by Maria C. Del Rio, El Paso Master Gardener
Herbs are a fun and delightful addition to the garden or to your windowsill. Some have wonderful fragrances and flowers and are useful in the kitchen as well. They can be used as decoration or can add flavor to your favorite dishes.
Garden centers offer a broad selection of herbs for immediate planting in the landscape. Select healthy and vigorous-growing plants. Be sure not to plant the herb any deeper than where it was growing in the container. Planting too deep may cause the roots to rot.
Many herbs are very easy to grow and there is a wide variety to choose from. Deciding which ones to grow and how to grow them depends on your particular interest. So, below are some of my favorite ones to grow in El Paso. Some have been chosen for their use in the kitchen and some for their beauty in the garden as well as their use in the kitchen.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus, formerly known as Rosmarinus officinalis) is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant evergreen needle-like leaves and lovely tiny blue flowers. It is native to the Mediterranean region. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which also includes many other herbs, like basil and thyme. The name rosemary has nothing to do with the rose or the name Mary, but derives from the Latin name rosmarinus, which is from “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus), or “dew of the sea” – because it is frequently found growing near the sea. However, it grows beautifully in El Paso despite the fact that there is no sea around us. Rosemary is great addition to marinades for lamb, pork, chicken breast, and salmon.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is an annual that comes in over 40 varieties, although you will normally only see a few at your local garden center. The most popular variety is sweet basil. Basil has a spicy flavor with licorice undertones and a touch of pepper. Used widely in Italian cooking, it is great with any dish, either cooked or sprinkled on top as a garnish. Sweet basil grows one to two feet tall and prefers a good fertile soil with abundant moisture and full sun. It is perfect for containers or in the garden bed. Basil can be started easily from seed indoors, although it is cold sensitive, so be sure not to put it out too early. Basil also benefits from pruning, so don’t be afraid to harvest a lot of basil. The more often you harvest, the bushier your plants will become.
Thyme, also called common or garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris), is a low-growing herb that can be a perennial in El Paso because of our usually mild winters. No herb garden would be complete without it. While numerous cultivars of thyme are available, garden thyme and lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) are the two most commonly grown cultivars. Seeds are extremely small and should be started indoors 4 to 6 weeks early before transplanting. Transplants are small and weak, requiring some protection and care until they establish. Thyme is a basic in most French and Italian cooling, especially in meat dishes. Tomatoes and other vegetables are complimented by the flavor of thyme. Thyme can easily be dried and stored for later use. Traditionally, a large patch is recommended as thyme is a very versatile herb.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) has green feathery leaves and is also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley. It is native to the Mediterranean and is an annual herb and a member of the Apiaceae family. The spherical seeds of coriander are indispensable in India cuisine, and here in El Paso, cilantro is indispensable when cooking Mexican food. Cilantro is easily grown from the spherical coriander seeds. It will do well in both full and partial sun and in medium moist soil with good drainage. Due to El Paso’s hot summers, cilantro is best grown in the early spring and fall.
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