Savoring Spring: Growing, cooking with culinary herbs

Spring ushers in growth, new beginnings and starting fresh. The sun shines, snow melts and plant life begins to emerge. It’s also time to think about gardening. Although snow might still blanket the earth, the outdoor growing season is short in Tahoe. Growing seedlings indoors provides a head start for container gardens and outdoor gardening.

I plant several culinary herbs to enhance my cooking and the many recipes I curate and prepare. Fresh herbs are one of the keys that make food pop with flavor. By early summer, the fresh herbs in my garden flourish; mint, thyme, cilantro and oregano take center stage. I also grow rosemary, sage, dill, parsley and basil.

Alyssa Ganong grows Lemon Balm in her garden. Ganong uses lemon balm to prepare an herbal salve for skin ailments such as dry and itchy skin.

“It grows easily without much fuss, but give it space in your herb garden or keep it in a separate bed as it grows like a weed,” she says.

I grow some herbs indoors in containers and others in an outdoor garden. Starting seedlings indoors, growing them in containers and choosing hearty herbs are simple ways to make meals, cocktails and desserts more flavorful and delicious.

Seed packages can be purchased at local nurseries, hardware stores, supermarkets and specialty shops. Slow Food Lake Tahoe offers seedlings and classes on how to garden. Some herbs, particularly mint, are easy to grow with cuttings. When I get herbs from my CSA box, I often root them in water on my windowsill.

In Tahoe, the frost-free growing season starts in mid-June and ends in late September, depending on the weather, but I keep herbs growing on my window sill throughout the year. Seeds in containers can be grown indoors and be moved outdoors into the sunshine once any chance of freezing weather or frost has passed. I also reuse containers that would end up in the landfill, it’s also economical. Egg cartons are great to use, berry containers have holes for drainage or poke holes in the bottom of any container. It is essential to use good soil.

Most seed packets indicate whether seeds should be directly sown or started indoors. If the packet says to start seedlings indoors, calculate how many weeks before the last frost and start planting. Or, you can purchase seedling sprouts.

Locally, Slow Food Lake Tahoe, UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) and UCCE Master Gardeners of Lake Tahoe provide programs and other resources for gardening questions and classes, along with seeds and seedlings. |,,

Lemon Balm Salve
Courtesy Alyssa Ganong

2 c. dried lemon balm leaves, harvest & hang it to dry in a dark space until dried
1 c. extra light olive oil
1 8 oz mason jar

To infuse olive oil, pack a mason jar full of dried leaves and pour olive oil over the herbs. Tighten the lid and place the jar in a sunny window for about a week. Then, place the jar in a dark pantry for three weeks. Strain and squeeze the oil into another jar, discarding the leaves.

4 oz. lemon balminfused olive oil
1 oz. beeswax pellets
25 drops Melissa essential oil*
1 oz. shea butter
6 1oz. containers

Melt the beeswax pellets in a double boiler over low heat. Add shea butter and infused herbal oiland stir until completely melted. Remove from heat and add the essential oil. Pour the liquid into the prepared jars and allow to cool.

Herbed Pesto
From the kitchen of Priya Hutner

1 C fresh herb, basil, cilantro, parsley
½ C olive oil
2 T pine nuts or walnuts
¼ C Romano or Parmesan cheese

Blend and use on vegetables, pasta and meats.

Cashew Mint Dip
From the kitchen of Priya Hutner

1 C raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 4 hours
2 cloves of garlic
½ C fresh mint
¼ C olive oil
1 t coarse salt
1 t fresh ground black pepper

Drain cashews and discard water. Blend ingredients and chill. Serve with crackers or use as a salad dressing,

Dill Salad Dressing
From the kitchen of Priya Hutner

1 C Greek yogurt
¼ C mayo
1 cucumber, peeled, deseeded & grated
¼ C fresh dill
2 t coarse salt
1 t fresh ground pepper

Mix ingredients and chill until ready to serve.

Berry Mint Slush Mocktail
From the kitchen of Priya Hutner

1 C fresh strawberries
¼ C mint, save ½ for garnish
1 T honey or organic sugar
1 t fresh lemon juice
1 C plain carbonated water
1 C ice

Add strawberries, mint, lemon and sweetener to a blender and blend with ice. Pour into glasses and top with carbonated water. Garnish with more mint.

Seeds, Sips & Songs

April 20 | RMU Truckee

Common Ground Movie Night

May 21 | Sunnyside

Grow Your Own Festival

May 31 | Tahoe City Field Station

June 1 | Slow Food Garden | Truckee

June 8 | Tallac Historic Site | South Shore

Grow Your Own classes

Free | Online |

Truckee Community Garden Beds


North Tahoe Regional Park Garden Beds