will be lucky to give away more than a few handfuls of bay leaves. Such a waste!

I use a lot of rosemary, especially with roasted vegetables and that is easy to grow too. Herbs really make such a big difference. I wish I had parsley growing in the cracks between paving slabs instead of weeds!
Jo said…
Fran honey, you should really get more sleep! Like Anne of Green Gables, I love long words, especially ones which are fun to say..
Judy, let your parsley go to seed and it will grow in all the paving cracks, as well as in every garden bed where you don't really want it.
Lucky you to have lots of bay leaves - bag them up with gorgeous ribbons for gourmet Christmas presents.
Rosemary! Yes I love it. I have a mini hedge of it. It attracts bees like nothing else in the garden.
Isn't nature incredibly generous?
Anonymous said…
Oh Jo, I am hanging my head in shame.

I am one who is paying iniquitous amounts of money for herbs. Ad I have a yard big enough for many herb gardens. And I used to grow herbs so can't say I don't know.

Exhausting work is my reason/excuse. (Bit by bit I am reclaiming my life from work so one day I will have a lovely garden again.)
Anonymous said…
"Really, the earth just does want to feed us."
OH MY GOD! I am not sure why this hit home so much but it rashed in on me like a tonne of divinely fresh herbs. :) The earth does just want to feed us and nurture us. She knows better than we do about growing and providing for us, her children and she wants to care for us, heal us when hurt or ill and carry us close to her earthy bosom. We seriously are the rebelling teenagers aren't we? Sorry to get so carried away but those 9 words have had a profound impact on me. Truly! :)
I have 2 types of parsley groing from seed in my greenhouse which I will plant out in the gardens soon. A seedling here, a seedling there. They can do their worst! I planted both mint and lemonbalm in the garden too, well aware of their rampant growth habits but what's a food forest without a wonderful groundcover. Oregano and thyme in the grapes bed where I will plant out the rosemary I am growing from cuttings - 1 at either end as well as any others that grow in the espalier fence bed. :)
I love your idea of bagging up the bay leaves for Christmas gifts too. Homegrown, organic bay leaves. You may even find a green grocer willing to sell some too. Or offer it on Freecycle.
I find it strange that I have a hard time growing parsley, when it does seem to naturally grow itself in other yards. I have better luck with rosemary and basil. I want to grow bay leaves! I will look into getting a tree. I have a big pot of oregano that comes back again and again, no matter how I neglect it. I need to pick some and dry it. I like the idea of drying in baskets. I will try it!

mum and i joke about the lush snapdragons we both manage to grow in the cracks of the driveway - they are far healthier than the ones in our actual garden beds! mother nature is a force ot be reckoned with.
chives are my favourite herbs at the moment,but summer basil is my all time favourite. maybe because the basil season here in tas is so fleeting? but i adore the fresh greeness of chives and basil. of the woody herbs, lemon thyme is my fave - again i guess because it is a brighter flavour.
i do have some orgenano - or is it marjoram? i'll have to try that with tomatoes. just need to grow the tomatoes...
Jo said…
Lucinda, I guess someone has to support the herb industry!
Jessie, some days the abundance in my quite neglected garden just astounds me.
Frances, once you have had one parsley plant go to seed, you'll have it forever. I have heard gardeners having trouble with that first plant, but the second generation makes themselves right at home.
e, I am waiting to plant tomatoes, come on sunshine!
Anonymous said…
Your positive spin put a smile on my face, Jo.

Yes, I am supporting our market gardeners.

But next year, I may have a new year long challenge.
Incredibly jealous! My mother promises to take me shopping for a herb pot garden (she kindly warmed our house with a lemon tree, but I let it slip a herb garden would have been warmly received). I HATE buying herbs, they are SO overpriced!! And usually come in plastic sleeves or clam shells. Even loose, it's daylight robbery. nice work!
Jo said…
Lucinda, as you know already, herbs ridiculously easy to grow..
Sarah, such joy, plants to play with. I love the idea of edible houseplants, and want to scatter some more about in sunny windows.
Unknown said…
I have the problem of finding it easy to grow herbs but just keep forgetting to use them. I cant put them near my kitchen window and as they are out the back i just simply forget. Doh!
Jo said…
Go and pick them now Lynda, it's the perfect time to dry them. Or whiz them up in the blender with some oil and freeze in ice cubes for herby home-grown frozen goodness...
I hear you on the back of the garden thing though - sometimes my lettuce is SO far away!
GretchenJoanna said…
I adore your little bay tree! That is one plant I've never thought of owning, though I used to collect fresh bay leaves from local trees and save them all year. We even put them in our flour and cornmeal, etc, to drive off weevils. Do you do that? I didn't do enough experimenting to know if it worked or if it was a coincidence that a particular bucket of flour stayed clean.

My oregano is very enthusiastic, too. And now the catnip seems to be coming up everywhere.

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