Reader question… “Last year I planted a few peppermint seeds. The plants grew well but don’t smell as pepperminty as I thought they would. I was telling this to my neighbor and she says I couldn’t have planted peppermint seeds because peppermint is sterile and doesn’t produce seeds. She says I planted some other kind of mint but not peppermint. The thing is, I saved the seed packet and it IS labeled as peppermint. I remember reading in one of your posts (don’t remember which one) that you grow peppermint so I thought you might know which of us is right.” –Izza W.
Growing, Storing & Using Herbs
Like many of the plants in my gardens, my collection of chives began with a tiny clump that my mother gave me many years ago. Over the years that one clump has somehow multiplied to become at least thirty large mounds of chives… and despite my efforts to keep any of the chives from reseeding, I keep finding more new baby chive plants growing in the open areas between the mounds.
Common sage (Salvia officinalis) is a hardy perennial and an easy herb to start from seed, but the seed must be fresh or the germination rate will be very low. Seedlings should be spaced at least twenty inches apart because each seedling will grow into a large bushy plant. Sage started from seed takes about two years to reach its mature size. If you want quicker results, sage can also be propagated by dividing mature plants or by taking cuttings from the outer new growth of mature plants in the fall… or by layering. Sage plants must be pruned severely each spring. It looks drastic, but don’t be afraid to cut the plant back, because this pruning will stimulate new and bushier growth. The usual recommendation is to replace sage plants every three years, but with pruning and good growing conditions, the plants will keep thriving and producing much longer than that. I have common sage plants in my garden that are over five years old, and they are still going strong.
We still have several feet of snow on the ground here in most places, but I’m thrilled to report that there are also a few patches of bare ground just starting to show. This is the time of year when I begin to feel very impatient because I can’t wait for the snow to melt so I can get out into the gardens again. It will be a while yet before we can actually plant anything because we have such late frosts here, but I’m already thinking about one of the first things I can actually plant… garlic. Garlic needs cool temperatures as the leaves are developing, so garlic can be planted as early as six weeks before the last frost date. Last year for the first time I also tried planting garlic in the fall, so I am eager to see how that worked out in this temperature zone and if there will be any bulbs ready for harvest earlier than usual.
Reader question… “I’m just starting to use herbs more in my cooking and I’m realizing that I don’t know very much about this subject. Are herbs something I should buy in bulk, how should I store them, how do I know how much to use? Any hints or information you could share would be very appreciated. Thank you.” –Sheryl
Probably the most important thing to remember is that dried herbs are much stronger than fresh herbs because the chemicals responsible for the flavor have been concentrated by the drying process. As a rough estimate, one teaspoon of dried, crushed herbs… or 1/4 teaspoon of an herb that has been dried and powdered… are about equivalent to two to three teaspoons of fresh herbs.
“I used your instructions and made garlic powder over the weekend. It turned out great and it tastes much more garlicky than my jar of store bought. I’m wondering do you make your own Italian seasoning mix and if you do if you would share your recipe. I am trying to make as many things from scratch as I can and I’m finding your blog wonderfully helpful.” –Patti
My family loves garlic, and I put it in everything… well, almost! We grow more garlic each year. When I run out I buy bulbs of garlic in little mesh bags, four pounds at a time (this is the least expensive way I have found to buy garlic)… but I also like to have powdered garlic on hand. I still have a large, almost-full bottle of commercial garlic powder that I do not dare to use again because every time I have used it, it has caused me to have a violent soy reaction. Soy is not listed in the ingredients, but a company service representative finally admitted to me that any of their herbs or spices MIGHT contain a binder, and that the binder MIGHT contain soy… and that this fact MIGHT not be listed on the label.
I tried a new way of freezing basil this year, and it was so easy, I ended up doing all of my basil using this method. Basically, just pulse fresh basil and olive oil in a food processor (1/4 cup olive oil to 2 cups packed basil leaves) until the basil is finely chopped, then […]