The smells of Thanksgiving dinner highlight a holiday centered around family, friends, and giving thanks. Heartwarming and tempting, the aromas of freshly baked dishes would not be the same without the addition of herbs like thyme, sage, rosemary, and parsley. On the 23rd, as the pot stews, or the turkey roasts, consider herb additions you could grow in your garden or plant a container of herbs indoors for an uplifting scene of green and quick access to fresh flavor.
While fresh and dried herbs are both tasty, each is valuable to cooking in different ways. Fresh herbs are full of bright flavors and stand out in uncooked dishes. Dried herbs produce deep, rich flavors, perfect for cooked hearty dishes. If cooking this year, remember the general guideline: Use three times the amount of fresh herbs to replace dried herbs a recipe calls for.
Thyme, a low-growing herb, is a perennial plant. Small, green leaves are attached to the woody stems, creating a 6- to 12-inch fragrant mound. The leaves can be harvested all summer and added to recipes as fresh or dried seasoning.
Sage, a perennial herb in the garden, has velvety foliage, ranging from gold to purple to variegated, depending on the variety. Traditional stuffing would not be complete without sage, either fresh or dried. My Grandma Dee always added the perfect amount of sage to the stuffing without even measuring.
Rosemary, grown as an annual plant by central Illinois gardeners, can be brought indoors for the winter. Its dark-green, needle-like foliage offers a powerful flavor to dishes. A little goes a long way with this herb.
Parsley, a biennial herb often grown as an annual, is the most widely used herb in the U.S. Curly parsley is often used to garnish a dish. Flat-leaf parsley, a common ingredient in pasta and meat dishes, has a more noticeable flavor.
Many herbs are easily grown indoors year-round. Most herbs will need at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. High levels of light are necessary to avoid leggy or spindly plant growth. Water requirements vary for herbs. Never allow the soil to dry out for herbs like rosemary. For herbs like sage, allow the soil to dry out, but water before leaves wilt. Fertilize every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer, following the directions on the manufacturer’s label. Over-fertilizing will decrease aroma and taste. Just like in the garden, trim indoor herbs to maintain a compact shape and prevent flowering, which decreases herb flavor.
Herbs do not just have to be in the recipes this Thanksgiving. Fresh herbs also make great centerpieces. A rosemary topiary or a tray of potted herbs adds an uplifting scent to any room. Explore creative herb arrangements like a simple herb sprig added to the napkins for a natural table setting. Whether grown indoors or dried from the garden, your herbal additions are certain to be a great holiday conversation piece.
Invite herbs to your table this season, then give thanks for their scent and taste.
Brittnay Haag is a University of Illinois horticulture educator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties.