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Growing An Herb & Vegetable Garden At My Parents’ House & Giveaway

I was supposed to be in Mexico with my parents in mid August. I even booked a flight directly to NY to attend Blogher and then made my way down to DC so that I could fly out with them just a few days later.

I don’t get so lucky all the time, and I couldn’t go last minute, meaning I was kind of “stuck” at their house for 2 weeks. Not a shabby thing considering it turned into an unexpected staycation. Much of what I do when I go to the DC area involves food and staying in all day. In a typical Cuban home, the front door is usually always “open” with no real policy on knocking and announcing yourself.

It’s just the way it is.

That just means it makes it very difficult to get work done.  Lots of cooking, but no business is effectively accomplished (well, except for my weekly columns). And, being the serious home-body that I am, I soak in enormous amounts of joy while I’m there, vegging out and working in my PJ’s all day out of  the dining room–my make shift office.

During the week my parents and sis were gallivanting and enjoying all the things I indulged in just last year (a delicious 4-part series post on that trip coming up starting this weekend), I took the opportunity to hang in their landscaped backyard and detail all the lovely things they’ve planted and growing.

One of the great things I love standing over is the fish pond my father so diligently built some 9 years ago. I had to feed the fish every day and water the plants. During that daily doing, I noticed a blossoming plant of what seemed to be oregano. I sniffed it, and sure enough it was. I swear to you it was the most beautiful, robust and thick-veined oregano I’d ever seen. My late grandmother in Cuba grew oregano in her front yard and used it every day most of the food cooked. That’s really when I acquired a great interest in growing herbs. The taste it gave her beans, especially black beans were just out of control and unparalleled to any other.

My mother, having been taught and trained by mi abuelita, has done the same thing. She uses fresh herbs and spices in her cooking as much as she can. But,  those key ingredients in Cuban cuisine have never come from their own soil. That started changing two Springs ago during a trip to NYC when I  stopped at the Tucker Square/Lincoln Center market. I bought some amazing chocolate mint and later planted in the backyard. I also bought some rosemary, but it didn’t last.  For some crazy reason, neither did the choco mint; something that still baffles my mind and I’ve not been able to find again since.

And then this year, it’s like a wind of seeds made their way to our backyard and started taking root!

Some crazy squash, still an uknown variety to all of us, has started spreading like wild fire. We think it came from the neighbor’s that live behind us. Wherever the hell it came from, it has fully bloomed and has coiled itself on everything it comes in contact with.

In addition to that, a small tomato plant that has started growing–one they didn’t plant and we have no idea where it came from. But, since we eat tomatoes with just about everything, my parents are content and are nurturing it.

Let’s get to this oregano. My father works downtown D.C. and often walks to the different Smithsonian museums. Though not among the system of museums, his fave to visit are Botanical Gardens. There, they grow plants, herbs and flowers from all around the world. They pride themselves on offering an aesthetically beautiful garden replete with colors, fragrances and variety.

Papi quickly befriended a grounds keeper there who generously offered some clippings from the oregano and rosemary. One clipping has turned into this amazing plant we know use when make our beans-yielding the most aromatic and flavorful you’ll ever have.

I did some research into the species and found out we call it “oregano de la tierra.” It’s so beautiful, I decided to share it on Twitter. One Latina follower said they call it “oregano brujo,” or witches oregano, in Puerto Rico. Not sure what kind of spirits would jump out of their food! Ha.

Either way, the leaves which have a yellower tint than the every day basil we know, are the most distinct I’ve ever seen and tasted. You know I’ve now taken a clipping and planted it on my porch in Atlanta.

The rosemary they have is also a nice variety. Nothing special about it other than it comes from the fed’s garden! And, time to plant into the soil. Once that’s done, I’ll be taking a sprig of that, too.

I particularly like using rosemary in red skin mashed potatoes, some beef roasts like I made here and  adding some tips to a summer fruit salad I’ve made for clients.

A Cuban home is not an authentic Cuban home without fresh hierba buena, or spearmint. I was so excited to see my parents have both regular and pineapple mint. MOJITO MAVEN my friends! What else do you think we’re doing with his fabulous stuff!?!

The pineapple mint doesn’t have such an extraordinary aroma, but if you’re using it to make a drink, it can definitely be augmented with some of the freshly squeezed  lemon and lime. It’s pretty for sure and great for garnish on many things. Another client in Atlanta grows pineapple mint which I’ve used to make mojitos at a garden-to-table cocktail party for which I cooked. Not only did her guests walk out of there moderately  inebriated, but wanting to snatch some on the way home.

So, after a lovely afternoon in their backyard taking pictures with a perfectly situated sun, I brought some herbs inside and went to work! Unfortunately, I got so carried away,  I didn’t capture any of the food I made. But, I can tell you that everything is always, always better when made with fresh herbs and spices! Especially when planted in your own backyard!

I’m actually back in D.C. now and looking forward to cooking tons more, especially with the oregano. I also think I’m going to mosey my way down to the Botanical Garden during this 4 week visit and hopefully  sneak off with a snip or two of something!

Let’s see what I come home with!


For those of you super interested, leave a comment on this post telling me what your best herb to cook with and Tweet this post including my handle @brenherrera for an extra entry. In your comment, tell me which herb from our garden you like best and I’ll send the 20th commenter a snippet of 4 herbs (both mints, rosemary and oregano)!  And then you too, will have some federali plants!

You have until Oct. 6th to comment. I’ll look for the 20th comment on the 7th and mail out on the 18th!

Go and share! 🙂

Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.

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87 thoughts on “Growing An Herb & Vegetable Garden At My Parents’ House & Giveaway

  1. bueno todo lo que has dicho sobre las hiervas son cierto cocinar con hiervas naturales sin nada de quimicos es fabuloso ese olor que tiene el oregano que es mi favorito es super gracias po compartir con nosotros tus experiencias gracia carmen

  2. Bren, These are the most beautiful herbs I have ever seen! They are all so perfect or is that just your wonderful photo eye? My favorite herb to cook with is oregano.

  3. Carmen: gracias! me alegro que vengas y veas cosas bonitas y practicas de la cocina!

    Canika: you and me both! Love me some oregano and this one here is so incredibly amazing!

    Rosa: I can only imagine growing a garden in your part of the world!

    Missy Foo: Well, that’s a simple fix: tell them!!! 🙂

  4. I would so love to be “stuck” at your mama’s house for 2 weeks. Can you imagine? These pics are stunning! I want to pick the screen and make an Herb salad. 🙂

  5. Bren, incredible pictures and I can only imagine the aroma and flavor of these hearty herbs. Your statement about the squash made me laugh, as the previous owners of our home must have planted mint (not sure what variety) without realizing it spreads like wildfire and threatens to kill everything that is planted with or near it. I’m constantly “weeding” our mulch beds for mint. Of course, it does come in handy for a mojito!

    Me encanta esto. Gracias chica!

  6. Oh good thing your herbs are doing really great! Your oreganos are so…so..Well, I can’t say anything. i envy you. Well, I went to the Philippines and they really have these oreganos planted in their backyard and they use it as treatment for couch and high fever. Well, it really does have that medical content and I have tried it in my month stay in the Philippines.

  7. Bren! I read this post last week and dreamt about the pineapple mint last night! lol The herb garden looks professionally landscaped – me encanta 🙂

  8. This is a smart idea. Very cost effective plus there’s nothing better than getting herbs fresh from the garden. 🙂

  9. Cool… I’m growing herbs too… basil, chives, cilantro.
    Tryin’ to get the cilantro right. It’s hard to grow.

  10. Chris: def. not a bad thing being stuck at mom and dad’s house, enjoying all the fabulous things they have here! I can’t get over how fabulous the oregano is!

    Danita: Thanks woman! Wow, I’m glad you came by and enjoyed the pics and what they’re doing back here. And wait a second girl. All that mint?? You take it, store it and host a huge mojito party! My mom taught me how to make an incredible one! I swear it’s one of my best drinks to enjoy! Gracias por el Español! Luv ya!

    Rose Forever: yes they are, though we’ve had to bring the oregano inside. And then it’ll be time to plant it. Time to plant the rosemary, too. It’s all kind of just starting to grow, but we have enough to really work with and make great food with. Had no idea it was good for fever. Thanks for that tip!

    Janet: Yes, yes, yes. I looove it with salmon and mashed potatoes. I also use it to make a brown wine sauce with mushroom. Hmm. I just may have to post that.

    Yenni: Yes! I dream about the oregano, no lie!!! hahaha.

    Curvy Queen: Girl, always. Get with it hun!

    Rohan: Cost effective for sure. And, if you can get it from a trusted source, a snippet is a great choice!

    Bridget: ooh now you’re growing cilantro! I need to grow some basil at home again. What happened to your tomatoes???

  11. I like that you love cooking with fresh herbs. Good job on growing them also. Those pics look great.

  12. Bren, being a city girl I yearn for an herb garden but with the cruddy lighting situation on my balcony it’s difficult to get a good little garden growing. I love going to my mom’s to steal her herbs! And I’m not sure I’ve had pineapple mint before so I’m going to see if I can get some before the summer is over.

  13. Lovely pics!!!! I wonder if it was ME who told u about orégano brujo. Because I recall telling that to someone once… maybe it was YOU.

  14. Bren, there’s so much about this post to relate to… here goes: My herb garden is in pots placed in front of the brownstone building where we rent an apartment. I didn’t do an herb garden this year because of so much going on personally. However, the lemon balm, mint, lavender, and sage came back without me tending to them. What surprised me is the lemon balm. It’s growing in any crack in the cement, including in one of the pots I didn’t use this year. If you’re still looking for chocolate mint, visit the Union Square farmer’s market in early Spring to find it, for it has every herb mentioned in your post. Also, I love using fresh oregano in my
    Mediterranean and Latin American-Inspired dishes! Finally, visiting my parents is like a free organic farmer’s market. The last time I went home, I returned to NY with a plenty of tomatoes, green peppers, and cucumbers. I wished my parent’s house was around the corner from my apartment. Then again, it was being away from Dad’s cooking that inspired me to learn cook.

  15. I had the funniest, although slightly alarming vision of you clad in black plus fedora, at the Botanical Gardens, distracting the guards with your stilettos whilst clipping away at the herbs! If it is true that you are an enchantress in the kitchen and the garden, I beg of you, don’t send me herbs, but an intoxicating, crush-inducing potion! San Antonio needs Bren’s help.

  16. Hola B, My name is Rebecca and I just loved your website. I have been cooking with fresh herbs for years as did my mom, and dad. My great aunts taught me the art of cooking Puerto Rican food. One of our favorite meals is Arroz con Gandules,Tostones, Ensalada con aquacate!! Yum! I would love some oregano brujo!(always asked my mom why they called it that! LOL). I would even pay for a clipping. My mom grew it in her garden. I haven;t had any in years but, grow oregano, menta, and many more vegetables and herbs for cooking and teas! Thank you for having such a wonderful website!

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