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Growing and cooking with herbs




We all want to eat food that tastes good. One of the most common ways we make food taste good is by adding salt. Unfortunately, most American diets are too high in sodium. Diets high in sodium can raise blood pressure, which can lead to many major health issues including heart disease and stroke. Herbs provide a great way for us to limit our sodium intake while still consuming flavorful foods.

Herbs are also some of the easiest things to grow. You don’t even have to have a garden. Many herbs can be grown inside. The simplest way to start is to buy plants and transfer them to individual containers. Set them in a windowsill that receives plenty of sunlight and regularly water them. Your local farmers markets and garden centers should have plants available. You can also grow herbs from seed. Make sure you plant them in an area that receives at least six hours of sunlight a day. Rosemary, basil, parsley, sage and chives will grow well indoors or outdoors, as long as they have plenty of sun and protection from cold.

Sweet basil, dill, cilantro and oregano are annual herbs. They grow for just one season and then die. Marjoram, sage, thyme, mint and chives are perennial herbs. Perennial herbs come back each year. You can harvest annual herbs until frost. Stop harvesting perennial herbs in late August to give the plants time to prepare for the winter. You may even want to bring some of your perennials indoors for the winter.

You can harvest herbs once the plant has enough leaves to maintain growth. In early morning right after the dew dries, clip undamaged leaves that have a nice aroma. Rinse with cool, running water to remove dust and soil; then pat dry with a paper towel.

Once harvested, you can preserve herbs by drying or freezing. If you plan to dry herbs for use all year, harvest them when they contain the maximum amount of essential oils. For leafy herbs, harvest just before the bud opens. For seed herbs, harvest when the seeds change from green to brown. For flowering herbs, harvest just before full flowering occurs.

By experimenting with different herb combinations, you can use less salt, experience unique flavors and still have delicious meals. For best results, chop or mince herbs before cooking. Heat increases the rate at which herbs release their flavors. For dishes that require longer cooking times, add delicate-flavored and ground herbs at the end, so their flavor will not escape. Some herbs, such as bay leaves, rosemary and thyme require longer cooking times and should be added at the beginning.

Add herbs several hours in advance or overnight to uncooked foods, such as salad dressings or marinades. This will allow the herbs to blend with the other ingredients. If you have to substitute dried herbs for fresh herbs in a recipe, use one-third the amount of dried herbs since the flavor is concentrated.

To help better use herbs for certain dishes see the chart below:

Seasoning your dishes with herbs will allow you to serve delicious, nutritious meals to your family. For more information about growing, preparing and preserving herbs, or additional ways to provide nutritious family meals, contact Letcher County Extension Office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.



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