Growing your own herbs not only helps you feel connected to what you eat, but it’s also a great way to save money. Instead of buying herbs for every recipe, you can purchase a plant once and keep a continuous, fresh supply on hand — simply snip off what you need, when you need it!
We’re continually expanding our herb selection at the Mississippi Market Plant Sale. Keep an eye out for exciting new varieties, as well as these favorites:
This year we’ll have about 14 different varieties of basil. You’ll find several downy-mildew-resistant ones like Elenora and Devotion, and some more unique ones like African Blue, which is more tolerant to lower temperatures than other basils, delicious in pesto, loved by pollinators, and a lovely addition to any garden bouquet. You can also find purple basils, red basils, lemon basils, Thai basils and several Genovese-style varieties at the sale.
You’ll find lavender with white flowers, pink flowers and purple flowers, as well as French, English and Spanish lavender. Plus, keep an eye out for these types:
- Phenomenal: a lavender with an early bloom and a rich fragrance
- Munstead: a hardy lavender with dark purple blooms and gray-green foliage
- Hidcote Blue: another hardy lavender
that works well for drying
This year we will have over 18 different varieties, including Thai, ginger, apple, lime, Himalayan (a pollinator favorite), chocolate, strawberry, Corsican and the much-loved Mint Mojito — perfect, of course, for summertime mojitos and wonderful in lemonade. It also dries well for tea.
- If starting with seeds indoors, be sure to read the seed packet’s instructions to see how many weeks in advance the plant needs to be started before you can safely move it outdoors.
- Some of the tender herbs found at the plant sale, like the basils, should not be planted outside until all danger of frost is past.
- Most herbs like lots of sun, at least six hours a day — in fact, the more, the better! If you are growing them inside, 12 hours of direct fluorescent lighting each day will give them what they need. Windowsills can also work, but they can be drafty when it’s cooler out and sometimes can produce leggy plants.
- Whether in a pot or in the ground, don’t let your herbs dry out! You’ll need to be more careful about this when growing in pots. Never let them get to the point where they wilt. Mulching around the base of the plant will help keep the soil moist.
- When planting outside in a garden, put your herbs where you’ll be able to access them for frequent harvesting.
- Harvest the leaves throughout the season to promote new growth.
- Harvest in the morning before the sun has a chance to evaporate the essential oils in the leaves, and try to harvest before the plant has flowered for the best flavor.
- Snip the branch just above a leaf to encourage new growth, and be sure to select stems without disease or insect damage.
- Don’t fret if you don’t get to harvesting your herbs before they flower. Nearly all of them are visited by and are an important food source for pollinators. Not only that, but many of them are beautiful in garden bouquets!
- Hang dry: Lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary and sage are great for hang drying. Bundle each herb in bunches of 10 to 12 stems, tied with rubber bands, and hang upside down in an airy, cool room out of direct sunlight. The bundles will dry in one to two weeks, depending on the weather. (Humid weather slows the drying process.) Once dry, strip the leaves off the stems, place in a jar and store in a dry, dark place. Use within three months for best flavor.
- Dehydrate: Basil, dill leaves, lovage, parsley and thyme don’t dry well with the hanging method — instead, remove the leaves from the stems, cut into small pieces, and lay on screens to air dry or place on a cookie sheet to dry in the oven or a dehydrator. Set the oven or dehydrator to a low temperature (below 150°F), and stir often until the leaves are dry. Store in glass jars.
- Freeze: Fill each insert in an ice cube tray about 2/3 of the way with herbs (chopped or in large pieces), then add olive oil or broth and freeze. Hard herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano work best for this method. Now you’ll have flavorful, herby bases for soups or sautés!