Herbs are a wonderful addition to the vegetable garden, and many can be grown easily from seed. The five herbs below can be grown in a traditional vegetable garden, raised beds or containers. All five of these plants are considered culinary herbs, and can be grown along side vegetables.
Nasturtiums are one of my favorite herbs. Many gardeners think of them as a charming annual flower, especially when they tend to be relegated to the flower section of seed catalogs. I won’t deny that I love their ornamental nature, but nasturtiums are actually a very useful herb. The leaves, seeds and flowers are edible. They have a peppery taste that’s a nice addition to herb vinegars, salads, and soups.
Sow nasturtiums directly in the soil, after the danger of frost has passed. I’ve sown the seeds indoors, and found this didn’t give the plants enough of a head start to make it worth it. Nasturtiums grow better in full sun, but will tolerate a small amount of shade. They will grow in just about any soil, so the soil used in the vegetable garden is perfect. They don’t need mulch but it won’t harm the plants if you use it. No fertilizer is necessary.
There are many varieties of nasturtium available but one of my favorites is an heirloom, Peach Melba, which is pictured above. I love it not only because of its color, which is stunning, but also because it’s a bush variety instead of climbing, which can vine along the ground and become a bit out of control. Peach Melba will grow about a foot tall with a spread of the same in width. Place it around the garden, or in the front corners of a raised bed.
I can’t imagine a vegetable garden without basil. It adds a delicious flavor to salads, poultry, beef, pork and fish dishes. Even those who aren’t a fan of pesto will find basil one of the most useful herbs in the garden. Seeds can be started indoors or sown outside when all danger of frost has passed and the soil is around 50 degrees F. Whether starting basil indoors or directly in the soil, the seeds should be covered with an 1/8 inch of light soil after sowing. Mist well and keep moist until germination.
Basil prefers rich soil, full sun and is not drought tolerant as are many herbs. Plant among tomatoes, peppers and oregano as a good companion plant. The Basil Collection from The Cook’s Garden, includes four of their favorite basil seeds. I like it because each one is unique and will provide nice variety in the garden. It includes Red Rubin, Sweet Genovese, Summerlong, and Lime basil seeds. It’s important to remember that basil shouldn’t be allowed to flower, or it will stop producing new foliage. Snip any flower buds, using them as you would the leaves.
Coriandrum sativum, as many gardeners know, is known as Cilantro when used for the leaves of the plant. When it’s grown for the seeds, which are dried, it’s referred to as Coriander. It’s the same plant, but the difference in the taste of the foliage vs. the dried seeds is different enough to give each one their own name. Today I’m focusing on Cilantro, which is used in South Asian, Mexican, Latin American, and Chinese cooking, among other cuisine. I use it in salsas, herb vinegar, rice, and with poultry or fish. It can also be used to season grilled steak, chicken, pork or seafood fajitas.
Cilantro prefers full sun, or very light shade from the afternoon sun in hot climates. The soil should be rich, and fairly moist, never completely drying out or hardening. Calypso Cilantro from Burpee has a longer maturity rate, which in this case, is a good thing. It means the seeds will form more slowly on the plant, which will allow a longer harvest of the foliage.
Burpee also offers a more subtle version of cilantro for those who think of it as too strong, plus the leaves are fine, making it easier to snip and mince. Try Confetti Cilantro for something a little different than the traditional herb variety. Whatever variety you choose to grow, try sowing seeds every two weeks, instead of all at the same time. This will keep your harvest going longer.
Fresh dill is a must have for the vegetable garden. It’s not just for pickling, especially when the dill leaves are picked young and fresh. It’s easy to grow, but the seeds are very small and should be sown with care then covered lightly with soil, and misted until completely moistened.
Dill is an excellant companion plant for cabbage, lettuce, corn, onions, squash and cucumbers. It’s best to avoid planting dill near tomatoes because while it attracts many beneficial insects to the garden, it also may attract tomato worms. In the kitchen, fresh dill can be used in soups, salads, dips, sauces, seafood dishes, herbal vinegars and more. The fresh foliage can be frozen in resealable freezer bags.
Hera Organic Dill is an interesting variety of dill with extra large leaves, and full flavor. Dill does well in full sun but will also adapt to partial shade. The soil should be rich, but well-drained. Dill foliage can be harvested after 6-8 weeks, possibly sooner. Cut the fern-like leaves close to the stem to harvest.
Parsley is an all purpose herb that can be used in soups, dips, casseroles, salads, stews and herbal vinegars. It’s a little tricky to grow, but mainly because it takes 2-5 weeks to germinate, depending on temperature and the freshness of the seed. Some gardeners soak the seed for 24 hours before sowing. Starting indoors offers more control over temperature and moisture, but be sure to use peat pots since parsley doesn’t always transplant well.
A nice variety to grow is Gigante D’Italia Organic Parsley, grows to a height of 36 inches, and a spread of two feet. It’s a large, full flavored parsley with thick stalks that can be used as you would celery.
If you’ve never grown herbs in your vegetable garden, these five herbs will be a great start. There is nothing to compare to snipping fresh herbs from the garden, then adding them to dishes made with home grown vegetables.