Herbs That Are Yours for the Picking
Urban foragers, this one's for you. On the sidewalk between Subway and Starbucks, on New Hampshire Avenue NW, right near the intersection with U Street, is a wire-bound raised bed of herbs. The gates are unlocked, and you can reach in and pick. It's okay. Go ahead. You really can.
This rectangular piece of bounty has been brought to you by Local 16, a U Street restaurant. Aman Ayoubi, one of the owners, says the restaurant has been growing organic, biodynamic, heirloom produce at Whipple Farms in Culpeper, Va., and a year ago decided to create this little plot of organic herbs outside its back door. "We thought we’d share with the neighbors and see if they want to use the herbs for their own cooking," he said.
Ayoubi says he and chef Eric McKaney are tending the herbs. Even though I haven't seen any other neighbors helping themselves to any of the plants (and frankly endured some quizzical looks when I was rooting around in there this morning), Ayoubi says people are. He knows because in some cases they call and ask to make sure it's okay -- and because, unfortunately, in other cases they pull the herbs out by the roots, which is a no-no. "Maybe we should put some scissors out there, or just take down the sign and put up instructions asking people to call us and we'll help them," he said. "Maybe we should communicate better."
I asked gardening columnist Adrian Higgins for quick pointers on harvesting herbs, and he gave me a few rules of thumb. With herbaceous, soft plants such as mint, cilantro and basil, pinch the stems off with your finger, but take no more than half of a stem, and to encourage new growth, pinch off the stem just above a pair of leaves. For woody herbs such as rosemary or sage, use scissors, again not taking more than half of a stalk. That promotes a "bushy habit," as Higgins put it. "They want to be picked."
He also said that early morning is the best time to pick herbs, because they are more flavorful than later, when the heat from the sun dissipates the oils.
Today I went by to get some flat-leaf parsley, but that little stand is leggy and flowered, and when I tasted a leaf, it was bitter. But I had plenty else to choose from: chives, oregano, rosemary and a big patch of gorgeous Cuban mint (the big-leafed kind that's traditional in a real mojito). Ayoubi says there is fresh zaatar in there, but I didn't spot any, although I'm not sure I'd recognize it anyway. I went for the mint; after all, the days are getting warmer, and if not mojitos I'll make juleps or maybe this Low Country Lemonade for friends visiting this weekend.
The rules about picking might be slightly less important when it comes to the mint, as the wet spring has created a bumper crop. "If you do not contain the mint, the mint might expand to take over the whole area," Ayoubi says.
I'll try to do my part to help Ayoubi and McKaney keep it under control, and since I'm a mint freak, that's an easy charge. Others may be happier about other herbs: What would you want to see planted there?
-- Joe Yonan
Posted by: zaatarweeblycom | May 20, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Joe Yonan | May 20, 2009 10:37 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: lizlemon | May 21, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.