This time of year, as the sun shines and school routine becomes a mere memory, families hunt for chances to maximize outdoor fun—but parents also need to keep kids sharp and engaged. Planting an herb garden together is a great way to accomplish both goals. Kids and parents can revel in the weather while absorbing low-key learning about horticulture and the foods of global cultures. As a bonus, this is one project that pays off in the kitchen just about daily.
Worried you’re not a gardener? Fear not. Nothing is easier to grow than herbs. (Except maybe weeds.) Kids are practically guaranteed to feel like they’ve got green thumbs. Nor do herbs necessarily need a ton of space, or elaborate maintenance. Just find a sunny, well-drained spot in the yard, give the plants some regular water, and reap the benefits of bold and varied flavors. It’s really that simple. You can also carry out more fun-sized experiments in pots on patios, even windowsills.
[Looking for other educational (and delicious) summer projects? Check these out!]
Growing herbs also lets you venture far outside the usual grocery-store staples and create a garden that takes inspiration from all corners of the globe. Think Japanese shiso, or Vietnamese rau ram. Even familiar herbs come in a range of varieties specific to different countries. For example, there’s bold Greek oregano, milder Italian oregano, and slightly citrusy Mexican oregano. For tips on planting and varieties to try, keep reading!
Your herb patch can become a laboratory for fun experiments and taste tests. Plant several varieties of basil or mint, and encourage your kids to try describing the notes they taste and smell. Does chocolate mint really taste like chocolate? How does lemon basil smell different from Thai basil?
Since most kids might find raw herbs a bit too pungent on their own, try mixing them with cream cheese. Its neutral flavor is the perfect vehicle, plus it’s familiar. When they find an herb spread they really like, use it to make tea sandwiches with thinly sliced ham or cucumbers.
And don’t be afraid to let your new herb garden guide your family to more worldly recipes. Use that rau ram in Vietnamese phở or salad rolls. Add your Mexican oregano to pozole or carnitas. Or simply use the herbs to add new dimension to familiar favorites like salads and soups.
So instead of reaching for that plastic clamshell at the grocery store, reach for a shovel and grow a world of flavors with your kids.