On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness information for all Oklahomans, published three times a week.

Backyard Gardening: Herbs

Oklahoma’s gardening scene has budded into a beautiful community full of expertise and insightful tips. With our state’s unpredictable weather and varying temperatures, it can be difficult for a novice gardener to know when and where to begin. We reached out to Lori Coats, volunteer coordinator at the Myriad Botanical Gardens and founder of the community group My Raggedy Herbs, to find out what tools she recommends for novice gardeners and the best herbs to grow in your garden.


Basic Equipment for Herb Gardening

Gloves – not only to protect your hands from scratches, gloves act as a barrier in case you’re allergic to any herbs and didn’t know it.
Shovel – for planting. If you’re starting your plants in pots, purchase a smaller hand shovel for this task.
Rake – for ongoing maintenance.
Irrigation – depending on the size of your garden, choose between a hose, sprinkler or watering can.
Hoe or hand-weeding tool – for ongoing maintenance.

 5 Great Herbs for Oklahomans

oregano

Oregano – This kitchen staple is common in Greek and Italian cuisines and is known for its warm, aromatic flavor. Oregano has many health benefits, from helping control cholesterol to the treatment of colds, influenza, mild fevers, indigestion, upset stomachs and painful menstruation conditions. It is considered to be a “functional food,” which means it has health benefits beyond its nutritional value, and is one of the foundations of a healthy Mediterranean diet.

chives

Chives – This sweet and mild onion-flavored herb is often used to add a touch of color on top of a dish, but it has many health benefits that go far beyond aesthetics. High in vitamins A, C and K, chives provide nutrients with an established role in the treatment of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

lemon balm

Lemon Balm – It has a rich history of medicinal uses and is a staple in many Oklahoma kitchens. Traditionally used to calm an upset stomach, this herb can be chewed to freshen breath and placed on bug bites to relieve the itch. If you brew the leaves with hot water, it makes a soothing tea to drink before bedtime.

sage

Sage – Sage is a legendary herb that’s been used as far back as ancient Roman times, and is common in Mediterranean and Italian cooking. This herb is high in several B-complex vitamins and contains a high portion of vitamin A and beta-carotene. Additionally, sage can help the body maintain the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs and bones.

mint

Mint – With one of the highest antioxidant properties of any food, mint (which includes many different varieties like peppermint and spearmint) is used to calm upset stomachs and indigestion, break up phlegm and mucus to aid in common cold recovery and even to aid in relieving seasonal allergy symptoms.

BONUS Herb

This herb is not a perennial, but rather an annual, so you’ll have to replant it every year as it will die with the first hard freeze in the fall/winter. However, Coats is a firm believer that no backyard garden is complete without this herb, and it grows well in the Oklahoma sun.

basil

Basil – A favorite of Margherita pizza lovers everywhere, basil is a kitchen staple with its sweet and fragrant flavor. Basil is high in vitamins K and A, and has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.

Cooking with Herbs

INTEGRIS registered dietitian and master gardener Pam Patty recently spoke at the Oklahoma City Farmers Market Conference and loves cooking with fresh herbs. She says, "Herbs not only provide wonderful medicinal properties (and have for centuries), but they also convey taste and smells that are culinary delights!"

Here are two of Patty’s favorite recipes using fresh produce and a few of her favorite herbs.

Ingredients
1/4 of a small watermelon, chopped
1 1/2 mangos, chopped
1/2 poblano pepper, de-seeded and chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/3 of a cilantro bunch, chopped
Juice from two limes
Whole wheat chips
Optional: chopped jalapeno

Directions

  1. Chop all ingredients and mix well in a bowl.
  2. Top with fresh lime juice.
  3. Use whole wheat chips for dipping and enjoy.

Ingredients
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts (it may be cheaper to substitute toasted almonds, walnuts)
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (no substitutes, so buy a large bottle for better savings) divided (use 1/2 cup for what is going in the freezer and add more when ready to use)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (you can substitute Mrs. Dash for salt)
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese or 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Romano cheese

Directions

  1. Combine basil, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped
  2. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. (First look and see if it is oily enough for you without this step.)
  5. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.
  6. If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to three months. Thaw and stir in cheese.
  7. You can pour your pesto into ice cube trays and stack in the freezer. Once they are frozen, pop them out of the trays and put in dated freezer bags. Freezing the pesto will change the color from bright green to a darker, almost black color. However, the flavor is still great post-freezing.
  8. Be sure to add the cheese once the cubes are thawed.

If you’re interested in venturing into herb gardening this year, now is the time to start! From relieving anxiety to reducing blood pressure, there are numerous reasons why gardening is great for physical and mental health. Step outside this spring and explore the many benefits of home-grown fresh herbs.

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