The Green Leaf

Herbs for your kitchen

June 27th, 2011
Thai basil flowers can also be brewed as a tea. Photo by Nina Wu.

Thai basil flowers can also be brewed as a tea. Photo by Nina Wu.

It was inspiring to take "Eat, Grow, Love," a culinary herbs workshop by Laura Shiels at The Green House, which is in today's features section.

Fresh herbs at the store can be expensive, so being able to grow your own helps save money and gives you more flexibility (when you just need one sprig of mint, for example).

I learned a few things I didn't know and have yet to try – that the small, purple flowers in Thai basil can be brewed into a tea, for instance.

The Thai basil in my yard originally grew from cuttings from a friend's yard — and her mother brought the herb home from a Thai restaurant. It's wonderful how you can share herbs this way. You do just stick the basil cuttings into a container of water (a glass), let it root in 1-2 weeks, and then plant.

Thai basil adds a new twist to pesto, with a half-cup of sesame oil, along with apple cider vinegar, nuts, and sea salt (and a little bit of other herbs, which is optional), according to Shiels, who whipped up a batch during the workshop. You get an idea of what "fresh" really means when you get a taste.

Fresh pesto made from Thai basil and a drop of sesame. Photo by Bruce Asato.

Fresh pesto made from Thai basil and a half-cup of sesame oil. Photo by Bruce Asato.

I've had heads of garlic grow old and start sprouting, but never tried planting them in a pot. The sprouts come up as green shoots, according to Shiels. Olena, or turmeric, would also be neat to have in the garden.


Olena (turmeric) is a rhizome, which you plant in the ground. The plant is leafy and green. Photo courtesy Laura Shiels.

While I've got rosemary and sage growing in pots, I never thought of trying to grow lemongrass, which can help with insomnia. I also thought my mint had completely dried up and that it was history, but on a day of big rain, it came back to life and turned green again!

Mint is pretty resilient. There are many kinds of mints, according to Shiels — peppermint, spearmint — all with different degrees of mintiness.

Laura has a magic touch with plants - her chili peppers are healthy and tall. She nurtures plants and grows them everywhere she goes between here and the Big Island. But she used to harvest mostly from the wild, she told me, until she got to Puerto Rico and began growing plants to study.

Try growing your own herbs — start small, with a cutting of Thai basil from a friend's yard, for instance, and see where it takes you. After Thai basil, you can try rosemary (good for enhancing memory).

To learn more about herbs, or to get the recipe of the day, visit Laura Shiels' website at

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