Yes, I can buy fresh herbs at the supermarket, but they will taste nothing like those home grown. While infinitely better than their dried counterpart, supermarket herbs have been heavily fertilized to promote rapid growth and early harvest. The end result lacks in flavor and fragrance.
Besides being an excellent substitute for salt, fresh herbs are so essential to our cooking style that we can’t imagine cooking without them. The herbs grow outdoors during the spring, summer, and fall seasons, and indoors in pots during the winter. Even a sunny windowsill in an apartment can produce plenty of sage, rosemary, thyme, and basil for cooking. Almost any pot is suitable for growing herbs. Presently I have a huge strawberry pot planted with herbs that comes inside the house during the winter in addition to those herbs planted directly into the ground.
When planting an herb garden, pick a site that has good air circulation. Herbs will not grow successfully crammed against a fence or the house. The ideal soil mixture contains two parts sterilized topsoil to one part perlite (crushed volcanic ash), two parts peat moss or compost, and two parts sand or fine gravel.
In the summer I grow arugula, basil (sweet basil, lettuce leaf or Italian, dark opal, and tiny dwarf piccolo), chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, sweet marjoram, mint (spearmint, peppermint, pineapple mint, and orange mint), oregano, parsley (curly and flat-leaf), rosemary, sage (gray, golden, tricolor, purple, and pineapple), tarragon (French and Mexican), and thyme (English and lemon). If you have room, you might wish to have borage, burnet (has a cucumber flavor), fennel, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lovage, savory (summer and winter), and sorrel.
You can start your herbs from seed or buy small pots of herbs at your local nursery, garden supply, or herb grower to transplant into the ground or pot. Herbs don’t like “wet feet” so don’t over-water. If you’re growing your herbs in pots, don’t let them dry out. In the very hot summer, you may need to water pots every day. Check the soil moisture; if the top inch is dry, water.
Fresh herbs are not as strong as their dried counterparts. Use one tablespoon of fresh herbs for every teaspoon of crushed dried herbs, a ratio of three to one.
Here’s some ideas for special herb gardens, designed for specific cooking needs:
Salad Herb Garden: arugula, chervil, chives, dill, dwarf basil, red basil, flat-leaf parsley, mustard, nasturtiums, sorrel, summer savory, and tarragon.
Italian Herb Garden: arugula, basil, bay, dill, fennel, garlic chives, marjoram, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
Fish Herb Garden: bay, dill, fennel, lemon basil, lemon grass, lemon thyme, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, and tarragon.
Salt Substitute Herb Garden: basil, bay, dill, lovage, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme, and tarragon.
Dessert Herb Garden: anise, caraway, lemon balm, lemon verbena, nasturtiums, orange and pineapple mint, spearmint, scented geraniums, and violets.