Patti Travioli is an organic horticulturist who, by night, writes about her passion of growing plants and nature. By day she tends to the plants growing in her gardens at Heartwood Forest Farm.
 

 
 

5 Must Have Herbs for Summer
by Patti Travioli - posted 06/20/18

Tulsi, or holy basil, should be harvested before the flowers develop. You can dry the leaves for tea or make a tincture. You can also incorporate the leaves into stir-fries, soups, or sauces. A sacred plant of the Hindus and used in Ayurveda medicine.


I can recall being a new gardener going to my local greenhouse to find some annuals for the front yard. My mother was a gardener, always planting several flats of double Impatiens, Begonia, and marigolds (Tagetes spp.). On my way to the colorful flowers, I stopped to look at the herbs. They smelled so fresh, some even reminiscent of lemons. How adorable those with tiny variegated gold and green leaves were. Some were fuzzy and gray. I decided to plant some herbs along with my annuals. That was the summer I broke free from my mother’s way of gardening and went out on my own. The fragrance and flavors of the herbs were more powerful to me than the colors brought by the annuals. In the years that followed, I learned how to grow, harvest, and preserve herbs.


Anise hyssop is a hardy perennial to Zone 4. It grows straight and tall with several branches, creating a very full plant. The lavender flowers and leaves can be harvested and dried to be used as a tea, which has a slight black licorice flavor. Anise hyssop also makes a good cut flower in a mixed bouquet. Look for the native species or newer cultivars.
 

Following are my five must haves for any garden:

1. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Number one, hands down, my favorite – visually and as an edible. The secret of growing basil is that it likes the HEAT. Don’t plant this until two weeks after your last frost date. You can start it indoors, buy a transplant at the garden center, or sow seeds. I pinch off the tips of the stems and leaves all summer long, and at the end of the season I harvest the whole plant to make pesto. You can grow green or purple varieties. If you already grow basil, think about adding Tulsi, also called holy basil (O. tenuiflorum). Harvest and dry the leaves before flowering for a heavenly, good-for-you tea. Allow a few plants to flower. The bees love this plant.

Basic Summer Pesto

Ingredients:
6 cups freshly harvested basil leaves, washed and dried
¼-½ cup olive oil
½ cup Parmesan cheese
¼ cup pine nuts or walnuts
2 or more garlic cloves
Pinch of salt

Directions:
Place basil in a food processor and pulse just enough to chop up. Add olive oil and pulse a few more times to mix. Add remaining ingredients. Pulse until texture is chopped small, but not so small that it turns into a paste. Adjust ingredients to your preference. Serve over pasta, with bread, or on chicken. Freezes well.

2. Mint (Mentha spp.)
There are many types of mints, not just spearmint (M. spicata) and peppermint (M. xpiperita); I include anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), sometimes called licorice mint. Not only do the lavender flowers look great in the perennial garden, those with leaves can be dried and steeped into a black licorice flavored tea. A perennial in Zones 4-9, it can grow up to 3 feet tall. It will not spread as rampant as other mints, but it can re-seed. The bees love this North American native.

3. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Parsley is a biennial, which means that it will grow leaves only the first year, and flower the second year. You can start from seed, but with sporadic germination you may want to purchase a plant to transplant. Harvest in bunches by cutting the stems to the ground. Parsley prefers full sun and can grow up to 1 foot tall.

4. Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Dill is a wonderful addition to the garden that also supports beneficial insects when in flower. Don’t bother wasting your money with a transplant; dill prefers to be directly sown into the garden. A must-have summer flavor for any fermented vegetables, not just cucumbers. Grilled salmon with a squeeze of fresh lemon and sprinkling of freshly harvested dill is a real summer treat. When selecting dill to grow, pay attention to the variety. Do you want the leaves or the seed head?  The variety ‘Fernleaf’ is an AAS winner that is very slow to bolt (flower) and produces a lot of leaves. It stays pretty short and makes a great container plant.

5. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Not only does it smell great, bees love it and the flower buds can be added to make delightful lavender shortbread cookies. A perennial for Zones 5-8, this plant loves the full sun and needs well-drained soil. It doesn’t like soggy roots or leaves! At my farm, it grows in sand and I rarely water it. Harvest the buds then allow to dry and save for making salves, soaps, or just put in a bag to enjoy the fragrance year round.


The flowers of this lavender plant have opened too much to harvest for culinary purposes, but this is perfect timing for this honeybee. Once the flowers are spent, remove them, which will allow the plant to bloom again later in the summer.
 

Summers spent in the garden should be experienced by all of our senses. Who said herbs don’t offer a visual appeal? How many shades of green are there? Gray and purple foliage are gorgeous! Not only will you enjoy them over the summer, but if you preserve them, you can enjoy them all winter. Nothing reminds me of the summer garden as much as opening a container of pesto, mixing it with some olive oil, and soaking it up with some bread or adding it to pasta. If you don’t have an herb garden, tuck some additional textures and smells into your annual beds, you may be converted, just as I was.

 

A version of this article appeared in Michigan Gardening Magazine Volume 6 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Patti Travioli.

 

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