If you’re like me, you probably have a shelf or a drawer, full of dried herbs and spices. My collection never gets lonely because I’m always using this herb or that spice for some recipe.
However, when the weather gets to “play outside” level, that’s when I get the itch to start cooking with fresh herbs. Just running my fingers gently over the tops of them, releases years of scented memories.
Yes, I could buy small pots of herbs every year and have them in my kitchen (or considering current circumstances, have them delivered). But since most herbs are annuals, the amount of money I’ve spent, just over a few years, has started to feel like a waste. The plants grow much larger and faster than I can possibly use and share them. Then they die and all I’m left with is an empty wallet and my taste buds wanting more.
How do I make this a more enjoyable and sustainable process without the guilt of waste?
Here’s how you start…
- Ask friends, family or neighbors if you could snip a bit of their herbs to root. (These days, this can still be done while observing proper social distancing practices).
- Grow just enough of each herb to cover all those yummy recipes I know you’ve been itching to make, in pretty water-filled jars (I’ve up-cycled these from candles, condiment jars, etc..).
- Enjoy using those herbs in all your culinary meditations.
- Let the herb plants go to seed in the autumn, then harvest the seeds to grow these plants again next year, for free!
- Pay it forward and share snippets of your new herb plants each year with friends, family and neighbors.
There you go! 5 easy steps toward a perfect circle of sustainability with your herbs!
Naturally, there’s a little more to it than just tossing a piece of plant into water. Not a ton, just a little understanding of how these different plants grow and what their needs are. Knowledge is power and a little goes a long way in our efforts toward sustainability.
So, here’s a bit of science…
- Fill your upcycled jars with clear water from the tap. Yes, from the tap. You’ll want to avoid distilled water. Because… while distilled water may be better for us to drink, it actually removes essential minerals that help the herbs to grow healthy.
- If you use a clear glass container, while much prettier as the sun shines through it, you’ll have to change the water more frequently. That pretty sunlight shining through the clear glass encourages algae growth in the water. New cuttings don’t like this, at all. So! Here are a couple of tricks to avoid that. Use opaque glass jars. Still pretty but the opaque-ness cuts way down on the algae growth. If you still prefer to use clear upcycled jars (like I do) so you can see the growth progress of the roots, tape a piece of construction paper to one side of the jar to keep sunlight from the water. A third suggestion, my favourite, add a couple of tiny drops of bleach to the water, just enough to eliminate any too-tiny-to-see algae microbes in the water. Tiny drops, though. Too much will kill your cuttings.
Now let’s take a look at the most common herbs to grow here:
Rosemary – Best to take clippings from a branch with new growth (green stem). Roots sprout far better from a green stem than from a dark woody one. Take a short clipping from the end of a branch. Stick the cut end in clean water, and be sure the remaining leaves don’t sit in the water. Put the cuttings in bright shade. Wait a few weeks. That’s it!
Sage – Use a sharp knife to cut off a young shoot approximately 6 cm (2-3 in) below the leaf crown. Strip off the lower leaves so that the cutting is left with at least three pairs of leaves. Place directly into a glass of water. After about 2 weeks, the cutting should show roots. Simple.
Oregano – This is an easy one to start with. Take stem cuttings, on a diagonal, 7-12 cm (3-4 in) long from a healthy plant, just above a node. Remove any buds and all leaves from the bottom half of the stem and place directly in water. Do not allow leaves to rest in the water to avoid them rotting. No fuss.
Basil – All you need is several 10 cm (4 in) cuttings from right below a leaf node. Remove the leaves off the stem about 5 cm (2 in) from the end. Make sure cuttings are devoid of flowers or buds. Remove all the lower leaves, saving 2-3 sets on top. Place these in clean water, only allowing two-thirds of the stem, from the bottom, to be submerged. Sit the glass jar at a spot that receives bright but indirect sunlight and in a few days…voila!
Thyme – This one is a bit more tricky. Cutting the right piece from a larger plant is crucial. If you cut a stem that isn’t old enough, it probably won’t root. At the same time… stems get woody as the plant grows older. Woody stems are almost impossible to propagate. What should you cut? Your cuttings should be from established and mature stems. They should be soft, green, with no flowering buds. Where should you cut? Just below the node from where the leaves are emerging. How much should you cut? A stem about 10-15 cm (4-6 in) long.
Even in this trying time we find ourselves in, there are always a few feel-good moments to be found. Here’s hoping that adding this activity to your sustainable living practices will be one of them. Be sure to let me know how it goes. I always love hearing from my readers!