Growing culinary herbs in Nassau County

by Claudi Speed, Master Gardener

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I admit that I love to watch the Food Network on television, not because I am a gourmet cook, but because it encourages me to try new foods. Many Food Network chefs use fresh herbs instead of dried in their recipes.

On her cooking show, the Barefoot Contessa uses herbs that she snips fresh from her garden. She plants different varieties of herbs according to her needs, and grows them in raised beds, just like the Master Gardeners do in the demonstration garden at the Nassau County Cooperative Extension in Yulee.

So why not try growing your own and compare for yourself the difference between fresh and dried herbs?

Herbs are easy to grow, either from seeds or plants, both of which are easily available at farmers' markets or garden centers. Herbs like sunlight but also grow well in partial shade, as many of mine do. Herbs planted in your flower garden add texture and interest to make a lovely edible garden.

Using containers with drainage holes is the most forgiving method to grow herbs. Use a good potting soil, then water, weed and forget them. Fertilizer is not needed, and it could affect the taste. Plants in containers dry out more quickly, however, especially in hot weather, so adjust your watering.

Both dill and fennel, with their pale green feathery appearances, and lavender, with its purple blooms, add impact to your garden. Fresh dill adds a refreshing taste to potato salad, and fennel's mild licorice flavor is a novel addition to green salads.

Lavender moves out of the sachet packet to make into a delightful fragrant lavender cake.

A large decorative container filled with culinary herbs and accented with perhaps a blooming flower makes an interesting conversation piece on your patio or by a kitchen or front door.

Other herbs that you can start your garden with include parsley, marjoram, thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, basil and cilantro.

Sage adds its own distinct flavor to pork recipes. Basil finds a place in countless dishes as well as in fresh pesto. For Italian food lovers, oregano and basil are necessities.

Rosemary is a perennial favorite with chicken, pork, beef and fish. It is also a wonderful seasoning added fresh to vegetables, beans, cheese, eggs and deserts. Cilantro is popular in Mexican cuisine, and thyme is essential to French cuisine.

Try adding some fresh rosemary or other herbs to softened butter or cream cheese, and the taste will get you excited about growing your own herbs. You will also love harvesting herbs from your own garden instead of making trips to the grocery store to buy fresh herbs.

Visit the Nassau County Cooperative Extension Demonstration Garden at the James S. Page Governmental Complex, 96135 Nassau Place, Yulee, and see for yourself how well our herbs grow with minimal care. We might even have herbs to share!

For more information, visit "Herbs in the Florida Garden" by James M. Stephens, at





Claudie Speed

Claudie Speed lives on Amelia Island and is an active Master Gardener volunteer.