Whether grown in large plots in your back garden, or in pots that balance on your windowsill, there is no space too small, no kitchen too cramped, for herbs to be grown, and it’s a beautiful thing. We spoke with Dr Rosemary Stanton this week who insisted that food is much better with herbs, and it is much less expensive to include them if you grow them in your garden. Dr Stanton insisted that it is one of the traditional aspects of eating that has been lost on younger generations in the rush for more processed food.
“If you go and buy some herbs, they’re really expensive to get a bunch of basil or mint or something. You can have it growing in pots, even if you haven’t got a garden.”
Stanton laments the changing appreciation for fresh vegetables.
“We’ve lost the simplicity of foods, and we have lost the idea that if your kids are hungry they go out to the garden to get some food.”
She enthused that we should seek to eliminate the cost and hassle of buying herbs in supermarkets, and harvest not just a crop of leaves and sprigs but an affiliation with nature.
And if gardening is a ritual or you’re venturing into edible produce for the first time, there are some herbs no gardener (or foodie) should be without.
Basil (Ocimum spp)
Most edible gardens have basil, and it grows well from seed or seedlings. Traditionally it has rich green leaves and a sweet aroma that sets gardens abuzz and lifts almost any cuisine. But with so many varieties available you’ll never grow tired of this herb and you can use it with chicken, beef, tomatoes and as a topping on pizza. You can dry it or freeze it.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Also one of the most common and regularly grown herbs, thyme grows really well in pots. But if you have the space and want to let it go ‘wild’ pop it in a garden bed and watch it spread. It likes a good amount of sun and not too much water (so good drainage is a must). Like basil it can be grown from seed or seedling, but not all thyme species are edible, so be sure to check before planting.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
If you’ve got a spot that receives good sunlight and drains well try planting oregano. The leaves can be harvested just as the buds are forming. Plants grow best from seedlings. It’s a terrific flavour with Mediterranean and Mexican cuisines.
Mint (Mentha spp)
There’s a lot to be said for a pot of fresh mint as you can use it in everything from salads, desserts, drinks and dressings. Like thyme, if planted out of a pot it can spread. Give it a regular shower of water. Try it with lamb, peas and yoghurt.
Common sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage can be an acquired taste, but it is also one of the must have plants in your kitchen garden. The soft, sweet savoury flavour of sage along with its noteworthy health benefits makes it not only a culinary herb, but a medicinal one too. Seedlings tend to produce best results, and you can dry the leaves and store them for longer use. Like thyme, not all Salvia species are edible, so check before you eat.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
If you live in a warmer climate, rosemary is a garden mainstay. Starts at 60 has written about the health benefits of rosemary in the past, but did you know it’s a rich source of iron, calcium and dietary fibre and is loaded with antioxidants? Those in colder climates can plant rosemary in a pot — it grows really well in a container — and easily have it flourish indoors. Small plants grow best. Use it with lamb, chicken, potatoes, in bread and with tomatoes.
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
If you have an abundance of patience and like growing things from seed, dill is one of the few herbs that does best this way. It’s an annual herb and best planted in summer. It likes good drainage and enough room to establish its roots. The feathery leaves resemble fennel but it has a very distinctive mild flavour. The aroma is subtle and can be mistaken for aniseed. It pairs really well with seafood, potatoes and eggs.