Savory Gardening: Growing your own herbs isn’t hard — and cooking with them can be delicious

Basil. Submitted photo

Basil. Submitted photo

Clinantro. Submitted photo

Clinantro. Submitted photo

Rosemary. Photo via Newscom

Photo by www.imagesource

Rosemary. Photo via Newscom

When you cook with fresh herbs, your taste buds will thank you.

However, it can be pricey to buy bunches of fresh herbs all the time, so herb grower Cathy Via, a familiar sight at the Third Street South Farmer’s Market, offers tips for growing your own basil, cilantro and rosemary.

Three businesses also have shared recipes for pesto, salsa and herb biscuits to get you started in the kitchen.

Via recommended buying plants at Oakes Farm Market on Davis Boulevard, Home Depot or Lowe’s. For all three herbs, she recommends a 12-inch diameter pot. Start with about an inch of rocks in the bottom for drainage, and then fill it with potting soil — Miracle Gro has a good organic potting soil, she says.

When planting, make sure the leaves are exposed and the root ball is fully covered with potting soil. (Individual growing instructions for each kind of herb follow this story.)

As soon as you have leaves, you can harvest them for cooking, Via says. You want to leave some leaves on the plant, but the more you harvest the more leaves will grow. When you see buds on the basil and cilantro, be sure to pinch them off — if you let it go to seed the plant won’t be as vibrant and the leaves won’t be as young and tender, Via adds. (When plants bloom, they bear seeds, which is known as “going to seed.”)

This would be a perfect time to start your annuals for this particular season, Via says. Basil and cilantro are annuals, so after a year you will have to plant them again from seed or buy more plants, she explains. Rosemary is a perennial, so it will keep growing. Grow all three in full sun.

She recommends using organic fertilizer, and said she usually fertilizes at least once a month. If you see insects or pests, she recommends Neem oil or organic Volk oil or Organocide.


How to plant it

For home-cooking use, buy one to five plants and plant one or two plants in each 12-inch pot.


Water your basil about every two to three days, or when dry. “You don’t want the soil to completely dry out but you also don’t want it to be wet all the time,” Via says. “Put your thumb on it — you want drained, moist soil.”

Make sure the plant isn’t sitting in water, because that can lead to fungus, mold and mildew. Pick leaves for cooking, leaving some on the plants and pinch buds.


Ristorante Ciao’s Chef Gianfranco Loreti

“Pesto is a flavorful topping for hot or cold pasta, and can also be spread on toasted, sliced Italian bread or added to soups and vegetable dishes, especially those that feature tomatoes,” says Loreti, whose restaurant is on Fourth Avenue South in Naples. “This pesto will keep in the refrigerator for about three days, or you can freeze it for longer storage.”


2 cloves peeled garlic

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cups washed, fresh basil

1 cup washed, fresh Italian parsley

Salt as desired


* Put nuts, cheese and garlic in food processor and start processor. Add 1/4 cup of the oil in a thin stream and process until mixture is smooth.

* Add parsley and basil to processor. With motor running, slowly drizzle remaining olive oil into the food processor until the basil/parsley is pureed. Add more or less oil as needed to get a wet paste. Add salt to taste.


How to plant it

For home-cooking use, buy one to five plants and plant one or two plants in each 12-inch pot.


Water your cilantro about every two to three days or when it’s dry, just like basil. Again, keep the soil moist but make sure the water drains properly. Pick leaves for cooking, leaving some on the plant and pinch buds.

Anita’s Blazin’ Salsa

Anita’s Guacamole owner Mauricio Mendez

This is a salsa recipe from Mauricio Mendez’s grandmother, Anita, a native of Colombia. The company is based in Miami, but sells its salsa and guacamole on Saturday mornings at the Third Street South Farmer’s Market.


5 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

3 green onions

1/2 Spanish onion

1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded

1 fresh serrano pepper, whole

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon sea salt


* If you have a food processor, put the ingredients in and mix. If not, chop small and mix yourself.


How to plant it

Plant one plant in a 12-inch pot. It will need more space in about a year, Via says, and would do best in the ground.


Rosemary needs less water than cilantro or basil, so water about once a week or even once every two weeks. You don’t have to worry about pinching off buds. When you’re ready to use it for cooking, just pull the needle-like leaves off the stem. Via says that you can use them fresh or dry them for a couple of days and keep them for a long time.

Fresh herb buttermilk biscuits

Whole Foods Market, Mercato in North Naples

Herbs add fresh flavor to these tender biscuits, infusing the dough and also the butter brushed over the biscuit tops. Works as a side or with any soup.


1 1/2 sticks butter, divided

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

1 cup unbleached white flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon natural cane sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, more to taste

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons minced fresh sage leaves

1 cup buttermilk


* Preheat oven to 400°F. Melt four tablespoons butter with rosemary and thyme. Set aside to infuse.

* In the bowl of a food processor, pulse both flours with the sugar, baking powder, salt and soda. Dice remaining butter and add it to the flour. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl. (Alternatively, stir the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender cut the butter into the flour mixture.) Stir in the sage leaves followed by the buttermilk.

* Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop tablespoons of dough onto the sheet in 12 even mounds. Brush the tops with the herb butter, and if desired, sprinkle with a little sea salt.

* Bake the biscuits until golden brown and fragrant, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for a minute or two before serving.

If you have a question for the herb lady: Cathy Via, Cathy’s Herbs and Botanicals, Third Street South Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings,

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