Sow Good Seeds: Herbs are Bright Spots

Sow Good Seeds

Sow Good Seeds is a column devoted to environmental issues, gardening, cooking, and anything else connected to the natural world that has so graciously hosted us on this earth. It is the author’s hope that it will encourage you to see the world around you in a different way, to make incremental changes in your daily living, and to treat our planetary home such that we honor the generations of life that will follow.

Everyone needs bright spots. A bright spot in your day could be a kind word from a friend, a wave from a child playing on the sidewalk, or a robin perched outside your window. These moments, sprinkled liberally through life, bolster hope and keep things interesting.

Just as in life, I need these bright spots in my cooking. The last two months of home-centric eating has been permission and opportunity for endless creativity in the kitchen, but also a long-stretching plod of “what-to-make-for-dinner-today” taking up a lot more brainspace than usual. I’ve found that what I’m cooking (or not) and eating (or not) says a lot about where I am mentally. Taking a look at my eating habits can show me how I can better care for myself. 

For me, one breath of fresh air in the culinary doldrums is using fresh herbs: they provide a punch of flavor to bring a dish up a level, adding dimension and complexity. The chemical compounds concentrated in the leaves and stems of herbs give zest and contrast when added to a meal. 

I have a few herbs growing in my window and a few potted up on my patio, and they’re getting enough foliage to start harvesting (now to figure out how to keep the squirrels from digging though the pots). If you have room for a couple of containers near a window or some space in your yard, I highly recommend growing herbs at home. It’s handy to have herbs on hand without worrying about using them all up before they go bad. To learn more about how to get started, check out this article from Jane Lear, a food writer whom I’d love to get to know more. Her website states, “She believes that ‘What did you have for dinner last night?’ is one of life’s most profound questions.”

Even if you’re not inclined to commit to a kitchen garden, herbs gathered from the grocery store or from a friend’s garden — ask around! — will still add delicious new dimensions to your meals. And don’t stop with your homemade meals: why not add them to takeout, a medium often lacking bright, fresh tones? That pizza could use some basil; those tacos would love some cilantro. Here are a few of my favorite summer herbs and what I like to do with them (and for even more, read another article by Lear):

  • Basil. Admittedly, I could have basil in or on almost anything and be happy. I’ve even used it fresh in baked goods! Anything with tomatoes will take up with basil wonderfully. Pesto is a great end-of-summer way to use lots if you have it. 
  • Cilantro. Some find the taste of cilantro soapy and astringent, but I’m not one of those people. Cilantro is well known in salsa and guacamole, and I also like to put it over curries and toss it in dressed salads. If you grow some and let it bolt (or, let it flower and go to seed), you can harvest coriander seeds!
  • Mint. Mojitos, anyone? Or mint juleps? Mint is great for flavoring drinks, alcoholic or not: muddle some in your lemonade, iced tea, or just water for a refreshing sip. It can also pair with savory dishes, like red meat or fish, and adds a nice brightness to grain salads. Beware planting it in the middle of your garden, because it likes to take over.
  • Chives. These are nice to grow at home, because they return every season and grow back when you cut off what you need. I still think about a breakfast of scrambled eggs with goat cheese and chives that I had several years ago. Add to recipes at the last minute as a finishing touch, because heat breaks down the fresh flavor. 
  • Dill. A little dill goes a fair ways when applied directly in recipes, but it blends well with cream sauces, potatoes, and salmon. Lots of cucumbers coming from your garden this summer (or really, any vegetables)? Pickle them in your refrigerator!

Having herbs on hand doesn’t answer the question of what to make for your next meal, but it can ensure that whatever you make will be tastier for it. 

Deborah Haak-Frost is grateful for every ray of sunshine that reaches her skin. She is the Caretaker for Community Engagement at GilChrist Retreat Center in Three Rivers, and volunteers with *culture is not optional, a Three Rivers-based community development organization.

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