From the sunny Mediterranean to far eastern Asia, herbs are a staple of cuisines worldwide. Herbs are more flavorful when they're fresh, and when you grow your own they can be easily harvested whenever you're ready to cook.
Plant an assortment of herbs used for cooking in your container garden, and you'll have great flavoring options on hand no matter what you decide to prepare for dinner. Pinch off a sprig of fresh basil when making pesto or tomato sauces. Add parsley, with its slightly peppery flavor, to sauces, dressings and salads. One of the most aromatic herbs, rosemary, has a robust taste that is excellent with lamb and stews. Thyme adds a fresh lemony taste to nearly everything – try it with vegetables, meat, poultry or fish.
After your garden starts growing, here are a few tips for planning your herb harvest:
Allow Time To Grow
After starting plants from seeds or transplanting seedlings, give plants time to establish roots and grow before picking leaves for the first time. A good rule of thumb: herbs are ready when they're about eight inches high.
How Much to Harvest?
Once a plant is established, it's fine to clip or pinch off a few leaves whenever you need them for cooking. To keep your herb plant healthy, gardening experts caution against taking more than one-third of the stem length at any one time.
How to Cut
Use sharp, clean scissors to cut herbs without damaging the plant. You can also use your fingers to pinch off or remove leaves from softer-stemmed plants such as basil. Plan to use or preserve your leaves shortly after cutting – herbs will begin to wilt quickly.
Cut More, Grow More
It's a good idea to pick leaves frequently – this encourages new growth, and helps plants develop a dense and bushy shape. Picking leaves also keeps plants from flowering, which can cause the leaves to develop an off-flavor. If you see flowers, snip them off right away.