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Adlen Robinson: There’s nothing better than fresh summer herbs

One of my favorite things about summer is walking down to my little garden every day and seeing what is new. It is so fun to pick juicy, red tomatoes and cucumbers before they get too big — when you can find them. 

One thing I can always count on are the herbs being ready to snip. If I had to say what one thing can drastically improve your cooking, I would have to say fresh herbs. 

When you grow your own, you will find all sorts of uses for them. Almost all herbs are easy to grow and don’t require any fussing. 

The main trick to growing herbs is sunlight. Just make sure to pick a spot that gets at least six good hours of sunshine a day. 

Here is a sampling of some of my favorite herbs and ways to use them.

• Basil. Oh, basil how I love you. The epitome of summer, basil pairs perfectly with tomatoes. I love to serve sliced tomatoes with torn basil, good quality olive oil and some reduced balsamic vinegar. If I am feeling really fancy, I will add a slice of fresh mozzarella. Hello summer on a plate.

• Rosemary. Woodsy rosemary is also one of my favorite herbs. Because its flavor is so pungent, it is terrific in marinades. I also love fresh rosemary minced fine in steamed carrots with a little maple syrup.

• Thyme. I also love lemon thyme. It’s great in salad dressings and marinades. Just slide the tiny leaves off of the stems. No need to chop the leaves.

• Sage. You might think of sage as being a Thanksgiving herb, but it is also terrific in summertime dishes. I love it in marinades, salad dressings, gravies and more. Sage is particularly good when finely minced and mixed with softened butter. Top a grilled steak, chicken breast or pork chop with the compound butter and you will elevate your main dish exponentially.

• Tarragon. Often neglected, I love tarragon. Try tarragon with chicken or fish. Make a simple white wine sauce and you will transform (for the better) an otherwise bland piece of chicken or fish.

• Parsley. I know this is probably the most common herb, but parsley is an easy to grow herb that goes with almost every dish. I like Italian parsley much more than curly parsley, but both are super flavorful.

• Cilantro. If you love Mexican food, cilantro is a must as a garden herb.

• Chives. Many people think of chives as just a garnish, but they have a mild “oniony” flavor that completely transforms scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes and many creamy salad dressings.

• Mint. Yes, I know if you plant this in your garden it takes over. In fact, even when I plant mint in pots, it tends to find its way into the surrounding areas. Still, I love summer mint. I use it in many Asian dishes, and also in numerous summer minty drinks. Mint is also yummy when you put handfuls of it in water with cucumbers and lemon slices.

• Thai basil. If you like Asian food, and my readers know how obsessed I am with this cuisine, you simply must try Thai basil. Some people say you can substitute regular basil for Thai basil, and you can in a pinch, but Thai basil tastes so much different and is truly amazing. I have grown it the last two years and just like Italian basil, Thai basil loves the heat of summer and is simple to grow. The flavor is quite different — you really taste an anise flavor. Definitely give it a try.

• Dill. I confess I have never grown dill myself — but I sure do buy it and use it often. Dill is great with cucumbers, cream cheese, capers and red onion. I also love dill in eggs — scrambled or in deviled eggs are my favorites. Dill is also delicious in potato salad, and of course is instrumental when it comes to making pickles and hot dog relish.

• Oregano. Simple to grow, fresh oregano is a strong herb that stands up well in marinades. It’s also terrific on pizza, in tomato sauces, and is especially delicious in Greek salad dressing.

Check out my food column this Friday. I will be highlighting herbs in several recipes and giving you some tips to use up all of those fresh summer herbs. 

Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” Email her at