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Garden Club of Cape Coral | Thankful for herbs

By DEBORAH HAGGETT - Garden Club of Cape Coral | Nov 3, 2023

Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays is nearly upon us. Family, friends and food bring an opportunity to put all else aside. We can then take stock of what we are thankful for and enjoy a wonderful meal together. During this feast, I count on my herb garden to spice up my life and remind me of my roots. The flavors and aromas from fresh herbs bring me back to memories of happy times in my grandmother’s Italian kitchen.

No Italian kitchen is complete without fresh sweet basil. There are many varieties of basil: large, dwarf, sweet and spicy. Basil is a warm weather annual that grows well in sunny areas with late afternoon shade. Basil likes water, but not wet feet. Well-drained, moist soil works well. Avoid getting the leaves wet when watering, as basil is prone to downy mildew disease. Planting basil in sunny, open areas will also help prevent disease. Harvest young leaves near the top to prevent it from going to seed too soon. My grandfather taught us to allow the plant to go to seed late in the season and harvest the brown seeds for future plantings. Basil pairs well with tomatoes and makes an easy salad by combining the two with chunks of mozzarella cheese, a splash of olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Or, blend basil leaves with parmesan cheese, olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts to make a flavorful pesto sauce. Actually, all I have to do to “go home” is pinch some fresh basil between my fingers and drop the leaves on top of a plate of spaghetti and I’m there!

Another of my favorite herbs is rosemary, a perennial evergreen shrub that blooms in the winter. Fresh rosemary has a very distinctive aroma and adds a wonderful flavor to many of my recipes. I grow rosemary in a container, but when planted in the ground it can grow to 6 feet tall with a width of 4 to 5 feet. Usually, it settles in at about 2 to 4 feet tall. It is a sun loving plant that prefers well-drained soil and does not like a lot of water. Thankfully, it doesn’t require a lot of attention. In fact, I typically ignore it until I want to make a favorite holiday snack passed on to me by my neighbors, Mike and Rick: Rosemary Roasted Cashews. (See the recipe below).

Once you taste fresh rosemary, it’s hard not to imagine it as a welcome addition to many of your recipes. As if that isn’t reason enough to grow rosemary, I recently learned rosemary is an effective mosquito repellant. Crush a sprig of rosemary in your pocket when working in the yard to help keep mosquitoes at bay.

Since roasted turkey is typically a main course on most Thanksgiving menus, I should mention Thyme. Fresh thyme adds a delicious flavor to the turkey as well as many other roasted dishes. I prefer roasting a mixture of root vegetables with orange juice, honey, olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh thyme for a fabulous hearty dish. Thyme is a small leaved perennial that grows best in full sun. Like rosemary, thyme doesn’t like a lot of water, so well-drained soil or sandy, rocky soil works best. There are many varieties of thyme including lemon thyme, lime thyme, caraway thyme, and orange balsam thyme to name a few. Ah, so many recipes and so little thyme!

We humans are not the only species thankful for delectable herbs. Many pollinators, including bees and butterflies feast upon a variety of herbs as well. Growing herbs is an effort you will be thankful for as they reward your tastebuds, attract entertaining creatures to your garden, and rekindle heartfelt memories.

In this moment of reflection, I would like to send a special thank you to my friend and neighbor, Rick Hawk, who has tirelessly and with great humor, edited my writing over the last several years. Thanks Rick!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Deborah Haggett is a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral and a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer.

Rosemary Roasted Cashews

Roast 1 lb. of raw cashews at 350* for 5 to 8 minutes until lightly browned.

While the cashews are roasting, combine:

2 Tb of finely chopped rosemary

1.5 Tb of melted butter

1 Tb of light brown sugar

¼ to ½ tsp of salt

Pinch of cayenne pepper.

When roasted, pour the hot cashews over the mixture and stir well to combine. Serve warm, if possible, or cool and store in an air tight container. This recipe is great on popcorn as well.