The Old World of "parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme" has gone global. Today's cooks flavor with herbs from around the world. Some of the fresh flavors you've come to expect from Mexican and Asian restaurants can be grown right here in the Rogue Valley. Here are a couple herbs you might want to try in your garden this year.
Stevia is a popular sweetener for those concerned about sugar intake. "Stevia [can be] one hundred times sweeter than sugar, has no calories, is high in fiber, and especially good for diabetics," says Jackie Carlino, herbalist at The Herb Shop in Grants Pass. Use in teas, coffee, or as a sweetener for baking.
It is difficult to germinate stevia seeds so it's best to begin with small plants. Levels of sweetness in plants can vary greatly, so you have to experiment. Harvest leaves late in the season when cooler temperatures increase sweetness. Dry in a single layer on a screen in warm sun or a dehydrator. Crush dried leaves and store. Try adding one cup boiling water to about 1 tablespoon crushed dried leaves to make a liquid extract you can use immediately.
Lemongrass is a pungent herb used in Thai cooking, teas, and cosmetics. "It's a calming herb, good for the central nervous system," says Carlino. It is best if the stalk is picked just before using and is usually minced and added to teas, soups and sauces. Use the tender inner stalks in quick recipes and the tougher leaves for stewing or for tea.
You may not think of basil as a "new" herb, but you're probably thinking of sweet basil used in pesto and spaghetti sauce. "There are many new varieties of basil," says Esther Lee, garden expert at the Grange in Medford. They range in flavor from spicy green pepper basil to sweet cinnamon and include lemon and anise basils. They are used in everything from pastas, salads, vinegar, oils, teas, soups and desserts. "Plant a 'Spicy Globe' basil at the entrance to your house as a fly repellant," suggests Lee. It's compact, beautiful and, of course, perfect for cooking as well.
"It is important to keep harvesting your herbs, cutting the tops off and using new leaves because the old leaves don't taste as good and the plant will set flowers," adds Lee. Store fresh herbs in a plastic bag in the bottom of your refrigerator.
Basils are easy to grow in any good organic soil and, like most herbs, take full sun and are somewhat drought-tolerant. Because they are not winter hardy, they are grown as annuals; but are great in pots and can be brought inside.
Another tender plant for experimenting kitchen gardeners is curry leaf plant (Murraya koenigii). This is not the gray-foliage, yellow-button-flower curry plant you can find easily in local nurseries. The curry leaf tree has bright green leaves that grow in pairs on arching stems. Harvest leaves or branches to use fresh in chicken or lentil dishes, says Lee. Freezing leaves maintains flavor best, she says.
This tropical perennial must be protected from temperatures below 55 degrees, so you will need to place it in a protected location and bring it in during the winter months. Give it morning sun, or partial shade and monitor watering. Starts may not be available locally, but you can find them in California nurseries and online with tropical plant vendors. It can also be grown from seed, so check catalogs.
With this global garden you'll have plenty of options in the kitchen.