The greening of your purse and plate: grow your own herbs

April 04, 1992|By Beverly Bundy | Beverly Bundy,Fort Worth Star-Telegram

You don't have to be Martha Stewart to have your own herb garden.

In fact, if you've got Martha's money, you really don't need your own herb garden. Cooks in Ms. Stewart's sphere probably don't blanch at the $1.50 charged for a 1/2 ounce of fresh-cut herbs in grocery stores.

But those who want to add freshness to the kitchen repertoire without crippling the week's food budget can grow their own herbs with little garden expertise and a minimal cash outlay.

An herb plant bought at almost any local nursery will cost about the same as that supermarket 1/2 ounce and will yield fresh flavor for the entire growing season and, in the case of perennials, for many growing seasons to come.

Growing your own herbs not only saves money on cooking spices, but the plants do double duty as garden plants. The only thing the basic herb grower needs is plenty of sunshine. If the back yard is full of shade trees, plant a selection of herbs somewhere out front. Identify plants with pretty garden markers and a utilitarian garden spot becomes a conversation piece. Apartment dwellers can use containers for the same affect.

Frugal gourmets can start herbs from seed but those more concerned with the green in their yard than in their bank account can hoe a far easier path by buying small starter plants. Make sure soil is well-draining and plop the plants in the ground. That's it. A little water and lots of sun and a small patch will offer a potful of flavor.

Harvesting helps most herbs grow more lush, so don't be shy about using the plants. Plant what you'll use, or you'll end up with a lot of tired, ignored-looking fellows that never get pinched back.

Before buying herbs, look through recipe files to see what you use most often and make sure to include garnishes. You might not cook with opal basil but sprigs make a lovely accent on a plate. Don't overbuy starter plants; remember that most of the perennials will spread.

And don't bemoan the cold weather and its effects on summer's herbs. Simply put up some bottles of herb vinegars and mix up some herb butters for the freezer and you've got a cheap leg up on holiday gift giving.

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