Round Out Your Herb Garden With Seed Herbs
by Nicki Goff
When we think of culinary herbs we frequently think of those with aromatic leaves, like rosemary, basil, thyme and oregano. But there are herbs that concentrate their flavor in their seeds as well. Many cultures make good use of these flavoring seeds in their native cuisine. Caraway seeds add flavor to rye breads, anise and fennel are good in sauces, as are cumin and coriander seeds.
Seeds are usually ground to release flavor before they are added to cooking. Generally, seeds will add more intense flavor than leafy herbs. These flavoring seeds are easy to grow - you just need to wait for them to mature and gather them before they decide to reseed themselves. Some of them will self-seed vigorously, and you will may have bonus harvests of them year after year.
Anise is an annual, native to Greece and the mid-East and Egypt. If you decide to grow your own, you will find the seeds much more potent than the commercial stuff on the grocery store spice racks. Plant the seeds in a sunny spot and as the seedlings show, thin them to about 4 inches apart. As the seed heads start to turn a gray-brown at the end of the summer, cut most of them and let them dry in a warm spot. The ones you leave will drop seeds for next year's crop. Use these licorice flavored seeds in baking, sauces or in herbal teas.
Coriander is another seed that has been in use by cooks for thousands of years. We may know coriander better for its leaves, familiar as cilantro. However the coriander seeds are essential ingredients in curries, some liqueurs, and sauces. The biggest complaint gardeners have with coriander is that it goes to seed too quickly. By reseeding successive crops, you can have a constant source of the leaves for your salsa and salads. Allow the seeds to turn gray or brown before you remove the seed heads. Spread them out to dry thoroughly before you store them.
The opium poppy is a familiar plant in many gardens, most often springing up from the self-seeding of last year's annual flowers. The seeds contain none of the narcotic that is present in the rest of the plant, and are an important ingredient in baked goods such as breads, cakes and strudel. Some regions forbid the planting of opium poppies, but if you are allowed to grow them, just scatter the seeds and rake them in lightly. Most will germinate, so thin the seedlings to about 4 inches apart. They are trouble free plants, with gorgeous showy flowers and attractive seed heads that will prolifically scatter seeds if you don't get to them in time.
Cumin is a fourth seed that we use in cooking. It is familiar to those who cook Middle Eastern dishes, but not as common in northern countries. The flavor of cumin goes well with chick peas, beans and curries. I also use it in tomato sauces for a piquant taste. Growing cumin is more difficult than other seed herbs, since it needs 4 months of warmth to mature. You should start the seeds indoors at least a month before last frost, and set the plants out only when the ground has warmed.
If your garden has not yet been blessed with some of the seed herbs, why not try your hand at them this spring. Soon you may just have some of them coming up in odd spots in the garden year after year, an unplanned but bonus harvest.