John Coykendall of Blackberry Farm gives us his top picks—and shares the most common herb-gardening mistake. 

By Bridget Hallinan
June 12, 2019
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In March, we celebrated 31 makers in the food and beverage industry who have mastered their craft, including Rita Sodi and Jody Williams, the James Beard Award-winning team behind beloved New York restaurant Via Carota, and Spike Gjerde, who champions local food economies. Among the honorees is John Coykendall, resident Master Gardener at Blackberry Farm, a luxurious hotel tucked in the mountains of Tennessee. For 20 years, he’s been working the gardens—which power Blackberry’s legendary culinary program—and tracking down heirloom seeds, documenting their history and how they can be used to cook. After a trip to Blackberry earlier this month, we connected with Coykendall again—this time, to talk growing herbs.

Herbs are best kept in pots, containers, or raised beds, he says—the most common mistake people make is overwatering them, and growing them in areas with poor drainage. However, if you plant them correctly and make sure they’re not over-saturated, you’re well on your way to cultivating an herb garden. We asked Coykendall for five herbs he thinks everyone should grow at home—and among staples like basil, some of his answers might surprise you. Check out all of his recommendations below:

1. Basil

As Coykendall rightly points out, basil’s fresh taste is wonderful with tomatoes, served with slices in a summer salad or added to a sauce for depth of flavor. If you’re looking to mix it up a little, basil also works well in cocktails, punches up Meyer lemon risotto, and complements fiery red chiles in this Thai chicken dish.

2. Sage

Sage is fragrant and woodsy, especially well-suited for comforting fall dishes. Butternut squash and sage are a staple pairing, which is why we combined them in this butternut squash and sage pierogi; it’s heavenly paired with grilled fontina and mushroom sandwiches.

3. Thyme

Thyme is a more subtle herb, which, like basil, can work just as well in a cocktail as it does in a soup or mashed potatoes. Make lemon-thyme butter to slather on roast chicken, or combine it with tea vodka, fresh lemon juice, honey, and ice for a refreshing drink.

4. Cilantro

Bright and fresh cilantro is always great to have on hand—for a more unconventional pairing, we love it with mussels, crème fraîche, and jalapeños, which is a step up from your traditional mussels-in-white-wine recipe. You can also add the herb to pesto for a kick, or go all out with meat-stuffed poblanos with cilantro-lime sauce.

5. Dill

Dill is a seriously underrated herb, if you ask us—the pickle-esque flavor is a tried-and-true pairing with salmon, whether you like it smoked on potato pancakes with caviar and cream, or grilled with orzo salad. It brightens up salads, too.

At-Home Gardening Kits

If you're new to gardening, these are a great place to start. We've rounded up three indoor herb kits, which are especially helpful if you don't have a backyard:

1. Indoor Herb Garden Starter Kit
This set includes basil, cilantro, parsley, and chives, $25 at amazon.com.

2. Windowsill Herb Garden Kit
It doesn't get much more low-maintenance than a windowsill garden, and this one includes 10 herbs, $30 at amazon.com.

3. Thoughtfully Gifts Mason Jar Garden
Grow basil, sage, and rosemary in these color-coded, labeled mason jars, $30 at amazon.com.

Bonus: Grab a pair of these scissors, which have five blades designed to cut herbs, $14 at amazon.com.

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