Growing Herbs: 5 Easy Plants for Low-salt Diets

D.R. McElroy

These herbs add much-needed flavor to low-salt recipes. · 5 min read

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Whether your doctor has ordered a low-salt diet for you, or you’re trying to offset the salt we all consume in preserved foods, these five herbs are a great place to start when seeking salt substitutes.

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  1. Thyme. Thyme is similar to oregano in that it is a low-growing plant with a woody stem. It is popular in poultry dishes and in recipes that call for citrus ingredients. The herb has a heady fragrance but is mild-tasting, with several different varieties offering different flavors: lemon, caraway, orange balsam, and lime. Thyme can also be used to make a flavorful tea. The plant likes full sun and well-drained soil and is semi-evergreen. A perennial, it should nevertheless be replaced every three or four years for best flavor. Avoid fertilizing most herbs as feeding them encourages rapid, spindly growth with less flavor. Harvest by cutting back the stems several inches and removing the tiny leaves for use in recipes. If desired, the plants can be used as a ground cover, able to withstand mowing and moderate foot traffic. Tiny pink flowers are a pretty bonus.
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2. Chives. Chives are common garden herbs with lovely purple flowers. The tubular leaves have a mild onion or garlic flavor, and are often chopped fresh into salads, egg dishes, and mashed potatoes. The leaves spring from small bulbules (like miniature onions) which are also edible. Chives are extremely easy to grow. You can sow the tiny seeds in warm soil, but the simplest way to grow chives is to get some plants from someone else who’s growing them. They transplant easily and spread generously, so gardeners are usually happy to share. To harvest, cut a handful of leaves when they reach six inches in height, leaving others to maintain the plant’s growth. They will regrow and you can keep harvesting all summer long.

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3. Garlic. Arguably the most popular herb for cooking, garlic is related to onions and chives. Growing requirements are the same: moist soil, sun, and warmth. Wait until late spring or early summer to plant fresh cloves; you can also buy plants at the nursery. Feed lightly after planting and keep the soil moist but not soggy. (Avoid buying cloves from the grocery store to plant because they’ve been dried to keep them from molding on store shelves.) Harvest when the plant leaves wilt and use care when digging up the bulbs to keep from bruising them. Allow bulbs to dry out, then store in a cool dry place. Garlic is delicious in a wide variety of entrees, sauces, stir-frys, baked and roasted dishes, and casseroles. Best garlic flavor results from long slow cooking at low temperatures; Asian dishes frequently use a lot of sliced garlic because the high heat favored for fried foods mutes the flavor.

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4. Coriander/Cilantro. You might know that the seeds of cilantro plants are known as coriander, and is very popular in Asian, South Asian, and South American dishes. While the fresh leaves have a distinct pungent taste that some people describe as “soapy”, the seeds have a sweet nutty flavor after they’ve been ground and roasted. There is also a lemony aftertaste. The plant is an annual and needs to be replanted each year. If conditions are right, it will reseed itself readily. Plant in a sunny spot while the weather is still cool in the spring. The plant prefers cooler temperatures and will “bolt” (go to seed) quickly in the heat. Harvest fresh cilantro in bunches until the plant flowers, then quit cutting it and let the flowers grow and set seed. Bees and butterflies love the flowers this plant produces. Once the seedheads have dried, cut them and put in paper bags to catch the loose seeds as they dry and fall from the seedheads. Once dried, the coriander seeds can be used fresh or roasted in recipes.

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5. Dill. Dill is a coveted herb that has far better flavor fresh than it does dried. Dill has a distinct tangy taste that positively sings in dairy products, including sour creme, butter, and mild cheeses. Dill is a classic in deviled eggs and as a garnish with hollandaise sauce — and of course pickles! Plant dill from seed sown directly in the garden in late spring. Choose a sunny spot and let the soil dry out a little bit between waterings (not too dry or the plant will turn yellow.) Sow seeds every week or so all summer long to keep the harvest coming. You can harvest fresh dill once the plants reach eight inches tall, but don’t trim more than half of the leaves at a time. Once the yellow flowers appear, let them bloom and set seed for two to three weeks, then cut the seedheads and put in paper bags to dry. The seeds will fall from the seedheads inside the bags when they are dry and ready to use. Use dill seed in home-canned foods such as pickled vegetables and eggs. Seeds are also good in salads and stews. Dill flowers are beloved by butterflies.

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D.R. McElroy is a published author, writer, and copy editor with 15 years professional experience. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and a Masters in Environmental Resources. A conservationist, naturalist, and environmental advocate, she spends her time writing nonfiction articles on a variety of topics, as well as writing books on contract for publishers. D.R. wants to build a community of people who love nature and wildlife as much as she does, and who want to help protect our resources for public use.

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