Why is an Italian Herb Garden perfect - because it contains the four main classes of herbs: Aromatic, Culinary, Medicinal, and Ornamental herbs. Plus it has annual herbs, perennial herbs, shrub herbs, and evergreen herbs.
Here are the most common herbs found in an Italian herb garden: basil, bay, fennel, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, and garlic. They are used in a variety of Italian recipes as well as other cuisines. These herbs are easy to grow, which makes it the herb garden for beginners and will give you a great sense of fulfillment when you use your herbs.
Basil: refers to sweet Basil and all of the different varieties of Basil, and is used frequently because of its strong flavor. Its fragrance is a main stay of any Italian herb Garden. Basil is also a good companion plant and insect repellent. This herb can be over powering, start off by adding a little at a time to your dishes. This is an annual herb, which will need to be planted every year. In warm climates it will self-seed.
Bay Leaves: Bay is easy to grow in an Italian herb garden; however there are many poisonous plants that look like Bay. You'll want to check with your local county extension office or the nursery expert to find out what the correct specie is for your area. The essential oils are in the leaves and the flavor is best after the leaves have been dried. When used in cooking the leaves are put in whole and then removed when the dish is finished.
Fennel: No Italian herb garden should be without this herb, and it can be used in so many different ways. Almost every part of the plant can be used; the bulbs, seeds, and the leaves are used in a variety of different dishes. Fennel seeds are a common ingredient in Italian sausage. Sweet Fennel is often used for its seeds and fronds, the Florence variety for the stalks and bulbs. It has a licorice flavor, and can be eaten raw, with some olive oil, lemon wedges and a little salt, as well as put into antipastos. While it is a perennial evergreen plant, it does need some protection in the winter, and it should be replanted ever few years, because it will start to lose its flavor. If you have some dill planted, it should be well away from Sweet Fennel, because it will cross-pollinate.
Oregano: This is another common and popular herb that is included in every Italian herb garden. Oregano is used mainly in culinary dishes, but is also used for decoration, as well as medicinal purposes. There are two different kinds of Oregano: Mexican, and Greek. Oregano and Basil often are combined in many different sauces including pizza sauce, and marinades. It adds a special flavor to Italian cooking.
Parsley: there are many different varieties of parsley; you'll want Italian Parsley for your herb garden. It differs from the garnish variety due to its broad leaf. It is quite easy to grow in your Italian herb garden, and will re-seed itself it you let it go to seed. Parsley is another herb that can be added to just about every dish. Unfortunately slugs also love Parsley so take precautions against them.
Rosemary: Make room for Rosemary in your Italian herb garden. It can be used in just about any dish, and has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years as well as ornamental. Rosemary can be used fresh or dried; it has a very distinctive flavor. It is an evergreen shrub, is quite aromatic, and will attract bees to your garden. It is a perennial evergreen and can be harmed by frost; caution should be taken to protect it when the weather is extremely cold. Cut it back every spring to promote new growth.
Sage: This is an evergreen bush that grows wild in many areas, and can be grown in your garden easily. In order to prevent Sage from getting unruly, you should keep it pruned back. It provides Italian food with a distinct flavor, including pork, and antipastos, as well as poultry. Sage wasn't as popular for a while, however it is still an important part of Italian cooking and with the new varieties its regaining its popularity in the kitchen.
Thyme: This herb has been used for centuries, not only as an additive in culinary dishes, but also in the bath water, and other medicinal purposes. Thyme is the herb to use in a dish when you are uncertain of what to use. If you are growing this versatile herb to cook with, make sure you are using Thymus Vulgaris, or common Thyme. It is quite easy to grow in your Italian herb garden, but this perennial tends to get quite woody after a few years and should be replaced about every two or three years.
Garlic: last, but certainly not least, herb gardening for beginners should always include Garlic, especially if you don't want to get smacked by your Italian relatives. Even though it may be called the 'stinking rose' by some, it is a very important herb, not only in cooking, but for its medicinal qualities. Eating a lot of garlic will keep you system detoxified. If you want your relatives to love you forever, use garlic in your dishes. It really doesn't matter what variety of garlic you grow, and it is easy to add to your garden.
If you have limited space, all of these herbs will do well as container plants, including the garlic. Planting an Italian Herb Garden in the actual soil or in containers is easy and you'll be off to a great start with herbs for all uses, making herb gardening for beginners enjoyable and a success! There are different varieties of each herb. Check with your local county extension office or nursery to see which variety does best in your area.
For more in-depth information of each of these herbs along with my families "Italian Pizza Sauce" recipe and a free mini herb course, please see Herb Gardening for Beginners and the Italian Herb Garden.
Remember don't be afraid to try new things. Happy Herb Gardening!
Jaylyn Huson is an herb garden enthusiast and enjoys helping others learn about growing and using herbs. Her latest book is "Home Herb Garden Answers - The Answers You Need for Planting, Growing, Harvesting, Storing, and Using Your Herbs" found at http://www.homeherbgardenanswers.com
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