In today's economy, with frugal households looking for ways to save money on groceries and many people's eco-consciousness and wanting to eat organic foods, lots of Americans are planning and planting gardens to grow their own vegetables, fruits and herbs. So has arisen the new trend of planting a kitchen garden.
The tradition of the kitchen garden started long ago, arriving with immigrants who brought the concept to this country. In European countries, virtually all households had a garden plot filled with vegetables and herbs, and in Victorian England, kitchen gardens often covered acres of land and were tended by dozens of people. Today the kitchen garden conforms to a household's available space. It may be a 6-square-foot garden planted in a sunny backyard. Or it may be a raised garden bed with railroad ties as its borders, designed and planted by children as a family project. Or it may be a simple 2-foot planter set on a sunny ledge above the kitchen sink.
Using organic soil and plant nutrients, you easily can plant your own kitchen garden, filling it with the herbs you use in your own favorite recipes. Adventurous cooks might plant exotic spices, such as Russian oregano, globe basil, lemon thyme or Italian marjoram, which is found in most Italian home gardens.
According to Amy Jeanroy, who is About.com's guide to herb gardens, the top herbs to include in today's kitchen garden are:
--Chives. They are a versatile herb that could add scent to a roasting chicken or be snipped into tiny pieces to top a baked potato. Chives grow quickly and brown quickly, so Jeanroy suggests a regular maintenance practice of snipping back chive growth to keep the plants standing straight and tall.
--Thyme. Thyme is used in both cooking and in the brewing of teas, so this tasty herb is a top choice for a kitchen herb garden.
--Tarragon. "French tarragon," Jeanroy says, "lends itself well to any dairy or egg dishes." Tarragon also is used as a topper for many breakfast dishes, including omelets and scrambled eggs.
--Marjoram. Jeanroy favors French marjoram, a versatile herb that provides the flavor of oregano without the bitterness.
--Sage. Sage often is used in poultry dishes and in savory beef dishes, including stews. It's another of the herbs that some people brew as a tea, because it's believed to be an effective treatment for colds and sore throats.
Parsley is considered a top choice by gardening enthusiasts. Both the flat-leaf and curly edged varieties are used as flavor enhancers in sauces and lasagnas, as well as in many slow cooker recipes. Oregano and basil are favorite herbs for those who consider Italian food to be their favorite cuisine, and cilantro makes the list for those who make guacamole or other Mexican foods, such as fajitas and burritos.
By virtue of its growing in your garden or planter and being fresh, an herb bunch's flavor will be at its peak, adding such punch to a recipe that it eliminates the need for an unhealthy amount of salt to be added. For example, heart-healthy tomatoes are delicious snacks for your family in the form of salsa or tomato salad that has been spiced with your homegrown basil.
The benefits of a kitchen herb garden are many, from health to budget, but perhaps the greatest perk of a kitchen garden is the almost meditative bliss that occurs when you're tending your garden, communing with the earth, weeding your garden beds, putting loving care into a natural process that rewards you with taste and many compliments on your fine home cooking.