For the past few years I have made it one of my goals to grow as many of my own spices as possible. I really enjoy cooking and there is nothing like freshly grown herbs added to your meal.
Herbs and spices are generally imported into the United States. Unless you buy organic spices then the dried spices you buy are often fumigated and irradiated before they reach you. This is used to help prevent food-borne illness among other things.
When you grow your own spices at home you will end up with a much fresher product than you can find on the store shelf. You can eat your herbs fresh and also dry them for later use. It is so exciting to open your cupboard and have a wide array of spices to choose from that you grew yourself. Eliminating the waste and carbon impact of importation while you are at it. An added plus to growing more herbs is that they make excellent companion plants for annual vegetables and their aromatic qualities can ward off unwanted pests in your garden.
- Basil, Genovese - So this is an obvious one! Basil is one of the most delicious herbs in my opinion. Super versatile and excellent fresh or dried. Basil really benefits from continuous cutting so you should have plenty to dry. Basil is frost sensitive so start seeds indoors and then plant out after the danger of frost as past. If you are lucky and have a greenhouse you can extend your Basil season that way. It also grows really well as a container plant or house plant if given enough light. A big garden bonus is that bee’s love basil flowers.
- Cilantro, Caribe - I used to really dislike Cilantro but I found out it was really good for you, so I decided to make myself like it. Luckily it worked! Cilantro is a really bright flavor to add to soup, salad and sauces. You can dry the fresh cilantro leaf if you want but I like to let some of my plants go to seed. The harvested seed is called Coriander which is commonly found as a ground spice. I like to keep the seeds whole and batch grind them for the freshest flavor. Cilantro is cool because it also is a bioremediator and can be used as a cover crop. You can succession plant Cilantro every couple of weeks. It is pretty cold tolerant but prefers temperatures between 50-85 degrees. It will bolt once the weather is really hot but that;s not a problem because you can harvest the seed once it is ready.
- Pepper, Alma Paprika - You are really going to be wowed by the depth of flavor in home grown Paprika. It is sweet and complex with a subtle spicy flavor. "Alma” is an heirloom Hungarian variety that grows 2-3 inch round red fruits. I harvest mine when they are red and then cut the fruit into slices. I dry the slices in my dehydrator and then grind them up with a coffee grinder until they are a fine powder. Peppers are frost sensitive so start them indoors and then plant outside after your last frost date. Paprika finishes a little earlier than some of the hotter varieties.
- Pepper, Cayenne Aci Sivri - Here is a classic hot pepper that most of you probably have tried. This is a prolific heirloom variety from Turkey. It produces tons of 3-5” long bright scarlet peppers. You can hang these to dry and use them whole or you can dry them quickly in a dehydrator and grind them up to use as a powder or chili flake. The heat is variably between 10,000-50,000 SHU. They are also an excellent fresh addition to salsa, pasta sauce and more.
- Fennel Seed - We have two varieties of Fennel, this variety is better for seed production while our other variety Fennel, Perfection is grown for the fresh bulbs. I grow Fennel mainly to add to a makeshift Herbes de Provence blend that I like to have around. Fennel seeds are a big part of recipes in India. They are a component in both Garam Masala and Chinese 5 -Spice as well. Fennel is really easy to grow and you can direct seed it into your garden once the soil is about 60 degrees.
- Oregano, Greek - Oregano is a spicy aromatic herb that can be used fresh or dried. As a fairly low growing perennial, Oregano makes an excellent plant to add to the edges of beds. It will spread some and fill in empty space. After a few years it can get woody and less flavorful and you will want to replace your plants at that point. Oregano has tiny seeds and requires light to germinate. Press the seeds into your prepared flats and then cover lightly with vermiculite. Transplant when the plants are a few inches tall with 12’ spacing. Oregano is hardy in zones 5-9 and can withstand fairly hot dry conditions. The flavor of Oregano becomes somewhat muted when dry . Keep the dried leaves whole and then crush when needed to preserve some of the essential oil. Oregano makes an excellent accompaniment to basil in most recipes.
- Parsley, Einfache Schnitt - Parsley is another common fresh herb that you can buy readily at the supermarket. But it is much more affordable to grow at home. Just a few Parsley plants should meet your cooking needs. I prefer this flat leaf variety, Einfache Schnitt, over curled leaf varieties. I find it to be more versatile in cooking and to have a better mouth feel. Dry bunches of parsley as you would Basil. Combine Basil, Parsley and Oregano to make an easy Italian seasoning. Parsley takes a little while to germinate up to 3 weeks so have patience once you sow your seeds. Parsley is a biennial plant so it will not set seed until the second year. You can generally harvest from your plants for the entire growing season and even sometimes through the winter.
Sage, Common - I love the velvety texture and the musky aromatic flavor of Sage.This variety of sage is Salvia officinalis the most common variety used for cooking. Think brown butter and sage gnocchi, sausage stuffing etc… Sage will elevate many dishes. I know it probably seems easier to buy sage plants but we love growing things from seed around here. Sage is a perennial shrub that likes full sun. It is fairly drought tolerant. Space your seedlings about 2 feet apart so they have plenty of space to grow. Use Sage fresh or dry. Cut woody branches back in the early spring to promote new growth.
- Caraway, Artener - A bit of a culinary rogue that you might not find in every kitchen, Caraway has an earthy sweet aroma similar to other plants in the Carrot family (Apiaceae). Caraway has been grown for culinary uses for a very long time. It is really easy to grow but will not produce seeds until the second year. Direct sow Caraway into your garden in mid summer and you can harvest the seeds the following summer for use in savory dishes and baked goods. This variety will produce an abundance of seeds. Caraway can reproduce with only one plant as well so you do not need to plant a ton of plants to get a nice crop of seeds.
- Dill, Ambrosia - We have two different varieties of Dill here at Siskiyou Seeds. Mammoth Dill is grown for seed production while Ambrosia Dill is grown for foliage. Decide what your dill needs are before you choose which one to plant. Ambrosia does produce seeds but they are not as hearty and abundant as the Mammoth seeds. Dill is delightful fresh or dried. It can be used in cooking and is also a popular element in many canning recipes. Dill is really easy to grow. Direct sow into your prepared garden beds when the soil is 60-70 degrees. Dill can take about two weeks to germinate so mark rows after sowing. I love using Dill flowers in floral arrangements as well.
Written by Taryn Hunter