One secret to growing flavorful herbs is not to spoil them by providing too much water or fertilizer.
When visiting a lavender farm in the south of France I saw thousands of gorgeous flowering plants living in rows of raised soil composed of what looked like sand based gravel. New plantings, small plants called liners, were watered when planted, and a few times there after to establish their roots, but from then they were left to the care of Mother Nature. The lavender farms in Province sell the dried flowers for teas and sachets and process the leaves for essential oil so the plants are grown for fabulous fragrance and flavor that increases when the plants are under a bit of stress.
Plant basil in potting soil laced with chemical fertilizers and feed it weekly with a high nitrogen water soluble fertilizer and you may grow a tall lush looking plant, but with little flavor.
A plain soilless potting mix combined with good quality compost at a rate of 3 parts potting soil to 1 part compost makes a perfect combination for growing herbs. When planting in the garden amend the soil with a handful of compost. Herbs do not like wet feet so good drainage is a must. If your soil is heavy consider raised beds.
About every 4 weeks give container grown herbs a pick-me up by fertilizing with an organic fish and seaweed fertilizer.
Regular pruning is another key to great taste. Basil and other herbs reach peak flavor just before the plants bloom, so harvest the leaves as soon as the flower buds begin to form. Snipping sprigs of herbs regularly throughout the summer encourages branching, fresh growth and great taste. Use the fresh herb clippings in soups, salads and teas.
Some folks like to hang herb bundles in the kitchen for decoration, but the light effects the flavor so don’t use deco herbs for cooking.
The essential oils in the leaves are strongest early in the morning so for the best flavor harvest herbs just as the sun rises.
To preserve that great taste, when harvesting herbs for drying, hang them in an area out of direct sunlight. The quicker the leaves dry, the stronger the flavor. Sage, thyme and other herb leaves bound together with rubber band, placed in a paper bag and hung in the back seat of car that sits outside in the sun will dry in a couple of days.
When dry – strip the leaves from the stems and store them in a sealed container in a dark cupboard.
Basil, destined for use as pesto, soups and sauces, is best when frozen in ice cube trays and then popped into plastic bags or wrapped in aluminum foil. They can be stored in the freezer for up to six months. Processing the leaves in a food processor with a bit of olive oil or water makes them easy to work with.
So the secrets to growing great tasting herbs are – give them lots of sun, water when the surface of the soil is dry and harvest them often.