What’s more rewarding than walking out your back door and cutting fresh herbs for your salad or entrée?

To be able to do this, you need to determine which herbs you cook with the most and make sure to plant at the proper time and in the sunniest spot in your garden. Many herbs are perennial, such as thyme, rosemary and oregano, and can be planted most anytime. Other widely used ones are annuals. For example, basil is best planted in the summer and parsley and cilantro are best planted in the fall.

Assuming you have done this and plants are several weeks old, you are now ready to harvest. Plan on doing this in the early morning once the sun has dried the leaves for what your needs are later in the day. I carry a sharp pair of scissors and a large glass with water when I cut stems such as basil or snip runners of oregano. I carry them right into the house for a rinse to remove any travelers and place in a glass of fresh water out of direct sunlight. Never remove more than one-third of the plant, as this could damage it, and always take cuttings before herbs such as cilantro or dill bloom and begin to go to seed.

When you are ready to cook with herbs, remember to use three times what the recipe calls for because dried herbs are much stronger than fresh but do not have the bright flavor of freshly cut herbs. For this reason, I add the fresh herbs at the last minute. Even a few leaves brighten up any fresh salad.

It seems I always have some extra annual herbs, such as basil in the early fall or parsley in the late winter, left toward the end of their season. To preserve these I harvest, wash, remove stems and then put through a food processor or chopper and stuff into ice cube trays. I then add a little water before placing into a zipper bag for storing in the freezer. Don’t forget to mark your bags so you don’t accidentally use basil when you meant to use parsley in that pot of stew! There are such great dividends for planting your own herb garden. Everyone should have one!

The Smith County Master Gardener program is a volunteer organization in connection with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

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