Now is the perfect time of year to cultivate a backyard or balcony garden of potted herbs. If you cook or make cocktails, however infrequently, it's worth your while to invest in a few $4 starter plants, thereby saving you the money and hassle when a recipe calls for a fresh herb. Whole Foods & Central Market are both great sources for local herbs; Houston Garden Centers, Lowe's and
Hope Home Depots are located throughout the city, though their selections can be hit or miss, and Wabash Nursery in the Heights boasts an incredibly knowledgeable staff and thorough stock (chocolate mint, anyone?).
Be sure to pick up a bag each of potting soil and manure/compost, plus some inexpensive clay pots. If you've got the room, a whiskey barrel is a great way to grow all of your herbs in one place. With periodic watering, you'll have fresh herbs at your fingertips for whenever the fancy strikes. The following herbs do well in a fair amount of sunlight, but if a plant should begin to look frazzled, move inside or to a shadier spot.
Basil: This is an excellent garnish for light summer pastas and an unexpected but welcome addition to cocktails and desserts. Pinch off the flowers to encourage growth. And if it gets too bushy? Pesto, of course. You can even freeze it, if you leave out the Parmesan.
Chives: They make for a bright addition to scrambled eggs, stir-fry and risotto and grow easily.
Oregano: Toss with roasted asparagus, add to tomato sauces or blend into hamburger patties.
Mint: Make your own tzatziki, spring rolls or mint juleps. Mint is also great for mojitos, fruit salad and iced tea.
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Rosemary: Use it to make an excellent syrup and pair with blood orange sparkling soda for a refreshing spritzer. It's also a fantastic complement to grilled meats and potatoes, looks good in a vase and will make your house smell fantastic.
Sage: It's an obvious pairing for pork, but sage browned butter is also one of the most delicious things on this earth. Make some to serve over ravioli, fish or sweet potatoes.
Thyme: This is another great complement for egg dishes of all kinds, and also wonderful sprinkled in soups and with roast chicken.
Other backyard/patio herb possibilities: cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, lavender, lemongrass, tarragon.