July 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

Gardening

Tricks to getting the most from your herb garden

Oregano doesn't need much attention; it'll grow even between cracks in a sidewalk. (PhotoDisc)

You don’t need a garden to grow herbs. Thyme and oregano thrive in the cracks between the flat stones of my sidewalk. When I move to my new space, I will pot them up to grow on the patio. Six hours of sun or more daily is the key to success.

Go easy on the fertilizer when growing herbs for culinary and medicinal use. Excessive nitrogen may grow large plants, but those lush leaves will not have the rich character of the oils found in herbs grown in lean soil. I add a bit of compost to the mix when planting. A feeding of fish and kelp fertilizer at half strength makes a good mid-season pick-me-up.

For the best flavor, harvest just as herbs begin to flower, so keep the plants pinched back when they start to bloom. Properly preserved herbs have a stronger flavor than fresh, and most recipes call for them in the dried form.

For flavor, the best time to harvest is in the morning after the dew has dried. The freshly cut leaves can be spread out on a screen. Another quick way to dry them is to bind the stems together, put them in a paper lunch bag and hang them on the back of the seat of the car. It only takes a couple of days for them to dry as a car will heat up to well over 100 degrees in the sun on a warm day. When dry, strip the leaves from the stems and crumble them by rubbing them between your palms and store them in small glass containers. Whatever method used for drying, keep them out of the sun.

Tea has become very popular in America in the last decade, and herbal teas are among the mix. Some folks enjoy them for the flavor, but others drink them for their medicinal value.

A great new book by Cassie Liversidge, “Homegrown Tea: An Illustrated Guide to Planting, Harvesting, and Blending Teas and Tisanes” (St. Martin’s Griffin ), is a treasure trove of what to grow and how to plant and harvest to make all sorts of healthy, fun drinks. Liversidge makes teas from dried fruits such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, as well as flowers and foliage. An iced strawberry tea would make a healthy and refreshing drink on a hot summer day.

For early holiday shoppers, this book boxed with a cute teapot or cup and a selection of your homemade teas would make a charming Christmas or hostess gift.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.