By Patricia A. Sheridan, Montgomery County Master Gardener
Herbs have a rich history dating back to ancient times. Most gardeners know that herbs can be the source of rich and savory flavoring for our food, wonderful aromas for our homes and gardens, dyes for fabric, and possible remedies for our ailments. There are many fascinating myths and legends concerning herbs. The Romans are said to have believed that if a woman handed a man a sprig of basil, he would become hers forever. Another interesting legend claims that when Mary hung Jesus’s swaddling clothes out to dry on a lavender branch, the plant became infused with its sweet smell.
As a group, herbs are quite vigorous and undemanding. A small raised bed or planter box near the kitchen is all that is required for growing herbs to be used in cooking. Many different herbs make attractive ground covers, shrubs, or container plants.
The Master Gardeners of Montgomery County offer a wide variety of herbs at their spring and fall plant sales. Be sure to join us for the Fall Plant Sale on October 14. Click here for the current Plant Sale list posted on the MCMGA website: www.mcmga.com/mcmga-2017-fall-plant-sale-list.
Basic tips for successful cultivation of the culinary herbs and most other herbs are as follows:
- Plant in well-drained soil. Most herbs hate “wet feet.” Start from seeds or transplants.
- Plant in full sun. Exceptions are chives, cilantro, mint, and parsley, where half-day sun or filtered light is preferred.
- Keep soil moist but not saturated.
- Fertilizer is rarely needed.
- In case of insect pests, first try gently spraying them off the plants. The use of an organic insecticide such as neem oil is a slightly more drastic measure.
New Herbs for the Fall Plant Sale
The red and green varieties of shiso perilla ( Perilla frutescens), also known as Chinese or Japanese basil or wild coleus, will be offered for the first time. This attractive perennial will quickly grow to 2-3 feet in height. Looks great in a pot. The red-leafed variety is widely used in traditional Asian dishes: kimchee, sushi, and stir fry. It can be finely sliced with ginger and added to salads and sautéed vegetables. Even the seeds from perilla may be eaten. Sprinkle them on breads as you might sesame seeds.
Perilla pesto is easy to prepare, similar to basil pesto. Add two cups of chopped perilla leaves, a handful of toasted pine nuts, ½ cup olive oil, some garlic and lemon juice to a blender. Blend until a paste is formed, then adjust taste with salt and pepper. Voila! A topping for fish, chicken or pasta has been prepared in just minutes.
Another new herb in the fall line-up is red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus). This hardy perennial is low-growing, averaging 12 inches in height. With lovely bright green leaves and dark red veins, it makes a nice border, garden accent, or container plant. Use it raw in salads, or add it to soups, egg dishes, or sauces when a tangy taste is desired.
Members of the knowledgeable herb group will be happy to assist with herb selections at the Fall Plant Sale on October 14, 2017 at the Texas AgriLife Extension Office 9020 Airport Road in Conroe. Join us at 8:00 am for the pre-sale presentation, then shop from 9:00 am – 12 Noon.