Chives: A patch of chives delights all of the senses. The sight, smell, touch, and taste of chives—even the sound of the hollow stems popping open when snapped in half—all are full of intense energy. Soft spines return vividly early in spring. Soon after, delicate buds form, their pale hoods veiling the soon-to-be orbs of dense purple spikes that burst open like supernovas. Edible, ornamental, and perennial, these hardy culinary clusters are an easy and essential part of every kitchen garden.
The smallest of all the Alliums, chives are considered by some to be the only species of Allium native to both the Old World and the New. The sulfur smell of the plant is said to repel garden insect pests while the flowers attract beneficial pollinators. This clumping onion survives winter in the Northeast and often blooms in early May. The green shoots are the first to come up in the spring, and can be used in warm winter tonic to ward off cool days. Be sure to let your chives flower though; they are a wonderful, oniony edible flower.
Cilantro: For years, cilantro was known as "Chinese Parsley." As Mexican and Indian food became more popular, Americans discovered that cilantro's refreshing flavor was loved by cultures worldwide. Its tender, sweet taste elevates the flavor of nearly any dish, though some people are genetically cursed to find cilantro's flavor soapy and intolerable. If you're among them, you can still enjoy these seeds–known as coriander–by grinding them up and using them as a spice.
Cilantro is wonderful to have on hand: chop some up and toss in vegetable soups, or in curries, or on stir fries. It is best used just before serving, sprinkled on the dish at the table. Note that cilantro must be sown in succession in order to have an extended harvest. By nature, cilantro provides a brief harvest window of only a few weeks before bolting. Keep on sowing to keep on harvesting.
Genovese Basil: Hundreds of years ago, Genovese villagers selected this basil for making pesto. It features large, thick, deep green leaves on sturdy plants. Yes, you can make pesto with a food processor. But why not spend a half hour on some breezy, summery day making it the old-fashioned way—with a mortar and pestle? (Ah, now you know where that word comes from!) No time for pesto tonight? Not to worry: this variety is also the ideal basil for stews, soups, and sautes. Buon appetito!
Gigante d'Italia Parsley: The most popular herb in the Western world, parsley has a bright, unmistakable tang that unites and amplifies the flavors of any dish. Of Mediterranean origin, it is now grown nearly everywhere. In temperate climates it is biennial; with the protection of a cold frame or snow cover, it comes back each spring and can be harvested for about a month before it goes to seed. This large-leaved, heavy-yielding variety is wonderful in gremolata: chop finely, then mix with lemon zest, garlic, and olive oil; salt to taste.
This variety produces big, flat, leaves on robust plants–a true giant!