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Make herbal gifts from the garden

  • Diane Lynch
  • There is hardly anything easier to grow in a California garden than herbs, unless it’s succulents. Herbs have the added benefit of being edible and easy to save for future culinary use. Many need relatively little water, and you can make great gifts from the garden for the holidays.

    Herbs can be annuals, such as basil, which set seed and die in the course of a year. Biennials such as parsley flower set seed and die the second year. Perennials like rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage live for several to many years. All can be grown from seed but the seeds tend to be tiny and slow growing so it’s easier to start with a small plant. You just need a little sunny spot in the garden to get started. I only have good sun on my deck so a couple of pots do the job. Every spring top dress with 4 inches of compost and you’re good to go.

    Herbs are, broadly speaking, the leafy part of any plant that’s used as medicine, fragrance or to flavor food. There are literally hundreds of plants that fit this definition. Did you know you could make pesto with nasturtium leaves? Who knew you could use the leaves of ginger, cardamom and turmeric as herbs?

    The nice thing about growing herbs is that you can easily dry them for use in cooking. I take cuttings from basil, sage, thyme, oregano and hang them to dry. Store dried leaves in glass jars and mash when using.

    For some help on how to make herbal gifts from the garden, show up at the Novato Library at 1720 Novato Blvd. at 11 a.m. Nov. 19 for a free demonstration by master gardener Anne-Marie Walker, who will show you how to make herbal blends, salves, balms, teas, cocktails and sauces. Master Gardeners grew, harvested and dried the herbs you’ll use.

    How about cocktails such as a borage basil gimlet or lemon sage presse? Rr what about a delicious salsa verde, which can also be persillade or gremolata, depending on what you add to chopped parsley and garlic. Or Argentine oregano-chili chimichurri? Try making an herbal salve out of beeswax, olive oil and herbs to soothe your sore muscles. There is no end to the herbal teas that can be blended and put into paper tea bags.

    The nice thing about making herbal gifts from the garden is that youmay get excited about growing and harvesting your own herbs. And fall is the best time to plant perennial herbs as well as cool-season herbs such as parsley, cilantro, arugula, borage, chamomile, chives, dill, sorrel, rosemary and lemongrass so they will mature the following spring and summer and be ready for harvest and drying in August and September.

    The UC Marin Master Gardener column is written by UC Marin Master Gardeners, who are sponsored by the University of California Cooperative Extension. For questions about gardening, plant pests or diseases, call 415-473-4204 from 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays, bring in samples or pictures to 1682 Novato Blvd., Suite 150B, Novato, or email helpdesk@marinmg.org.