By MELINDA MYERS
Boost the flavor and health value of your meals without adding more salt. A trip through the spice aisle at the grocery store and close look at the labels reveals the secret to salt substitutes – herbs.
Growing your own, not only saves money, it ensures the freshest flavor and highest nutritional value. Plus, you’ll enjoy the convenience of picking them fresh from the garden or container on your patio, deck or balcony.
Oregano, basil and garlic have long been used to boost the flavor of Italian and other familiar recipes, reducing the need for salt. Try these and other herbs in your favorite dishes. And don’t overlook citrus. Dried and powdered lemon peel adds flavor and minimizes the need for salt. You’ll find it as a main ingredient in several salt substitute mixes.
Cooks in the Mediterranean and Middle East have dried and ground fruits of Sicilian or Turkish sumac (Rhus coriaria) for use as a salt substitute in their dishes. Laboratory studies found the red berries had antioxidant, antifungal and antimicrobial benefits that may prove beneficial to our health.
Herbs are easy to grow in the garden or a pot. Mix herbs with flowers in your garden and landscape. Their fragrance and texture make them an ornamental as well as edible addition to the landscape.
Make incorporating fresh herbs convenient by growing them in containers right next to your kitchen door. Grow a pot of your favorite grilling herbs and set it next to the grill. Use small containers of herbs as a centerpiece. Add a pair of garden clippers and allow your family and friends to clip and season their meals.
Herbs, in general, prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Most are drought tolerant once established though basil performs best when the soil is kept slightly moist.
Harvest leaves and stems as needed throughout the growing season. Just be sure to leave enough foliage to maintain plant growth. Fortunately, you can remove up to 75% of foliage from an established plant.
Clip off leaves and stems before the plant begins flowering to encourage more growth. You’ll get the greatest concentration of flavor when the plant has formed buds, but before they open. This is the perfect time to harvest herbs you plan to preserve.
Don’t worry if you harvest more than you need. Preserve their flavor with proper storage. Store thin, leafy herbs like parsley and cilantro in a jar of water inside the refrigerator. Store basil in a glass of water on the kitchen counter. Loosely cover these with a plastic bag.
Wrap thicker leafed herbs like sage and thyme in a paper towel set inside a plastic bag and place in a warmer section of the fridge.
This season be sure to carve out a bit of space in the garden or add a container or two for growing your own fresh herbs to enjoy.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses: How to Grow Anything DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her web site is http://www.melindamyers.com.