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Perennial Herbs

Generally herbs are plants that originated and grow in temperate areas of the world. Spices are more exotic and come from the tropical regions. The leaves and seeds of herbs are used to flavor foods and sometimes for medicinal purposes. The flavor within the herb comes from oils in the cell walls of the plants and can diminish when stored over time. Perennial herbs are plants that come back year after year. Perennials herb gardens are an excellent way to secure a fresh, inexpensive supply of many herbs.

Following is a list of perennial herbs that will grow in most temperate climates:

  • Bay Leaves are a perennial evergreen shrub. In very cold areas they should be planted in pots and brought in during the winter. Bay leaves are sweetly aromatic yet have a slightly pungent flavor. They are usually used to flavor soups, stews, and sauces and then removed before serving or at least not eaten with the dish. It is also used in pickling. Bay Leaves are a classic ingredient in French bouquet. Plant in well-drained soil, in an area sheltered from strong winds. The plant can be propagated from 4-inch cuttings. Clip the shrub often to keep the size manageable. The shrub is best grown in large containers indoors or out. Individual leaves may be picked to use fresh or preserve. To preserve bay leaves dry them on screens in cool, dry, airy, shaded place, or use a dehydrator. When dry, pack in airtight containers.
  • Chives are an onion-like perennial. The leaves of the plant are mild and fine, and may be used for light duty in salads, dips, sauces, vegetables, soups, fish, and especially on baked potatoes. Bulbs may be planted in light, medium-rich soil in sunny place. Or they can be started directly from seeds taken from the dried flower of the plant. Simply hold out your hand and shake the seeds into it. Then sprinkle them on prepared soil. The stalks of the flower are tough and unpleasant to eat. Clumps should be thinned every third spring. Leaves may be snipped off as needed with a pair of kitchen scissors. They may also be dried, though the flavor will be thinned somewhat, they can be used anywhere you might use dried onions.
  • Though marjoram is a perennial it is generally treated as an annual because it rarely overwinters. It is a small bush with white flowers. It has gray-green leaves with slightly bitter aftertaste. It is most commonly used to season vegetables, eggs, lamb, sausage, poultry, and cheese dishes. It will also go well in potato salad, stuffings, and soups. Marjoram should be planted in well composted soil. It is best to start it in partial shade and then move to full sun as it matures. Space mature plants 8-10 inches apart. Marjoram can be grown in containers indoors or out. To harvest, cut the stems before buds begin to flower. Be sure to leave a few leaves to provide for the next crop. To dry tie stems in bundles and dry in an airy, shady place. However, it is much simpler to use a dehydrator. When dry, crumble and store in airtight containers.
  • Mints are nearly all perennial. Most have purple flowers and exude a refreshing smell and strong flavors. Because of its strength mints are most often used as garnish. Even so, the mint flavor combines well with lamb, peas, fish sauces, candies, chocolate, and vegetables. To use in a recipe generally you will crush the leaves just before adding them to a dish. Seedlings can be planted in rich, moist soil. The beds should be thinned out every three or four years. Mint can be grown indoors in containers. The leaves are at their peak quality when young so this is the time to pick them. To preserve they may be hung in bunches in a warm, dry place. Keep the drying mint away from strong sunlight. Again, a dehydrator may be used. When the herb is dry, crumble it and store it in airtight containers in a dark place.
  • Oregano is another of those perennials that does not last the winter well. It has a flavor very much like that of sweet marjoram. However it is a bit stronger and sage-like. It is used quite frequently and in quantity in Spanish and Italian dishes. Along with cumin it is one of the main components of chili powder. Oregano should be planted in light, well-drained soil in full sun. It is somewhat tender so it should be sheltered from cold winds that might bite in late spring and early summer. Mature plants should be spaced 12 inches apart. This is another perennial that benefits from being grown in containers indoors. It can be preserved by tying in bundles and being hung in an airy and shady location. Oregano can also be processed in a dehydrator. The dried leaves may then be crumbled into an airtight container.
  • Rosemary is a small, evergreen bush with pine-like leaves. It developes flowers which are pale blue. The leaves have a spicy aroma and a very strong flavor that can overwhelm a dish if over-used. Rosemary is commonly used in vegetable and meat dishes (especially chicken), and very sparsely in cream soups, sauces, and sometimes jellies. Some say it makes a good tea, but it is definitely an acquired taste. Seedlings may be planted from cuttings or divisions in well-drained soil in a sunny spot sheltered from wind and excessive activity. Plants should be brought inside for winter, but will overwinter outside in the pacific northwest, west of the mountains. To preserve the leaves, cut the stems, bunch them together and hang them upside down in a cool, airy place. When dry, strip the leaves from the stems, discard the stems and put leaves in an airtight container. The leaves may also be pounded into a powder.
  • There are many varieties of sage. The kind commonly used in cooking is imported. Sage originating in the western U.S. is said to "taste like turpentine". Sage has a strong and bitter flavor. It is used sparingly in stuffings, soups, stews, sausage and even herb breads. Sage should be planted in well-drained soil in full sun. This is another herb that can be grown in a container indoors to provide fresh flavor throughout the year. The leaves should be picked before flower buds form. If allowed to flower the leaves take on a musty flavor. To preserve hang bunches of sage in a warm, dry place protected from direct sunlight. Here again a dehydrator may be used. When sage is dry, crumble and store in airtight containers in cool dark place.
  • Tarragon has dark, slender, green leaves with sweet licorice aroma. Tarragon is considered by many chefs to be an essential element in many French dishes. It is thought to go well with eggs, chicken, goose, fish, shellfish and an assortment of vegetables. It is also commonly used in pickling and flavoring vinegar. Tarragon should be planted in well-drained soil in full sun. It is usually propagate by root division. To keep from overcrowding, subdivide the plants every three or four years. Tarragon may be grown in containers indoors to provide fesh taste throughout the year.
  • Thyme is a small shrub with smallish, brownish-green leaves. The leaves are where the aroma and flavor reside. Thyme is considered an excellent addition to many roast meats, on fish, and in chowders, sauces, soups, stews, stuffings, and even on salads. Thyme should be planted in well-drained soil in full sun. It should be clipped back every spring. It can be planted in containers and grown either indoors or outside. For best results, sprigs of Thyme should be cut before the plant has a chance to flower. Thyme should be hung in a dry, shady place for two to three weeks. When the sprigs are thoroughly dry, rub the leaves from the stems and store them in airtight containers in a cool, dark, and dry location.
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