This is really about herbs, not spices, but most people do mix the two together. The least expensive way to get inexpensive herbs is to grow your own. You need a sunny window or spot outside and decent soil, although most herbs are not too picky.
I recommend purchasing plants, rather than seeds, for most people as you want the most bang for your buck and many growing seasons are not long. A $2.50 rosemary or thyme plant can yield lots and lots of leaves. Most common herbs can be found at garden centers and home improvement stores. With very little effort, you'll most likely find yourself giving herbs away to family and friends instead of buying them at the store.
I suggest rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, parsley and chives as easy starters. Depending on your cooking needs, you might also try dill, sage and mint. (Beware of mint in the garden, however. It's a little invasive. Great ground cover, but many prefer it to be "corralled" in a pot.)
A bay tree is a good investment, and can be kept in a pot for years if brought in during the winter. The initial investment is a bit higher, but remember, a bottle of bay leaves can cost several dollars, and the leaves are often small and broken. Here in the Gulf Coast, a bay tree or bush can stay outside year-round, if it's in a protected spot away from North winds.
If you put your herbs in pots, you can bring them in during the colder months and have them fresh year-around. Snip off what you need as they grow, remembering to leave enough leaf on the plant to nourish the roots. I always leave at least 50% of the plant.
If you plant outside and the season is drawing to a close, or you prefer dried herbs, follow these easy steps.
Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut large stems or branches from plants. Gently shake each branch to remove insects. Rinse each branch in cold water and dry with towels or paper towels to remove all visible water. Turn branches upside down and tie five or six stems together in a small bunch.
Place the bunch upside down in a large brown paper bag. Gather the bag around the stems and tie. Tear or cut several holes in the bag for ventilation. Make sure there is plenty of room inside the bag so leaves do not touch the sides of the bag. Write the name and date on each bag.
Hang the bag in a warm, airy room and ignore them for about two weeks or longer. Then remove from the bag, strip the leaves from the stems and place the leaves in small jars you've saved from another use. Label the jars and store as you would store-bought herbs.
Even those that don't have a green thumb can grow a few herbs. You'll feel you've accomplished something, save some money, and be delighted by the delightful difference fresh herbs can make in cooking.
"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money please send it by mailto:MyStory@stretcher.com
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