Anyone, even apartment dwellers, can grow their own Italian herb seasoning mix. All that is required to make your own Italian herb seasoning mix is equal parts of the following dry herbs: Oregano, Marjoram, Thyme, Basil, Rosemary, Sage.
Growing the Herbs
All these herbs can be grown indoors on sunny windowsills, in pots set on patios or balconies, in window boxes or in outdoor gardens. Some are annuals meaning they must be planted each year while others are perennials meaning they should come up each spring without needing to be replanted.
Because many of these herbs had their origins in the Mediterranean region where the soils are not terribly fertile, soil fertility is not that important but well drained soil is.
Oregano is a hardy perennial herb that we’ve managed to grow in zone 3 when we homesteaded in northern Maine without winter protection. It did so well I dug up some of the massive plant and gave it away which is of course one way that it can be propagated. It can also be grown from seeds or cuttings.
Marjoram is a perennial that is often treated as an annual as it’s very subject to winterkill. It can be propagated from seeds but because it’s frost sensitive, transplants should not be set out until danger of frost is past. Seeds can also be directly sown into the ground which is what I usually do.
Thyme is a perennial that with protection, usually survives the winter. One year I forgot to mulch it and it died as a result. Lesson learned the hard way. Thyme can be grown from seed, cuttings or from divisions. It grows low to the ground so as a result stalks can easily be layered with earth for propagation of new plants. If setting out transplants, they can be planted 1 to 2 weeks before the last expected frost.
Basil is a tender annual that is easily grown from seeds provided the seeds aren’t planted until the danger of frost is past. This is my preferred method of growing basil, but it can also be grown as a transplant and set out after all frost danger is past. Making frequent cuttings will encourage a more bushy plant instead of a tall rangy one.
Rosemary is a tender perennial that can be grown from seeds, cuttings or by layering. Because it’s frost sensitive any transplants shouldn’t be set out until the danger of frost is over. Mulching for winter protection is a must but many growers will bring their rosemary indoors for the winter then set it back out come spring. In all honesty we haven’t had good luck doing this. Once dug up and brought in, it does well initially but eventually develops a whitish coating which ultimately kills the plant. Recently I’ve begun treating rosemary as an annual and simply cut it off at ground level at the end of the season.
Sage is a hardy perennial that can survive temperatures of 0ºF if protected with a mulch. It can be grown from seeds, cuttings or divisions. Transplants can be set out 1 to 2 weeks before the last spring frost. Seeds for sage can also be direct seeded as soon as the ground can be worked which is how I established our plant.
The Benefits of Mulch
When growing herbs, 3 uses of mulch come to mind. First is the use of mulch for weed suppression during the growing season. Second is using mulch to keep the herbs cleaner and free from mud spatter that results from heavy rains. Lastly is using mulch as winter protection for perennials such as thyme that would likely die without some help.
What material you use for mulch depends on what you have at your disposal. Over the years we’ve used straw, hay, sawdust that was generated by our portable lumber mill and in more recent years, brush that we’ve shredded with our chipper. See Mulches and Mulching for details.
Harvest and Drying
Although herbs can be harvested anytime, they should certainly be picked just before any flowers start to bloom. If at all possible harvest in the morning as soon as any dew has dried as the essential oils in the plants are highest at this time of the day. The more oil there is, the more flavor there is which is of course what you are after.
To harvest, annuals can be trimmed off at ground level unless you hope to get more cuttings from them in which case you should leave some of the stalk intact. Perennials should never be whacked off at ground level though. I like to leave at least 1/3 of the plant intact so it will have enough energy to survive the winter.
Once cut, I bring my harvest into the kitchen where I give the stalks a rinse to remove any stray dirt, then spin them dry in my salad spinner. Next I arrange the stalks in bundles and secure the ends with rubber bands. To hang for air drying, I open a paper clip and insert one end through the loops of the rubber band then put the other end of the paper clip over the wire of my drying rack. I be sure to label which herbs are which so I can tell them apart when they are dry. Once dry many herbs look alike so it’s hard to tell which is which.
Herbs should be crispy when fully dry. If they seem semi-soft and pliable give them more time to dry. I figure at least a week of air drying before I even bother to check them. Herbs can of course be dried in a dehydrator or in the oven set at the lowest temperature with the door slightly ajar.
Once dry, I strip the leaves off the stems. To concoct your homegrown Italian herb seasoning, measure equal amounts of the leaves of the above 6 herbs and combine in an airtight container. I usually mix up a tablespoon of each at a time but you could make a smaller or larger batch depending on your needs. It can be used in any tomato dish, sprinkled on pizza or in any recipe calling for Italian seasoning. At the time of use, crumbling the leaves between you fingers before you add them to what you’re making will release more flavor. Happy cooking!
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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