Most people probably don't give herbs a second thought when they cook. They might casually use store-bought oregano or parsley flakes, but they should be aware that store-bought herbs are old and quickly lose their flavor and color.
"The dried herbs from the grocery store last three months," said Cheryl McConnaughey, the co-owner along with her husband, Jeff, of Lucky Dreamer Herb Farm in Lynd. "They are overprocessed and have been in storage in the warehouse, then shipped and then sit on the shelf. And they are pretty expensive. For three dollars, you can buy a plant, put it in the ground and have it forever."
McConnaughey recently conducted a class on how to grow the top 10 herbs. According to a booklet from a fellow herb-grower - "the herb community is very close-knit," she said. "Everybody knows everybody else." - the most popular herbs are basil, lavender, parsley, mint, rosemary, oregano or marjoram, thyme, sage, chive and cilantro.
Cindy Manthey, left, was one of the area gardeners who attended an “Herb Growing Basics” class May 22 at the Lucky Dreamer Herb Farm near Lynd, co-owned by Cheryl McConnaughey, right. They learned about which herbs to choose for a culinary garden.
"I would have included tarragon on the list," McConnaughey said. "Tarragon is really good with eggs and really good with fish."
One of the students said she expected to see dill on the list.
The sprouting herbalists were young mothers who want to expand their knowledge of what to plant in their gardens so they can cook more flavorful and healthful foods.
McConnaughey, who has been growing herbs for almost 30 years, showed the group examples of each herb on the list. She tore off a piece of leaf and squeezed it to release the oil so each student could smell the scent.
Cindy Manthey of Marshall asked McConnaughey which herb she should get her feet wet with.
"I'm going to buy a container of whatever you think would not die so I can feel successful," Manthey said.
"Do you tend to underwater or overwater plants?" McConnaughey said.
"Probably underwater," Manthey said.
McConnaughey said Manthey should start out with rosemary.
She said she grows her herbs separately because one plant might need a lot of water and one might need very little.
"Some like a lot of water and some like a little," she said. "You keep one happy, but kill another."
"How big of a pot should I buy?" Manthey said.
"At least 6 to 8 inches," McConnaughey said.
McConnaughey also recommended terra cotta pots instead of plastic pots.
An exception to her plastic rule is her bay leaf tree, McConnaughey said. It is so large that a terra cotta pot would be too heavy to bring into the house every fall and take it outside when the weather is mild.
"I highly recommend bay if you like to cook Italian," she said.
McConnaughey said when cooking with herbs, she "throws in herbs at the end. If you throw them in at the beginning they turn bitter and lose their color."