A friend of mine surprised me the other day with some fresh herbs from her garden. Either their conspicuous absence from my posts alerted her to my black thumb or my constant ranting about trying to be healthy mistakenly led her to believe I am an outstanding gardener. Either way, I was tickled pink with the gift because I knew immediately what I would do with them.
Using fresh herbs in cooking is a no-brainer. Fresh herbs are much more flavorful and aromatic than their dried counterparts. And because they are packed with antioxidants, they are a much healthier option than salting your food for flavor. Usually, another benefit of using fresh herbs is their bright color so in recipes they are often added near the end of cooking or used in freshly prepared sauces such as pesto or a dressing.
My herb-bearing friend actually works with my husband so before the beautiful bounty reached me, it sat on his desk all day and then in his hot vehicle while he was in a meeting between his office and home. When they finally arrived home, they were no longer at their freshest so had lost some of their color and vitality. Here are the three cooking herbs when I finally received them:
As you can see, they still looked lovely, wrapped thoughtfully in their little bows of raffia, just slightly weathered. In order from left to right they are basil, mint, and thyme (she also sent me some lavender but I had already thrust that into a vase with some water to try and save it so it isn’t in the picture). A quick note about cooking with fresh herbs–you want to try to avoid cutting them too much and you don’t really need or want the stems. With basil, peel whole leaves from the stem and use the whole leaves. With other herbs, like thyme, slide a butter knife along the stem to release the leaves.
Since basil and thyme pair very well with poultry, I decided to make a simple chicken dinner using them. You don’t even need to grab a pen for this recipe. 4 chicken breasts, balsamic vinegar to coat each breast, a sprinkling of fresh thyme and basil atop each breast, and a little olive oil drizzled over everything. I baked mine at 375 degrees for 30 minutes and they turned out perfectly moist and cooked through.
I still had plenty of thyme and basil left so I chopped up a tomato (from my garden!) and topped the slices with the herbs, some freshly minced garlic and a drizzling of olive oil. These went into the oven about halfway through the chicken’s cooking time. I added some shredded mozzarella cheese on top for the last minute, just long enough to melt.
I also threw together a quick spinach casserole with a 14 oz. bag of frozen spinach, a can of cream of mushroom soup, and a couple handfuls of french fried onions (give me a break on this, I had to pitch SPINACH to 4 kids!). I didn’t add any herbs to the spinach, but since it is in the picture, I thought I would tell you what the big green blob on the left is.
My kids were skeptical about the chicken since it appeared like it was dressed in something healthy like a vegetable. I am happy to report, I got glowing reviews on the chicken from all of my meat eaters (I have one vegetarian). The fresh herbs really did make a difference and the flavor was infused into every bite.
Recently, I wrote an article about natural bug repellents. If you missed it, you can read it here. Basically, I have been trying to move away from using harsh chemicals when I can find natural alternatives and I found a great recipe for a bug spray that I can make myself. I use witch hazel and peppermint and lavender essential oils. So, I added a sprig of lavender and mint (thank you Amanda, the amazing herb grower) to my finger spray bottle. Now my bug repellent isn’t only effective, it’s pretty! See for yourself:
I don’t have a picture, but in the past I have also used fresh herbs in olive oil, placed in a pretty bottle with an oil spout, as a housewarming gift.
If you are growing herbs, they can serve multiple purposes in your garden:
- Dill and chives attract butterflies
- Lemon balm and mint repel insects
- Sage repels deer
Fight bad breath with parsley and sage! I haven’t tried this one myself since I prefer to scrub my teeth with a toothbrush to chewing on or rubbing herbs on them, but I’m tucking this knowledge in my back pocket in case I’m ever trapped in the wilderness without a toothbrush and happen upon some wild herbs. I wonder if they have the same cleansing power if a deer has peed on them?