There are over 3,500 herbs that are part of the mint family. And some of the most famous and flavorful herbs are from this category that should almost never be left off a plate.
Marjoram or “Sweet Marjoram”
Sweet marjoram is one of the 3,500 members of the mint family that includes well-known culinary staples such as mint, thyme, basil, sage, rosemary, and oregano. It is a low-growing plant native to the Mediterranean. It makes a pretty summer ground-cover or edging. A subtly colored plant, marjoram has thin, gray-green leaves and, in early summer, small knot-like flowers along the stem ranging in color from lilac to white. It grows well in the garden or in containers, and you can plant a nice kitchen window box using marjoram with parsley, basil, and summer annuals. Marjoram can be used in a wide variety of dishes and can be considered a substitute for oregano or even thyme. It adds a wonderfully mild, sweet, fresh fragrance and taste to dressings, sauces, and marinades. It has more complicated flavor notes and is often described as sweeter and more delicate than Oregano. It can also be used in almost any dish, including vegetable dishes, soups, and egg or meat dishes
If you’d like to grow your own marjoram, plant in the spring once there is no longer threat of frost. Sweet marjoram is slow-growing, so it can be best to start with starts from your Wilco garden center instead of seed. Pick fresh marjoram leaves as needed, beginning 4 to 6 weeks after planting.
Marjoram is a very useful herb, as it keeps its full flavor even when dried. In order to dry marjoram, pick the leaves just after flower buds appear but before they open, removing no more than a third of the plant’s leaves in a single harvest. Once the leaves have dried, strip them from the stem. You may harvest again when flower buds reappear later in the season.
Another member of the mint family, sage is one of the most useful and flavorful herbs around. Golden sage has the same aromatic and flavor properties of traditional sage but boasts lovely variegated leaves that are a contrast from the grayish leaves of common garden sage.
Golden sage produces a small shrub-like plant that may grow up to 2 feet tall and spread nearly twice as wide over time. This sun lover prefers soil slightly on the dry side and is drought tolerant once it’s established in your garden.
Sage pairs well with poultry, pork, lamb, stew, and hardy vegetables like carrots, beans, and peas. It is commonly used in combination with marjoram, oregano, and thyme in herb blends like poultry seasoning, but it is equally equipped to provide a pop to grilled red meats.
Basil is another stand-out member of the mint family. Its fragrance is never as seductive as when it is first plucked from a live plant and eaten raw, as quickly as possible after plucking. This is why you should think about having a pot of basil of your own – on the kitchen window sill or in your back yard. Normally, basil should be added at the last minute to a dish, sauce, pesto, etc. before serving. It can be used in grilling and sauté’s but the longer it cooks, the more flavor is lost. So limit cooking of basil for only the shortest of culinary adventures, or add it at the end after cooking is complete.
Sweet Basil has big leaves that are fast and easy to grow so that you can make your own pesto to freeze for year-round use. It loves hot weather, so always wait until all danger of frost is past before planting in the garden in the spring, then harvest before the weather starts to cool down in fall. Great for containers, but be sure to keep watered. If you were to grow only one herb, this should probably be it.
Thyme, like many herbs, has numerous health benefits and uses. It’s been used in treating bronchitis to easing stomach pain. But its use in dishes where you’d like earthy, lemon, or minty flavors without overpowering is one of the best uses of this evergreen herb. Thyme adds a minty warmth, depth, and clarity to onion, garlic, and ginger. Thyme is an herb that is more potent dried than fresh. So when using it for stuffing poultry, for instance, use one teaspoon of dried for about a tablespoon of fresh.
Oregano is commonly used in dishes that are centered around tomatoes. Like pizza, pasta sauce, and dishes that use olive oil. Many Italian vinaigrettes are made from simple olive oil and oregano added to vinegar or balsamic reduction. It’s great with marinades for lamb, chicken, or beef and is friendly to most savory meals. Oregano also loves eggs and can make a surprisingly fresh and aromatic twist to a breakfast bread or biscuit. Add oregano at the end of cooking time (last 15 minutes) so the flavor isn’t lost. If you enjoy a barbecued burger, add a tablespoon or two to your burger blend when making patties- and use fresh from the garden or farmers market if you can. Those at the table will wonder what secret ingredient you’ve come up with.
Rosemary is a popular herb and is a great looking perennial shrub in warmer climates. Where frost is a yearly problem, planting it in pots where it can be protected is best.
Rosemary is great on a variety of dishes like poultry, lamb, stews, and soups. And the oils from rosemary give a great finish to barbecued tri-tip.
If you plant rosemary in a raised bed, be sure to cut it regularly so it doesn’t get lanky and it can stand being divided every couple of years- it can get unmanageable if it really likes the conditions it’s growing in.
Nepitella is native to the Tuscany region of Italy, where it grows wild. It grows well in gardens and is becoming more common in the US. Nepitella needs very little moisture and does great in well-drained soils where sunshine is plentiful. It is often planted in pots so that it’s spreading nature and moisture can be controlled. The tiny purple flowers that bloom on Nepitella plants are fragrant and they are edible too.
Nepitalla is usually commonly paired with mushroom or artichoke dishes in Italy and is used more often in savory dishes and its strong flavor complements rich fatty meats such as pork, lamb, beef, and spicy Italian sausage. It’s also suitable for pasta dishes or greens. Try it where you would normally use Oregano, or as a fresh garnish on pizza. Like oregano, it can overpower a dish, so go easy until you get the hang of how much is just right.
Want a quick guide on when to plant other veggies? Visit our Planting Guide here.