For the 50+ Traveler

Cooking for ourselves is one of our favorite ways to enjoy the tastes of travel when we’re at home. There’s a world of recipes from every culture, with many that are quite easy to make. Authentic ingredients can be purchased online. But one of the best ways to enhance the flavor of a global dish is by using the appropriate fresh herbs. And while you may be able to get some in your local grocery stores, the fun and flexibility of growing internationally relevant herbs is something you might want to try.

During our international travels, we have discovered new herbs and flavors we didn’t know before. We’ve also delighted in revisiting the tastes of travel we know and love. Whenever we return home, we inevitably go through “travel withdrawal.” To extend the experience, we often cook dishes inspired by the flavors we enjoyed on our trip.

Whether you live in a small apartment or have a large house and yard, growing your own internationally inspired herb garden is a fun way to complement your travels. Depending on your tastes and how much you cook, you can create one or more gardens with clusters of herbs that often work together to spice a cuisine. Some of the herbs are used in many different cultures, making it easy to do “crossover” international herb gardens as well.

Some herbs, like mint, chives, and coriander, tend to like a lot of water. Others, like rosemary, sage, oregano, and thyme, like their soil to be well drained. Mint also loves to grow like crazy, so when planning your garden, take a little time to decide which plants can be closer together and which ones should have some space of their own.

Here are a few of our herb garden suggestions, along with some links to recipes that you can follow to make good use of them.

Santorini Tomato Keftedes using Greek herbs.
Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

1. Greek Garden

Fresh herbs are an important part of cooking in Greece. The most common fresh herbs you will find in Greek cooking are oregano, thyme, dill, and mint. While you can certainly add other herbs to your Greek garden, these are the ones you will use all the time. Dill is used in dips and with fish. Oregano and thyme are abundantly used in soups, poultry dishes, and meat. And mint will show up in salads, vegetable dishes, and beans. Of course, many dishes use more than one of these herbs, so a good Greek garden will get plenty of use.

Favorite Recipe: These Santorini Tomato Keftedes are a delicious way to use fresh Greek herbs including oregano and thyme.

2. Italian Garden

Italian food is so universal, we sometimes forget that it has a strong cultural heritage. Flavors like basil, oregano, parsley, and rosemary instantly transport us to the old country. They are essentials in every Italian kitchen and form the basis of just about every Italian dish you might want to make. One of the ways to make pasta taste vibrant is to use fresh herbs from your garden to bring it to life. Italians know that food is love, so share your love with your Italian herb garden.

Favorite Recipe: Bruschetta highlights fresh flavors from the garden, and your fresh Italian basil will make it irresistible.

3. Thai Garden

Herbs give Thai cuisine its subtle and distinctive flavors. Dishes range from mild and sweet to spicy and hot. Vegetables and noodles are often used to soak up the sauces, which have so much flavor. Lemongrass, Thai basil, chives, and cilantro are among the fresh herbs that can be found in so many delicate and delicious Thai recipes. The flavors are often layered so that each herb can be tasted as distinct from the others. But together, they create an irresistible delight that you’ll want to recreate in your kitchen. Having these fresh herbs on hand will help.

Favorite Recipe: This Thai Lemongrass and Chili Soup known as Tom Yum is a classic Thai dish. It uses the subtle flavor of lemongrass to great advantage. Other Thai herbs like cilantro or Thai basil are often used to garnish the top to make a beautiful and subtle dish.

Prime rib taco with cilantro, made with Mexican herbs.
Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

4. Mexican Garden

Whenever we think of Mexican flavors, a few herbs always come to mind. Cilantro, oregano, thyme, and parsley populate almost every Mexican recipe we know. The taste of Mexican cuisine offers a variety of fresh flavors. Citrus can also play a part in punctuating the flavor of fresh herbs. We love the way Mexican herbs immediately transport us and offer the taste of a culture we love.

Favorite Recipe: This Mexican Skillet Corn With Chicken And Cilantro allows the flavor of the fresh herb to shine. It’s a rich and delicious dish that’s simultaneously light enough to eat anytime.

5. German Garden

We have an affinity for German food. Maybe it's because it’s so underrated. People do not think of German food as the exciting global cuisine that it is. Part of the reason may be that they don’t eat classic German dishes prepared with fresh herbs like parsley, marjoram, dill, and chives. But we won’t let you miss out on this treat. If you plant these herbs in your German garden, we’re sure you’ll be singing the praises of German cuisine, too.

Favorite Recipe: This German Cucumber Salad highlights fresh dill with a sweet and tangy dressing that makes it hard to stop eating. Anyone who thinks German food is heavy just needs to try this salad to understand that it’s not.

6. Portuguese Garden

We fell in love with Portugal from the moment we arrived. The people are so friendly, the landscape is gorgeous, and the food -- oh the food! Because the country has so much coastline, there is Portugese seafood galore. But the country is blessed with inland areas, too, so farm-to-table produce and dishes for meat eaters are also plentiful. We’d call it an embarrassment of riches, but it’s not embarrassing at all. Seasoning these wonderful recipes with fresh parsley, cilantro, mint, marjoram, and oregano will bring Portuguese flavors to your kitchen, too.

Favorite Recipe: Fresh parsley adds a light herbiness to this rich Portuguese Stew. Sausage, seafood, and vegetables meld together in this hearty meal that brings all of Portugal’s wonders together.

7. French Garden

French cooks love fresh herbs so much they even have a name for the four they use most: Parsley, chives, chervil, and tarragon make fines herbes, a classic French herb seasoning mix that is known to all French kitchens. The dishes of France are known for their wonderful savory flavors. That in no small part is because of the passion for cooking that honors fresh herbs. Add these to your French garden and voila!

Favorite Recipe: French cooking can be easier than it looks when you have a great teacher. Jacques Pepin is the master of technique and his Fines Herbes Omelet is a classic for all time.

8. Indian Garden

There’s no question that Indian food has a lot of flavors that come from spice. But what makes it one of the world’s greatest cuisines is that it often integrates the tastes of fresh herbs, too. Lemongrass, curry leaves, dill, cilantro, and mint are some of the herbs that you’ll notice in your favorite Indian dishes. They add color and flavor, depth and variety to the many Indian dishes everyone loves.

Favorite Recipe: This Chicken With Cilantro-Mint Sauce puts the spices as well as the fresh herbs on display. The recipe’s author is wild about cilantro. After tasting this dish, we think you will be, too.

Chicken with chimichurri sauce, made with Argentine herbs.

9. Argentine Garden

Argentina is blessed with an abundance of fresh fruit and produce. No wonder the flavors in its cuisine are so pleasing to the palate. The colorful platters that adorn churrascarias and home dining rooms alike boast the rich accents of an array of fresh herbs. Oregano, rosemary, cilantro, and parsley all have roles to play. If you’ve got these in your Argentine garden, you’ll be able to enjoy them in your home, too.

Favorite Recipe: Chimichurri sauce is like the pesto of Argentina. Tangy and spicy and herby and delicious, this Traditional Chimichurri recipe goes perfectly on steak, fish, chicken, or whatever else you like.

A World Of Flavors In Your Garden

These are just a few examples of how you can grow herbs of the world in your own international herb garden. With a little bit of planning and some tender loving care, your herb garden will provide you with delicious flavors to savor when you’re at home.

Pro Tip: Masterclass has a good primer on growing culinary herbs at home.

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