Originally created 11/06/96

Prime thyme for herbs The culinary sages are cultivating their own in growing numbers these days



Gourmet chefs aren't the only people cultivating and cooking with herbs these days.

Growing and cooking with fresh herbs has regained popularity, said Betty English, a family and consumer science agent with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service.

"It's very popular now to grow you own herbs," Ms. English said.

People who are trying to reduce salt in their diets are cooking with herbs for flavor.

Gardening centers have begun to stock herb plants, and at least one new business has sprung up, the Plot of Herbs at 2220 Lumpkin Road.

Laura Zanger sells herb plants as well as dried herbs and herbal products and crafts at her business. Customers buy a variety of herbs, but the biggest sellers are traditional - rosemary, sage and lavender, she said.

"Herb use goes back as far as 3000 B.C.," Ms. Zanger said. "Many people nowadays are interested in planting a culinary garden near their kitchen door."

Those with outdoor herbs should start harvesting before the first frost, Ms. Zanger said. The plants should be cut back, dried and stored in air-tight glass or plastic containers, she said.

"To protect your herbs through the winter, you need to mulch well before the first frost," Ms. Zanger advises in the November issue of her newsletter, The Parsley Press.

"When mulching, remember to harvest herbs that will go dormant for the winter, trimming them back to their hardwood," she advises.

To have fresh herbs available through the winter, the plants can be brought indoors, too, she said. Herbs will grow well in pots and can be replanted outside in the spring.

In picking herb leaves for cooking, always pick after the dew but before high noon, and pick leaves before flowering begins to get the most flavor from the plants, Ms. Zanger said.

Dried herbs are available in most grocery stores these days, Ms. English said.

The rule of thumb when cooking with dried herbs is to use half as much dried as fresh, Ms. Zanger said.

Dried herbs can be used in crafts, too, she said. "With herbs there's no waste. Even the stems of the plants can be used - you can dry them and put them in the fireplace for kindling and fragrance."

Beginning an herb garden is as easy as a regular vegetable or flower garden, Ms. English said. She advises beginners to start with the pungent herbs, including rosemary, sage and winter savory; and the strong herbs such as sweet basil, dill, mint, sweet marjoram, tarragon and thyme.

Other herbs recommended for Georgia gardens include anise, lemon balm, caraway, chives, cumin, garlic, ginger, oregano and parsley.

Nearly all of these herbs grow best in full sunlight, except dill, ginger and tarragon, which grow best in partial shade, Ms. English said.