Fresh herbs put a bit more life into any kind of recipe - there’s something about a fragrant sprig of rosemary or bunch of sage leaves that just isn’t replicated by shaking some powder out of the jar. Herbs are also nutritionally powerful (they’re so full of antioxidants that they can even keep raw meat from going bad in the fridge) and they’re totally Paleo- and keto-friendly.
But all the romanticism aside, fresh herbs from the grocery store or the farmers' market are also expensive, difficult to store, and hard to use up before they go bad. Enter the perfect solution - an herb garden right in your own kitchen! It really doesn’t take much of a green thumb (herbs are pretty hard to kill) and it’s easy to get started. Check out 6 reasons why you should give it a shot!
1. You'll get fresh herbs for less
There's a slightly higher start-up cost, but the amazing benefit of an herb garden is that once you pay for the initial setup, you get an ongoing supply of fresh herbs with very little extra money.
Some quick guesstimated math, using rosemary as an example:
Herb garden setup
- Small potted rosemary plant: $10
- Bag of fertilizer (lasts ~1 year): $5
Buying rosemary at the store
- Small sprig of rosemary (lasts ~2 recipes): $2
Say you cook with fresh rosemary once a week. If you buy it at the store, that's $1/week. After a year, you will have spent $52 on rosemary. If you buy the plant, after a year you will have spent $15 on rosemary, and you'll still have a continually self-perpetuating source of rosemary. There’s a higher cost to get started, but once you’re up and running, the savings start rolling in.
2. No more herbs going bad in the fridge
Who among us hasn't bought a little package of herbs with the very best of intentions, only to get busy and forget to cook the pot roast and have all that delicious sage and thyme go bad in the fridge?
If your herbs are still attached to a living plant up until the moment you pick them, this becomes a complete non-issue. They'll just wait patiently for you until you want to eat them. Too busy to cook for a week? No problem! It's the ultimate anti-spoilage storage method.
As a corollary to this, you’ll also never have sigh and say “Well, I forgot to buy the herbs so I guess I’ll just make it without.” The herbs will always be right there waiting for you.
3. Freshness = flavor and nutrients
The whole reason why people spring for fresh herbs in the first place is the flavor - there’s something about a fresh bunch of basil or sage that you just can’t get from the dried version, even if the dried herbs are treated very carefully (not exposed to a lot of light, not kept in a super humid room, etc.)
But even fresh herbs can lose some of their potency over time in the fridge. And remember, that doesn’t just mean your fridge. Unless you’re buying your fresh herbs from the farmer’s market, they’ve also spent time in the fridge at the grocery store, and in refrigerated trucks and distribution centers before that. If you live in Philadelphia and you’re buying herbs from California, they’ve come a long way in the fridge before they even make it to your shopping cart.
4. They’re easy to grow
Herbs are low-maintenance, high-reward plants. If you have outdoor space, you can grow them outside in a traditional garden or in pots on the porch. If you live in a tiny apartment, you can grow them on a balcony or any sunny windowsill. If you live somewhere with cold winters, you can grow them in pots and bring them indoors for the cold season. Some, like rosemary, can even survive the winter outside in most parts of the world.
For the most part, herbs aren’t terribly demanding about watering, humidity, or other environmental concerns, so they’re good plants for nervous or first-time gardeners. Plus, even if they don't really thrive, buying one or two potted herbs is pretty cheap. It’s not like you’re committing to a 20-foot hedge of rosebushes.
5. They make lovely gifts
If your garden grows too enthusiastically for your own cooking, you can always gift your herbs to family or friends. All kinds of herb crafts make beautiful, thoughtful gifts with a very low environmental impact.
- Sachets - the original air freshener for dresser drawers, closets, or other small spaces. Dry some of your favorite herbs and pack them into a small bag (or an old-fashioned handkerchief tied with a ribbon - you can often find beautiful ones at thrift stores).
- Herb wreaths or dried herb bouquets liven up anyone’s kitchen, especially in the winter months when it’s hard to open a window for fresh air. You could decorate them with bows or ornaments for Easter, Mother’s Day, or your recipient’s birthday.
- Herb butter is even more delicious than regular butter (hard to believe that anything could improve on butter, but it’s true!) and makes a very welcome gift for almost anyone, vegans and very strict dairy-free folks excepted.
6. You can easily store any extras
If you need to cut back the forest of basil taking over your porch and none of your friends want delicious/good-smelling gifts, it’s very easy to preserve fresh herbs for your own future use.
One easy strategy is fresh herbs in olive oil - one study found that freezing preserves the antioxidants very well, compared to refrigeration or drying. Here's a recipe for fresh herbs frozen in oil.
You can also dry your own herbs very easily, if freezing isn’t your style. This does diminish the flavor a little, but as a trade-off, dried herbs smell wonderful and are useful for all kinds of crafts and decorations in addition to flavoring your food.
What’s your favorite thing to do with fresh herbs? Recommended plants for beginners?
If you’ve started an herb garden of your own, let us know how it went on Facebook or Twitter!