Simple Herbs Yield a Bounty of Benefits All YearFeb 28, 2011 ● By Carrie Jackson
Fresh herbs during the long winter months in Chicago can be a comforting reminder of growth and life. While there isn’t enough natural daylight or warmth for them to live outside, most herbs can easily be preserved. Many can even thrive indoors. Growing your own herbs can be a simple, and delicious, part of ecologically-minded living.
Vicki Nowicki and her husband, Ron, of Downers Grove are dedicated to living sustainably. They designed their solar home, dubbed “Liberty Gardens,” 30 years ago and have landscaped every bit of their “lawn” with native plants, perennial food plants and a gigantic vegetable and herb garden. Nowicki’s favorite perennial herbs during the winter months are thyme, rosemary, tarragon, chives, sage, oregano and lovage (she uses lovage stems as straws for Bloody Marys ). She also is fond of mint, which she also grows indoors. “Mints require very little maintenance and only have to be harvested three times a year,” she says. “I use orange mint, lemon mint, peppermint and many others in teas. It’s so delicious.” She also enjoys knowing that her homemade mint tea has almost no carbon footprint, as it requires no fossil fuel to ship it from other countries.
Cecelia Ungari-Hoskins, an educator with the organizationThe Green Mama in Evanston, and her husband, Phil, turned part of their apartment living room into a makeshift herb and greens garden. “We started growing the herbs we use most and like to eat—mint, basil, dill, thyme, lettuce, arugula and sprouts and micro-greens,” Ungari-Hoskins says. Because their apartment windows face west, she uses some supplemental light. While some herbs grow well all year long, others do best in the summer. Nowicki grows different herbs—basil, dill and sweet marjoram—in the summer as well.
Ungari-Hoskins and Nowicki both agree that upkeep of herbs is fairly simple. “Most herbs originate from places that are rocky and have lean soil, so they’ve learned to be tough,” Nowicki points out. “They don’t need fertilizer, and, especially in the winter months, don’t require a lot of water.” Overwatering is a common mistake for novice gardeners, as well as harvesting too much or too little. Ungari-Hoskins finds that picking just a few herbs every day, as she needs them, keeps the plants healthy and well attended. “If we have an overabundance of something, we dry or freeze it,” she says. Nowicki concurs that it’s important not to let the herbs get overgrown. “If you never cut off their leaves, they’ll start making flowers, then fruits, which will take away from the sweetness of the leaves since all the carbohydrates go to the fruit,” she says.
All year long, herbs can add flavor and personality to almost any dish—but often the simple additions are the most noticeable. Whether it’s tarragon vinegar, chives on steamed potatoes or sage turkey, a little can go a long way to enhance a meal. For Ungari-Hoskins, there’s no comparison to her homegrown herbs, whether they grow in summer or winter. “I’m continually amazed that these herbs taste so good to me—so much better than what you can buy at the store!”
The Green Mama; call 773-299-8502 or visit TheGreenMama.com.
Liberty Gardens, 907 Summit Street, Downers Grove, 60515; call 630-852-5263 or visit LibertyGardens.com.
Carrie Jackson is a freelance writer and blogger in Evanston with a soft spot for fresh basil ice cream. Visit her at SpeakingOfCare.blogspot.com.