Few things are more satisfying to the home-cooking gardener than walking out to the yard and plucking some fresh, home-grown cilantro to flavor dinner and pulling some basil leaves to toss into salads.
How you grow those herbs — and knowing when you harvest them — can make a big difference in how they taste.
Ross Penhallegon, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, offers these suggestions for growing flavorful herbs.
Do not overfertilize herbs
The essential oils that provide flavor are more concentrated when herbs are grown in moderately rich soil with just enough fertilizer to keep them green. Too much makes the plant grow large, rangy and less flavorful. Be careful when adding compost or manure, as well, and use moderate amounts.
Plant herbs in well-drained soil
Poorly drained soil inhibits healthy root systems, causes stress and invites insect and disease problems.
Trim back perennial herbs
Trim herbs such as oregano and thyme when they get woody stems. Sage should be pruned annually. Tender new growth has the most flavor, but older, tougher growth that is trimmed off is great for use when barbecuing. By trimming herbs often, the plants also look more attractive, with plenty of new leaves.
Time your harvest
Leaves are the most flavorful before the plant blooms.
Remove the blossoms of sweet basil plants to make the plant grow bushier, with more leaves. If the herb has already bloomed, pick the younger side shoots.
"If you're growing herbs for seeds such as fennel, caraway, cilantro or dill, pick the seeds when they look brown and almost ripe, and you won't lose seeds," Penhallegon said. "Let them finish drying in a warm, dry, dark area of the house, barn or garage."