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COME INTO THE KITCHEN, GARDENER: Favorite Recipes For Sommer’s Five Herbs To Grow And Not Buy

By Karen England, for Let’s Talk Plants! March 2024.

WiX stock photo of a variety of favorite herbs, fresh and dried, ready for use in the kitchen.

Favorite Recipes for Sommer’s Five Herbs to Grow and Not Buy

To say that I was giddy when I read Sommer Cartier’s latest submission to the Grow in Abundance column in this month’s newsletter would be an understatement! As so many of you have learned about me in the last few years, my world revolves around herbs, I just adore the “useful plants” and never stop talking about them.

Sommer’s five recommended herbs to grow and not buy are perfect and here are some of my favorite recipes to possibly add to your own repertoire.

1. Oregano (and, added by Karen, Marjoram) -

Of all the culinary types of oregano I prefer the flavor of Greek Oregano, Origanum vulgare var. hirtum, above all others but with this caveat and that is that I prefer Sweet Marjoram, Origanum majorana, to all oreganos.

To quote Charles E. Voight, Chair of the Horticulture Committee for the International Herb Association, ...

“The world of popular or common oregano and marjoram nomenclature is somewhat confused and confusing. To some extent, oregano is a flavor, more than an individual plant. True oregano comes from the genus Origanum, but Mexican Oregano,  Lippia graveolens, and Cuban Oregano, Plectranthus amboinicus, also have the scent and flavor known as “oregano,” although Cuban Oregano is not often used for cooking in the US.
The 'true' oreganos, genus Origanum, are aromatic, herbaceous perennials, which have erect, hairy, square stems which mark their membership in the mint family. They have quarter inch long, tubular, purple to white flowers in terminal spikelets, also fairly typical of mint relatives. The leaves are opposite, oval to pointed, and range from less than one, up to two inches long. Plant heights vary from six inches to two feet. Rexford Talbert asserts that there are 44 species in the Origanum genus and he ought to know.” (Rexford Talbert has written and lectured on herbs for over 40 years and has been published in The Herb Companion, Kitchen Gardens, The Gilded Herb, Herbalgram and The Herbarist, among others. His particular interest is the botany and taxonomy of the family Lamiaceae.)

A note about how I use Greek Oregano and Sweet Marjoram in recipes: My mother preferred the flavor of her homegrown oregano dried to the fresh and she passed on this preference to me. It is one of the few herbs that I grow and dry before using. But that said, I prefer the taste of Sweet Marjoram fresh and only dry it occasionally mostly to use in a talk for comparison. You can use either fresh or dried as your taste buds dictate. My Mother won’t know.

Early in my married life I had a cookbook long since lost, that had the easiest sauteed bell peppers with oregano recipe in it that we used as a side dish. That recipe became for me a kitchen theory more than a recipe that I use to this day. The theory is whenever I am cooking bell peppers, I season with dried Greek oregano. Here is a recipe, found on the internet, which is very similar if not exactly the one I lost.


2. Sage -

Salvia clevelandii, Cleveland Sage, in Karen England's Vista, California garden, late May 2021.

When I am asked what my favorite herb is, I always answer "Cleveland Sage", Salvia clevelandii, and I'm not lying. It truly is my favorite herb (even though I say that about so many herbs).

Cleveland sage is just one of dozens of possible Salvia varieties to be grown. I grow other salvias, some herbal and some decorative; Salvia officinalis, Salvia elegans, Salvia chamaedryoides, Salvia leucantha, and more… but none of those can compare in my opinion to Cleveland sage in growth habit, fragrance, flavor, or flower.

Early in my herbal education, around 1996, I was lamenting to a friend, author Lynn Alley, that I could not grow common sage. I complained to her (at length) that in coastal north San Diego County sage plants “always get a yukky fungal wilt and die.” I went on to tell her how I inevitably end up having to buy plants and bunches of fresh sage at Thanksgiving time just to use in my turkey stuffing because my common sage plants always croak. Of course, to make her understand fully just how sad this was for me, I then had to tell her (at length) how Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year, how it is my all-time favorite meal to eat and that turkey stuffing with sage is my very favorite dish ever (next to grilled cheese sandwiches).

She looked at me a little dumfounded saying - and I quote –

“Why don’t you just use our native Cleveland sage instead?”

My brain exploded right in front of her! “Wait, what? I can do that?” Life as I knew it improved from that moment on, and Cleveland sage became “the herb that saved Thanksgiving.” Frankly, ever since then, I prefer it to common sage in just about everything.

Recipe for my Thanksgiving Stuffing

This recipe has stood the test of time for me, and I am confident it will for you as well. Despite its name, I do not stuff the bird but instead bake the stuffing in a casserole pan as a side dish.

First, make the bulk Turkey Sausage needed for the recipe, I mix the meat and seasonings the night before and refrigerate until needed (or you can just buy bulk premade turkey sausage, such as breakfast or sweet Italian, and skip this part).

Turkey Sausage

1 lb. ground turkey

1/3 cup dry sherry, I make a holiday sherry for sipping and gifting called Merry Sherry which is simply sherry infused with fresh rosemary and I use it in my sausage recipe. If you only have cream sherry, just use what you have…

¼ cup finely chopped onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons finely rubbed dry sage (I use dry Cleveland, dried just for this purpose)

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon dried sweet pepper flakes (these are hard to find these days so they have become optional)

½ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon each dried thyme, marjoram, and basil, crushed with a pestle in a mortar

1 clove garlic, minced

Mix all ingredients very well, keep refrigerated until needed.

Sage Sausage and Crouton Stuffing

1 quart (I use 1 loaf of bread) diced white bread, toasted (Spread the bread cubes in a large baking pan that can be used to cook the stuffing later and toast for 30 minutes in a 350-degree f. oven, turning occasionally until browned. Be careful not to burn the diced bread cubes.)

1 – 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil

1 ½ cups each diced onion and celery

1 egg, lightly beaten

Handful fresh sage, chopped (I used Cleveland and I like a large handful)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

½ cup chicken or turkey stock

(Optional: Add 1 ½ cups diced brown mushrooms. Note: For vegetarians, substitute diced portobello mushrooms for the ground turkey in the sausage recipe and for vegans use vegan bread, vegetable stock and omit the egg. Bake as a side dish.)

In a large pan, over medium-high heat, sauté the sausage meat in the butter until brown and the sherry has evaporated. If needed, add more butter and add the celery and onions (and mushrooms if using) and sauté all ‘til soft. Sprinkle in the chopped sage and sauté one minute more to release the flavors and add all to the toasted bread cubes in the casserole pan. Let cool slightly and vigorously toss in the beaten egg (you do not want scrambled eggs …) and add some of the stock to moisten.

Bake all in a 350-degree f. oven for 45 minutes to one hour. Add more stock midway through cooking time if looking dry.

3. Rosemary

Every year in the fall I make a holiday sherry for sipping and gifting called Merry Sherry which is simply sherry infused with fresh rosemary. I make a lot but you can make less as you see fit by scaling the recipe down.

Here is the original recipe found in Bertha Reppert’s Herbal Scrapbook no. 2 Christmas Herbs, 1987.

1 gallon dry sherry

10 6-inch sprigs fresh rosemary (I double this amount)

4 ounces honey (I don’t use any sweetener, so this is optional in my opinion)

Steep all ingredients for three days (I steep it longer, more like three weeks). Remove rosemary and decant. “Chill and serve at special affairs with a decorative sprig of rosemary in the decanter.”

(Note the above recipe for Turkey Sausage has Merry Sherry as an ingredient.)

4. Basil -

“Although pesto and tomato sauce are the classic uses for basil in the kitchen, there is no need to stop there. Sweet basil has a rich, spicy, mildly peppery flavor, with a trace of mint and clove. Leaves can be crushed, chopped, or minced and added to a variety of recipes, or whole leaves can be tossed into salads. Sprigs, especially those with flowers, make an attractive, edible garnish.” - International Herb Association

Orange and Basil Salad

This recipe appeared in the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year 2003 Bombastic Basil leaflet.

4 navel oranges, with all traces of rind and pith cut away

2 medium red onions, thinly sliced

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped walnuts or pine nuts

2 cups fresh basil leaves

Cut peeled oranges into thin slices. Save any juice that collects from slicing. Place orange slices and juice in a glass bowl. Add onion slices to the orange bowl. Combine 1/2 cup olive oil, the vinegar and pepper in a small bowl. Pour over oranges and onions and toss. Cover and let set at room temperature for at least an hour. In a small skillet, toast nuts over medium high heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Shake pan often to toast evenly. Set aside to cool. Rinse and dry fresh basil leaves. Coarsely chop the leaves.

To serve, add toasted nuts and basil to the salad bowl. Toss gently.

Serves 4 to 6.

5. Thyme -

Did you know? According to Thyme to Eat published as a National Herb Week 1997 handout by the International Herb Association, …

“Thyme is one of the best substitutes for salt.”

The handout continues saying, “…it should be added with care as it is pungent. When erring on the measure of herb seasoning, be on the light side so that you can add more later.

(Once in, you can't take it out.)

Thyme is a key ingredient in Bouquet Garni, Herbs de Provence, and Fine Herbs for beef, poultry, fish, lamb and pork.

The following are measured equivalents – if you are using fresh herbs, keep this balance and measure in relative sprig amounts.

Bouquet Garni

3 tbsp parsley

1 tbsp marjoram

1-1/2 tbsp basil

1 tbsp thyme

1/2 medium white onion

Herbs de Provence

 1 tbsp thyme

 1 tbsp savory

 1 tbsp rosemary

 1 tbsp lavender flowers

 2 tsp tarragon

 2 tsp basil


Fine Herbs

 1 tbsp thyme

 1 tbsp chervil

 1 tbsp parsley

 2 tsp chives

 2 tsp tarragon

·     With most herbs, measure 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh to 1 teaspoon dry. Go lighter with thyme.

·     With most herbs, add them near the completion of a heated soup or sauce, turning off the heat, and covering. With thyme, you can add it early to soup, sauce and stock as the oils are heavier and will remain.

·     It is easy to strip thyme leaves from their stem by pulling the stem down through the index finger and thumbnail. This can lead to crushing some leaves. An alternative method is to draw the stem through the tines of a fork.”


Karen England is not only the editor-in-chief of this newsletter and president of the San Diego Horticultural Society, she is also on the board of the International Herb Association and a frequent contributor to the IHA's Herb of the Year™ books.

If you enjoyed reading this article, consider joining (or renewing your membership with) the San Diego Horticultural Society.



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