Herbs With Zest

Gather a few of these tasty options for a seasonal surprise.
Ellen Ruoff Riley

Tangy and fresh, the unmistakable flavor of lemon--you taste it and smell it, but the source may be tough to define. Fresh herbs perk up everything from pasta to tea, and selections with a lemon twist deliver an unexpected flavor boost.

All lemon herb types are easy to grow, so devote a few pots or space in your garden to these culinary treats. They have similar growth requirements, allowing you to pair them up as you like or give each one its own container. Here's what you need to know.

  • Sun: They like a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight every day.
  • Water: Keep soil evenly moist. Remember, small pots dry out quickly, so consider planting your herbs in containers at least 10 inches across.
  • Fertilizer: Plant with a timed-release, granular fertilizer such as 14-14-14. In midsummer, use a water-soluble liquid such as 20-20-20. Do not apply a blossom-boosting plant food.
  • Maintenance: Use herbs frequently to prevent them from flowering. When they bloom, their flavor diminishes and growth of tasty new foliage slows.

Test Kitchens Tips
Associate Foods Editor Mary Allen Perry loves fresh herbs and offers an abundance of suggestions for using them. "If you don't have time to cook, add these herbs to a convenience product such as oil-and-vinegar salad dressing for a flavor boost," she says.

Lemon balm--It's nice in tea and makes an awesome Mojito.
Lemon basil--Jazz up a jar of Alfredo sauce, or use it to top a tomato sandwich.
Lemon grass--Paired with lots of garlic, it makes incredible chicken stock. Or slice leaves thin, and add to pan when poaching salmon.
Lemon thyme--Add to marinade for grilled chicken or pork. It also gives packaged breadcrumbs a lift.
Lemon verbena--Add to a butter cookie recipe or to simple syrup to flavor hot or iced tea.

"Herbs With Zest" is from the June 2007 issue of Southern Living.