Flavor enhancers for food that we can grow include onions, garlic and chiles as well as those tasty greens, herbs and seeds that tingle our taste buds.
One of the most useful leafy herbs is sweet basil. It succumbs to frost at about 38 degrees Fahrenheit, so don’t plant too early. All of the basils — sweet, Tulsi or holy, Thai or Mexican (cinnamon) — benefit by nipping out the growing tip to encourage branching, since more branches produce more leaves. Leaves processed into pesto with olive oil and nuts may be frozen for later use with pasta, in soups (pistou) or on fish, meat. pizza or vegetables. When thawed, add minced garlic. I don’t like to freeze garlic, for it develops a mustiness to the flavor.
Parsley is another useful and nutritious leafy herb. Flat-leafed varieties are best-tasting and easiest to wash, but curly-leafed is more ornamental. Summer savory is an annual, easily started from seed, and it enhances the flavor of bean soup. It self-seeded in a container here over this terrible winter. Marjoram and oregano grow as short vines, covering some ground if you let them. They’re not as aggressively-spreading as mint. Some folks grow mint in a container, but if you do that, pick up the container once a week and turn it, examining the bottom drain holes to see if the mint is trying to escape via that route.
Dill varieties specialize in leaf and seed or exceptionally leafy (fernleaf) dill. If you fail to harvest all of the seed, and don’t thickly mulch your garden for winter, you’ll have dill volunteers next year too. Another that will seed itself is fennel. There are two kinds of fennel, the herb that produces mainly ferny leaves and seeds and the bulbing variety that may be called Finocchio, Fina, Florence, or even sweet anise. It also produces ferny leaves and seeds. Seeds and leaves from both varieties are useful — the seeds as spices and leaves to flavor delicate dishes such as poached fish. New recipes that call for fennel pollen mean the pollen from wild fennel.
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Caraway produces seeds, usually on a biennial basis, but there are some annual caraway seeds available for planting too. Thymes and chives are commonly available as seeds and/or plants, and they’re hardy here. Rosemary’s hardiness is questionable, Arp variety the hardiest. You’re safer to overwinter that and French tarragon indoors. French tarragon is not hardy in our climate, and its flavor is far preferable to that of Russian tarragon that is available by seed. French tarragon is reproduced only by cuttings.
If you like to prepare Middle Eastern dishes, you may want to grow za’atar. That grows like a slightly timid oregano. Plants have been for sale here, at least at Edwards Greenhouse. Some claim za’atar is a spice mixture, including some seeds of sumac. The plant za’atar is used in some Middle Eastern valleys, and the spice mixture used in other valleys. Neither is specific to a country, according to some sources.
Saffron is very costly, due to the necessity of hand-picking it. You can grow your own bulbs, but it shouldn’t be watered in summer months, so it requires a special site to grow. Or you can grow a substitute: safflower. Dried safflower petals are available quite inexpensively in cellophane envelopes, or you can grow your own and dry the flowers.
I like poppy seed dressing on my salads, but do not grow my own poppy seeds. These are produced on poppies of the species Papaver somniferum that are known as peony or breadseed poppies as well as opium poppies. These are beautiful flowers, with leaves clasping the stem, but some drug enforcement people can’t distinguish between those and Chinese poppies apparently.
They tore out a garden in the Moscow or Lewiston area years ago, in the belief they were removing opium poppies.
A reminder, if you plan to grow tomatillos, plant two plants. They’re self-sterile, but a tomatillo that produces purple fruit will pollinate one that produces green, and vice versa.
Send garden questions to email@example.com or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.