Sometimes it’s not practical to grow fresh herb plants from seed yourself, so purchase the plants from a reputable garden center or nursery. Also, some herbs grow better in a different climate, or you may require them out of season, so purchasing fresh or dried versions of an herb is a better option than trying to grow them yourself. Here is also some advice on storing herbs.
Pick a perfect plant
Don’t buy plants with any visible problems or diseases, such as leaves with yellow veins or mildew; all herbs should have bright, sturdy stems and foliage. Knock the plant out of its pot and examine the roots, too—they should be healthy and plentiful and not fighting for space. Check each plant for any live insects, because you don’t want to bring a potential problem home with you.
Vigorous leaves and stems don’t always mean that a plant is disease-free; chances are that problems lie beneath the surface of the soil. Roots are the lifeline of a plant, so it’s crucial that they’re healthy.
A healthy plant should lift easily out of its pot and its roots should be plentiful, yet not overcrowded, with plenty of soil visible.
If you have a less-than-healthy plant, tease out and thin the overcrowded roots before planting it in good soil. Remove any root weevils and grubs.
It’s worth purchasing fresh or cut herbs if a herb proves tricky to grow, you don’t live in an ideal rising climate, the growing season for the herb is over, or you need a larger amount of the herb than you already have grown in your garden. Most supermarkets now sell a variety of fresh herbs in their fresh fruit and vegetable section, or you may be able to get some herbs, such as parsley or watercress, from a farmer’s market. Always look for fresh, “juicy-looking” herbs and, if possible, organically grown.
Delicate herbs such as parsley, tarragon, or mint keep well for a few days in a cup or a vase of fresh water if kept in a cool room. Many herbs, such as marjoram or basil, may be kept chilled while still on their stems, but first rinse the herbs, pat them dry with a paper towel, loosely wrap the stems in a piece of damp paper towel, and store in the fridge.
Most herbs retain their properties well during freezing; chop the herbs finely, coat them in a little olive oil or water, then spoon the mixture into small freezer bags or an ice-cube tray and keep frozen until needed for up to 6 months.
Most herbs retain their medicinal properties well if dried carefully. It also means they can be gathered at their peak time and stored to use when out of season. Herbs are traditionally harvested in one season—for example, spring—then grown on for a full year until they’re ready to harvest again. Most herbs stay effective for 6 to 12 months, after which time any remaining stock should be discarded and replaced.
Always dry herbs from organically grown plants only; it’s not advisable to ingest concentrated pesticides or synthetic fertilizer residues in addition to the active properties of the herb.
It’s important that you purchase dried herbs only from ethical companies that actively pursue a policy of minimal environmental impact by encouraging organic cultivation and ensuring sustainable harvesting by indigenous communities. Such companies will guarantee that their herbs are fresh. Suppliers should also ensure that they sell the correct species and there’s no infestation.
Store any purchased dried herbs in an airtight— best glass—container in a dark and dry cupboard to preserve their therapeutic properties.