Herbs Get More Respect, Especially the 28 Varieties At Meadowbloom Farm

Although I do not garden—that's what the Built-In Gardener does so well—I do fiddle a little with herbs in a narrow bed right against the house. This effort hardly amounts to gardening; it's more like playing garden.

For decades, the lavender, parsley, and tarragon in that small garden bed met two primary purposes: fill space and smell good when I brush past them. Other than mint and chives, I rarely used herbs in the kitchen. That is changing for me, and apparently for lots of other people. More likely, my noticing that lots of other people "suddenly" grow and eat more herbs amounts to observational selection bias, or (they may be pulling our leg on this one) the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

In any case, I see more herbs at the Lexington Farmers Market, more herbs in friends gardens, and more herbs in my own back yard. I am waking to the uses of herbs in drinks, sorbets, main dishes, soups, and, especially as our precious tender spring lettuces come to an end, salads.

Sandy Canon of Meadowbloom Farm told me last Saturday that she and Chris count 28 herb varieties in their garden beds this year. I bought five small packets of Meadowbloom fresh-cut herbs a week ago, including fresh sprigs of stevia. I had no idea the plant itself is so richly sweet. One crushed sprig calmed, sweetened, and smoothed a cup of hibiscus tea until I almost liked the usually too tart brew. Before this cup of lightly sweet, red tea, I had assumed only the concentrated powders and liquid versions of stevia brought that sweetening power. Good surprise!  

This week I bought more little Meadowbloom packets. After my eighth question about what to do with borage/chervil/epazote/lovage, Sandy gave me a handy sheet of herb tips. I'll share below the photo.

Borage: Leaves taste like cucumber; add leaves and flowers to salads, soups and stews. Fish-friendly. Freeze flowers in ice cubes for drinks!!! (And then please ask me over for something cold.) Borage plants attract pollinators and works in companion plantings with tomatoes, squash, and strawberries.

Chervil. Good with egg and cheese dishes, veggies, soups and stews, creamy sauces.

Epazote: Use in beans to improve digestibility; also add to soups, salads, quesadillas. Its distinctive taste can be gasoline or fuel-like. (Or, as Sandy says, "diesel fuel.") In small quantities, epazote gives some Mexican food a flavor not available from other herbs. 

Lovage: A celery replacement with extra flavors, plus something pleasantly nutty. 

Salad Burnet: Cucumber-flavored leaves add flavor to salads and dressings.  

This year, the opportunities to buy fresh-cut herbs from Meadowbloom Farm will end when lettuce season comes to a close. In 2014, though, Sandy says Meadowbloom plans a longer presence at the Lexington Farmers Market and she and Chris intend to be known for their cut herbs. Good for them, and good for us Market shoppers.

To boost my own 2013 herb options, I bought a small stevia plant from Blue Moon Farm, a salad burnet plant from Hoot Owl Holler farm, and, at the Sunday market, lovage and chervil plants from Half Acre Nursery. Here's the baby stevia plant in its new home. 

Herbs help gardeners transition from ornamental to edible plantings. I visited friend Gloria Rie's new herb garden, which replaces a row of yellow daylilies.

In year 1, the herbs look at home and have begun showing their personalities. The Ries have harvested rosemary, tarragon, oregano, sorrel, and more. The oregano stretches big and shows off. The thyme blooms in its demure thyme-y way.

I leave with a big bunch of sorrel, an herb I enjoy, have tried twice to grow, and have yet to establish. This soup is coming right up with Gloria's bounty ofl tart sorrel leaves. 

At 4th Street Farm in northeast Lexington, neighbors Sherry and Geoff Maddock mix herbs with ornamentals, fruit trees, brambles, and vegetables, with beautiful results.  The herbs form lovely shapes and contribute to the kitchen a few feet away.

The look of herbs well-tended and well-situated, in the care of master gardeners, inspires hope for more beauty, more flavorful food, and better health. I think I'm ready to give sorrel a third try. I am ready for its charms.