Note: This is the fourth post from RCR Committee member Faeterri Silver and it is a companion post to her earlier article Perennial Herbs.
Really the best way to grow annual herbs in NL is in containers. Examples of annual herbs are basil, cilantro, fennel, dill and parsley. Though these annuals can be grown directly in northern garden soil, they tend to prefer the slightly warmer temperatures which containers can provide. They can also all be grown indoors on a sunny window shelf for an easy year-round harvest.
As with the perennial herbs, annual herbs are also rich in vitamin and mineral nutrition, low in calories, zero cholesterol, high in dietary fiber and high in phytonutrients giving anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-septic and anti-bacterial properties. These herbs can also be helpful for the digestive system, and some are used to relieve gas or to freshen breath.
When I use fresh herbs for seasoning I add them at the last moment of cooking so that their lively flavours and colours aren’t cooked away. An abundance of herbs can also be stored as pesto, frozen, or in oil. Yes, pesto is traditionally made of basil, but parsley and cilantro pesto are also good. Besides being used as seasonings, micro-greens of dill, basil, cilantro, fennel leaf, and parsley are also excellent in salads.
Basil is a mint relative. There are many basil varieties each with a different flavour. Sweet and Genovese are most commonly used to make pestos. Other flavours are lemon, lime, cinnamon, and spicy Thai. Some are also grown for their colour like purple basil. An Italian story says that if a girl leaves a pot of basil on her window sill, it is an invitation for her boyfriend to come visit. Harvesting basil often will make the plant bushy and discourage flowering so that more leaves can be harvested. When I have basil in abundance, I keep fresh cut stems with leaves in a glass of water making a nice centerpiece for the table and to consume a little with lunch. To my surprise I have seen basil cuttings start to root this way and then I transplanted them into new containers for another crop all year long.
Dill, fennel, cilantro, and parsley are all members of the carrot family and their umbel flowers look similar. Both the leaves and the seeds of dill, coriander and fennel can be used for seasoning. If the plants start to go to seed I plant another round. Cilantro and coriander are the same plant. The leaf is known as cilantro, the seed coriander. Fennel is grown for its leaves, seeds and vegetable bulb. It has a licorice or anise flavour. Indoor growing of fennel is mostly for the leaves.
Parsley is so much more than just a garnish for the plate. For instance one cup of parsley has 20 times as much iron as one serving of liver. Parsley grows as curly or flat leaf. It is actually a biennial plant meaning that it produces seed in its second year.
Some of my favourite recipes include dill pickles, dill in breads or rolls, and lemon and dill fish. I use cilantro in my salsa recipe and other Mexican dishes, and the coriander seed in Indian curry dishes and rice puddings. Fennel seeds are good in cakes and cookies. Fresh basil leaves are good with tomato slices and fresh mozzarella cheese. And parsley I like with potatoes and I just love it as an addition to my salads.
Like Andreae, I want to take the local food one-year challenge and growing herbs in pots all year long is going to make it easier.