Easy Herbs for Central Florida
With fewer pests and cooler weather, winter is a great time to grow culinary herbs in Osceola County. Below are a few of my favorite and most-used herbs. All of these herbs can be grown from seed, or you can buy seedling plants and have a ready-to-eat herb garden. You can grow these herbs indoors or outdoors. I grow mine outdoors in containers, and move them to a protected area on cold nights, or to shadier or sunnier areas through the seasons. To harvest most herbs, simply take cuttings to use and allow the plants to regrow. Remove leaves from stems before using.
Sweet Basil – A mild herb that goes well in many dishes. Make pesto from it, chop it up fresh on salads and pasta, crush it in drinks, or use handfuls of it in anything that has tomatoes in it. Prevent flowering and harvest basil cuttings frequently to encourage leaf production. There are dozens of different types of basil that are all equally easy-to-grow. Holy Basil, Thai Basil, and Lemon Basil are some of my other favorites. Basil is more flavorful as a fresh herb, but it dries easily for long-term storage. Basil should be considered a cool-season annual outdoors.
Oregano – Great for flavoring dishes like soups, beans, eggs, and red meats. It is a powerful tasting herb; use it in small quantities (I’m still trying to live down the Oregano-Scrambled Egg Incident of early March). It also has antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiviral properties, so you might accidentally enjoy some health benefits from this flavorful herb. Oregano also makes a nice groundcover plant in landscape plant beds and can last multiple seasons.
Garlic Chives – Milder than garlic, but stronger-flavored than chives. You can use the leaves fresh or cooked as a substitute for garlic (The flowers are edible too!). This plant can be used in landscape beds as a border plant also. Harvest entire grassy-looking leaves at the base of the plant; they will regrow.
Thyme – Thyme is rich in vitamins, has antibacterial properties, and adds excellent flavor to dishes like seafood, chicken, vegetables, and stuffing. It is a delicate-looking, yet hardy herb that I plant with other herbs because it doesn’t take up much space. This plant is very easy to start from cuttings and will usually last multiple seasons outdoors if protected from cold. Lemon thyme is one of my favorites.
Culantro (aka Recao) – Can be used almost the same as cilantro in many recipes like stews and sauces. It grows best in cool months, and will tend to “bolt”, or flower, in hot weather, and leaves develop a less-desirable flavor. Culantro is best used fresh. It is a key ingredient in sofrito, the versatile seasoning sauce used in many Puerto Rican dishes, and it’s so much better if you make it yourself. Sofrito will change your cooking life, I promise. My own version of sofrito (It’s different every time I make it because I cook Grandma-style and use varying ingredients and quantities!):
- 12 Ají Dulce Peppers (find them at a Latin grocery, there isn’t a substitute for these sweet peppers)
- 1 Red Bell Pepper (or other pepper that you like)
- 2 cups Cherry Tomatoes
- 2 Onions
- 3 heads Garlic
- 25 Recao leaves
- 1 bunch Cilantro
- 1/4 cup fresh Oregano leaves
- 1/2 cup Olive oil
Put it all in a food processor. It will keep fresh for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, or you can freeze it in ice cube trays for easy use later. Sofrito makes meats, stews, rice and everything else delicious.
For more information about gardening or farming in Osceola County, contact UF IFAS Extension: 321-697-3000.