Nothing epitomizes the flavors of southern France more than Herbes de Provence. This sumptuous savory mix of herbs contains almost all of the favorite culinary mints – rosemary, basil, marjoram, savory, thyme and sometimes sage and lavender – along with the addition of bay leaf and sometimes fennel seed and tarragon. And this is good news for gardeners because these herbs are easy to cultivate, dry and mix. What’s more, freshly made herb mixes make great gifts!
All gardeners should enjoy a good thyme.
Photo Credit: Jessie Keith
Lavender is a nice culinary mint.
Photo Credit: Jessie Keith
Herbs are notoriously easy to grow in the garden – if you can provide them with well-drained average soil and full-sun. And they can be harvested throughout the growing season, which is typically spring through fall – and even in winter in warmer climates. (Most herbs don’t fare well indoors because they’re temperate perennials.) They don’t require heavy fertilization or irrigation and are happy if given a teaspoon of slow-release fertilizer per plant at the beginning of the growing season and a thorough watering at least once a week once established (three times a week within the first few weeks after planting). One caveat is that some mints, like basil, have the best flavor if they’re kept from blooming, so their flower buds should be pinched off as soon as they appear.
Herbs taste best if dried quickly post-harvest. Two easy drying methods include hanging them to dry or oven-drying them. If you have a spacious, dark, cool and dry area, try hanging small bunches of herbs to dry (hang each bunch separately for good airflow). These should be left alone for a few days or until the leaves are crisp. For the oven method, place your herbs on a cookie sheet lined with a dry towel. Make sure to separate all large leaves so they dry evenly. Turn on the oven light only and allow leaves to dry overnight or until crisp. (It’s very important that the herbs are only dried – not heated. So to repeat: Do not turn on the oven!)
Before mixing your herbs, gently crunch, rub or break up large leaves, removing all tough, woody stem pieces. My favorite Herbes de Provence Mix contains the following:
- 2 Tablespoons dried French thyme
- 2 Tablespoons dried crushed marjoram
- 2 Tablespoons dried crushed basil
- 1 Tablespoon dried summer savory
- ½ Tablespoon dried crushed rosemary
- 2 broken bay leaves
- 1 Tablespoon dried rubbed sage
- ½ Tablespoon dried fennel seed
Glass containers are the best for containing herbs. They keep them dry and just look good. Any small jar with a tight-fitting lid will do – and the prettier, the better. If you’re preparing to present your Herbes de Provence as a gift, be sure to affix an attractive label to your jar that lists the name of the mix and its ingredients. Nice bows and lid covers also add a festive touch.