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Sara Gasbarra

Verdura Chicago

As a self proclaimed garden girl, Sara Gasbarra lends a helping hand—or green thumbs rather—to restaurants around the city in building and maintaining vegetable gardens. From the Palmer House Hilton to Nellcôte, this jolly green goddess knows a thing or two about having some good thymes. (If you liked what we did there, just wait until you check out the puns in our video below). Sara turned her love of gardening into a full functioning urban garden consulting biz where she can implement sustainable and organic practices in unconventional spaces. And for the layman, we love her advice for experimenting with herbs in your own space. In between getting her hands dirty, she snaps beautiful greenery on her inspiring instagram account.

In the spirit of G&F, things get a little punny as Sara walks us through a super simple DIY of chive blossom vinegar and a handy field guide to having fun with herbs.

Before we dissect specific herb varieties—don’t we just sound so scientific?!—let’s walk through Herbing 101 under Sara’s tutelage. First, remember four important things: sun, water, soil and temperature. All herbs should be placed in a nice sunny location, with an optimal six to eight hours of direct sun. Plant your herbies in organic potting soil—Sara’s favorite? Happy Frog—and water daily. And, pay attention now, for an extra nutrient boost, add a couple of tablespoons of fish emulsion to your watering can twice monthly to give a leg up to your little guys. If it’s incredibly hot, give them extra water or shade. If you see a cold front moving in, consider covering them in the evening. Fickle folks, these herbs.

Now that you know the basics, let’s talk specifics.

G&F_Herb Field Guide_Opener

G&F_Herb Field Guide_Oregano

GREEK OREGANO is one of the most common cooking herbs. From vegetables to pizza, this fragrant herb is very simple to grow. Remember Sara’s four rules of (green) thumb: sun, water, soil and temperature. All herbs should be put in a nice sunny location for about 6-8 hours a day and water them daily to keep them stress-free. CUBAN OREGANO, while she’s never cooked with it, is one of her favorites to add a little sass to your container garden.

G&F_Herb Field Guide_BBQ Rosemary and Papalo

Rosemary may be the most utilitarian of the bunch. Not only can you chop onto veggies or salads, but the BARBEQUE ROSEMARY variety has very tall, stalky branches that can be used as a skewer on the grill, or to stir a gin cocktail. In fact, Sara suggests using just about anything to garnish a cocktail—from lemon verbena leaves to spearmint blossoms (or the entire stem!).

The Mexican variety of PAPALO, while Sara has never grown it or used it, is a taste that is inching its way into menus across the country. The cilantro-substitute has a bit more of a bite, but would be a perfect addition to a homemade salsa.

G&F_Herb Field Guide_Lavender

GREEN DENTATA LAVENDER and GOODWIN CREEK LAVENDER are both unique ornamental herbs great for garnish. While the leaves are beautiful to add to desserts and cocktails, when they flower, use the flowers, too! For instance, Sara pulls apart chive and garlic blossom petals to throw them into baby gem lettuce salads and even basil flowers can be added as a flavorful garnish to quick, summery pasta dishes.

G&F_Herb Field Guide_Thyme

Who knew we had so much thyme? COMMON THYME is a perennial making it low maintenance as it comes back year after year. Specialty thyme like LEMON THYME and the very similar DOONE VALLEY THYME make great cooking companions. Sara suggests pairing LAVENDER THYME on grilled peaches and pears with drizzled honey for a summer treat.

G&F_Herb Field Guide_Salad Burnet Lemon Verbena

LEMON VERBENA is Sara’s go-to cocktail and tea herb with gorgeous leaves and a powerful fragrance. One plant produces enough leaves for one person.  Make lemon verbena simple syrup for cocktails or steep with mint in hot water for tea.

And the sassy SALAD BURNET adds a light, refreshing, cucumber-like taste to any salad or other subtle dish.

G&F_Herb Field Guide_Mint Basil

Mint can often reak havoc in a small garden space. Sara says to plant all your mint in a separate container from other plants since it’s aggressive growth habit can easily choke out the rest of your herbs. The mint varieties are endless, but APPLE MINT and BANANA MINT are two funny favorites for Sara. Apple mint makes it’s way into her kitchen often, providing a softer mint flavor than the standard types.

Basil is no longer just for caprese salad! Sara suggests using LEMON BASIL in a salad. Her go-to? A simple summer cucumber salad tossed with lemon basil, lemon zest and olive oil. And if you’re looking to impress with some garnish, the RED RUBIN BASIL boasts beautiful purple leaves to add color to dishes. And while it might be the most common, GENOVESE BASIL is still the best for your bright, green pesto.

Still want more?