A publication by the AARP Mobile Home Insurance Program for Foremost.

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Add fresh flavor to summer meals with home grown herbs

Whether you’re on country acreage or a park lot with limited space, growing herbs in containers can be one of the easiest ways to bring a bit of green onto your patio or deck and add flavor to your cooking.

MaryAnn Last has been interested in herbs since her aunt introduced her to the concept of an herb garden many years ago. "She had a beautiful herb garden in St. Louis long before it was popular to grow and use herbs," says MaryAnn. "I’ve been interested in them ever since."

While MaryAnn used to have a round herb garden near her home, since she and her husband moved to a senior living center, she’s been growing herbs on their balcony.

If you’re interested in a patio herb garden, MaryAnn offers this advice:

  • Make sure you have a spot where your herbs can get full sun.
  • Purchase a long container at a greenhouse – one large enough to accommodate several different herb plants. Herbs she recommends for this container include: oregano, chives, parsley, thyme and basil.
  • Grow rosemary and lavender in separate containers. Rosemary can be grown as a bonsai or as topiary for extra interest.
  • Use large baskets lined with plastic for containers. Put some gravel inside the plastic to provide drainage.
  • Buy good quality soil from a local greenhouse.

When it comes to preserving herbs, many people dry them, which can work well for oregano, chives and thyme, but a better way to do basil is to freeze it.

“Dried basil turns black if you dry it,” MaryAnn says. “I blanche it in a strainer with boiling water then lay it out on a towel or paper toweling. Then I put it in an ice cube tray, pour water over it and freeze it. The cubes can be added to soups or sauce.”

Another way MaryAnn enjoys basil includes taking half a bagel, toasting it, adding a slice of fresh, ripe tomato and some fresh mozzarella and topping that off with basil leaves and balsamic vinegar.

She also enjoys a caprese salad of tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil and balsamic vinegar, and of course, there’s old fashioned pesto. “I take one cup of fresh basil leaves, three tablespoons of walnuts or pine nuts, three tablespoons of parmesan cheese and two cloves of garlic,” she says. “I puree it all in a food processor with enough olive oil for a paste. It’s great with pasta, rice, fish or on veggies, or you can use it in soup.”

MaryAnn also makes herbal cookies from rosemary and lavender. She loves the fragrance of lavender and its sleep inducing properties.

“Herbs are fascinating,” she says. “While studying herbs I learned a lot about history and medicine.”

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