Aloha Hawaii Home & Garden Network,
Do you have a special cook in your life who might not have their own organic home garden? The home chef who prepares those delicious and memorable meals you look forward to all year. Why not give that special person or persons, if you’re lucky, a unique and useful holiday gift? Herbs! Your friend will appreciate having these abundant herbs handy in their own home garden as they grow year round in Hawaii. No need to run to the market to buy expensive herbs only to find there are none in stock.
There are too many herbs to mention here, so I am going to concentrate on the trilogy of fall herbs; rosemary, sage and thyme. These are featured in many fall soups and stews and let’s not forget roasted turkey and homemade dressing.
One gift option is to plant these hardy herbs in a decorative planter or planters, perfect to start off your friend’s very own home garden. If your friend is just bad with plants, cause let's face it, some of us really are, dried herbs in nice containers make a great gift, too. Another option is to give both. After all, some recipes call for fresh herbs while others require the milder dried herbs.
For planted herbs in an organic home garden, you’ll need a decorative and functional container. There are many alternatives. If you are feeling artsy, you can take a run of the mill container and make it special. I love spray painting inexpensive terra cotta pots vivid colors. The containers usually can be picked up for less than $10, depending on size, and a can of spray paint is less than $4. It’s easy to do. Just remember to avoid inhaling the fumes.
If you want to go with a unique container why not check out local thrift stores. I found three old metal flower pots and a metal bucket for less than $15. I spray painted each a separate color. Consider your friend’s tastes. Do pastel colors make sense, or will bold, bright colors be more appreciated?
Whatever container you settle on make sure there is a couple of ¼ “ holes in the bottom for proper drainage. If the container is going inside the house or on nice lanai furniture, please don’t forget a saucer to capture excess water.
I would suggest using starters found at local home improvement stores and nurseries. Rosemary, thyme and sage are fairly popular and are less than $2 each. You will also need some potting soil. An inexpensive brand is fine. You can plant all three in one container as they have similar water and sun requirements. Unlike some herbs like oregano and mint, rosemary, sage and thyme do not take over plants near them in a home garden. If your containers are on the small side, consider planting them in separate coordinated planters. Either option works fine.
Unlike most plants that require time, care and a little luck to produce vegetables, herbs can be harvested right away. However, care and luck are required to keep them healthy and producing well into to the future. Provide full sun and moist soil for success. If the herbs are kept inside or on a lanai home garden, make sure they receive proper light. As these are gifts, you may want to include a brief note with care instructions.
For a bug reminder, treat your herbs with organic neem oil products sold at local home improvement stores. If you are not familiar with neem products, check out this article from the National Pesticide Information Center http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/neemgen.html. For other useful and beneficial uses of neem oil, you can read this blog: https://www.tipsbulletin.com/39-fascinating-uses-and-benefits-of-neem-oil/.
If you are going with dried herbs as a gift, you'll need an airtight container. This is not the time for using freezer bags. I picked up several two-ounce containers for under $2 each at a craft store. Labels will be needed to identify each herb. I used tie-on paper labels, but adhesive labels would work just as well.
There are many ways to dry herbs. Again, there are a lot of herbs out there but we're still concentrating on our rosemary, sage and thyme from our home garden. I just started drying my herbs and it wasn’t that complicated at all. Also, I felt good about not wasting the herbs I worked so hard to grow. I did a little research and experimenting and here’s what I discovered.
First, cut your herbs; get as much as you can. I grabbed a handful of rosemary about 4 to 5 inches long. It is best not to cut herbs while they are wet. Wash and thoroughly dry. Tie a bunch of herbs together by the stem. You could use twine or a rubber band. The herbs will dry quicker if you keep the bundle on the smaller side. And don’t crowd. Hang the herbs upside down in a cool, dark place. Another method is to cut a few holes in a paper bag and place your herb bundle in with the stems poking out of the top of the bag.
I didn’t use the paper bag and my thyme and rosemary dried in less than a week. Sage took about one week longer because the leaves were larger and held more moisture. If you can’t wait that long and need dried herbs in a pinch, try drying them using heat – no bundles needed. Dehydrators are available. You can also oven dry them by putting them on a rack and drying them three to four hours at a very low temperature about 100 degrees. Keep an eye on them; it’s easy for them to get away from you and get overly crispy.
You can use the microwave to get the quickest results. Place herbs between two paper towels and set the timer about three minutes. Check every 30 seconds. Remember the leaves are dried when they crumble easily. My small amount of thyme leaves dried in about 2 ½ minutes.
Once dried properly, remove the leaves from the stems. With both the rosemary and thyme, it is easiest to remove leaves by holding the top of the stem and dragging your fingertips down the stem against the natural growth pattern. Sage leaves can easily be trimmed from the stem using scissors.
It took me one bundle of rosemary and one bundle of thyme and about 20 minutes each to fill their 2-ounce containers. More patience is required for the smaller, more delicate thyme leaves. It took about two bundles and an hour to fill up the 2-ounce container. A good project for a rainy afternoon.
Place your harvest in the airtight container, include the label, and your gift is ready. With a little planning and some creativity, you can give a unique and personalized gift to a special friend this holiday season. Happy holidays!