Laidback Gardening with Robert Kourik
A favorite seasoning in the South of France is known as Herbes de Provence — a delightful blend of oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme, dried lavender flower buds (actually a more recent American addition), and sometimes basil. Americans have become increasingly captivated with this pungent, complex seasoning for fish, game, red meat, poultry, and vegetables.
All the herbs in this blend naturally thrive in the Mediterranean climate of Provence but can be easily grown throughout the U.S. The plants will thrive in the Sonoma Valley climate. All can be container-grown in south-facing windows that receive at least four hours of direct sunlight daily.
Basil is the only plant in this mixture that prefers some moisture and fertile soil. The others, all quite drought-tolerant, are prone to root rots ( Phytophthora spp.) and thus prefer rocky, sandy, or gravelly soil for good drainage. Research on sage, lavender, and oregano revealed that growing them with sandy mulch actually enhances the volatile oil content of the foliage, making the flavor more pungent.
If you grow most of these herbs, you can harvest leaves from them throughout the summer, dry them, and store them in a cool, dark place for later use. Lavender is the exception. If you’re adding lavender, note that it’s the flowers, not the leaves, which are usually dried for this recipe.
The process for drying both flowers and leaves is much the same: Begin harvesting before noon on a sunny, dry day (clip leaves when they’re free of dew or sprinkler water), and dry the foliage on screen trays, or by hanging small bundles in a dark, dry place with plenty of good air circulation. To improve circulation, you can set up an oscillating fan and run it at low speed. Note: Even fluorescent bulbs will fade the lavender flowers, so keep them in the dark.
Store each type of dried herb separately, and only combine leaves and flowers for small batches of the mixture. This flavorful seasoning is bound to expand your culinary horizons.
Recipe for herbes de Provence
Nearly every Provençal household has a different recipe for the “true” herbes de Provence. Here’s one of the hundreds of possible combinations: 3 tablespoons dried oregano leaves 3 tablespoons dried thyme leaves 3 tablespoons dried savory leaves 2 tablespoons dried lavender flower buds (an American addition) 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves Combine all ingredients and mix well. Makes about 3/4 cup, or thirty servings. Store in small jars. Feel free to experiment with the proportions and ingredients.
(This information comes from Michele Anna Jordan, the author of 24 cookbooks, including Salt and Pepper.)
Bon appetit! Robert Kourik has written 18 gardening books — his most recent, published in 2022, is Sustainable Food Gardens. For more information, see robertkourik.com.