I think most people start their journey down the edible gardening path with a simple herb garden, whether in the ground or in pots. It makes a lot of sense to start with herbs, they’re relatively easy to grow, are widely used in the kitchen, don’t require a lot of space and save you a bundle on store bought, limp and sad-looking ‘fresh’ herbs, most of which will be beyond saving before you have a chance to use it. I’ve tried several methods of extending the ‘fridge’ life of bought herbs none with much success, now if I do get any (often in my vegie boxes) I use them quickly and freeze any left overs to add to casseroles and stir fries. But I digress, this post is about my top five home grown herbs.
It’s just a pity we can’t have basil in the garden all year around. Basil gives any dish a real lift, whether it is the star ingredient or in making everything else taste even better and more complex. Used as pesto it can provide a meal in itself, or added to a tomato sauce, margarita pizza and a simple summer salad, basil is surely the taste of summer almost as much as tomato is. Frustratingly basil is not the easiest of herbs to grow. Some years I have mountains of it, and even have it self-sowing in the pebbles along my garden paths, other years I have to specifically plant my own seeds (sometimes several times before I have success) and the plants that do emerge can take their time to really bush up. Having said that, it is more than worth the effort and fresh basil runs rings around the pathetic, droopy specimens you find in the green grocers or supermarkets.
For me this is the easiest of all herbs to grow. The little seedlings pop up all over the garden once a plant goes to seed and I encourage this by shaking any dried seed heads around in the empty spaces in the herb bed. I add parsley to almost every dish, I love its fresh, palate-cleansing flavour which cuts through the richness of winter stews and casseroles. I tend to grow the curly variety, though most foodies would dismiss this as the lesser cousin of the flat leaf or Italian type. To be honest I can’t really tell the difference and the curly variety is more successful in my garden.
A great one for crossing the East West divide in the kitchen, mint can be used in simple dishes like potato salad, minted peas and in condiments for lamb, alternatively mint is wonderful in Asian stir fries and soups. Another great use for mint is in drinks, giving them a summery freshness. In the garden mint is uncomplicated in its needs, just give it plenty of water and repot regularly when the plant outgrows its current home. With this small amount of attention the min plant will provide a generous and endless supply of sweet smelling leaves.
4. Thyme/Lemon Thyme
A great warming herb that comes into its own in the cooler weather when slow cooked, unctuous meals are the order of the day. Perfect for adding to a bouquet garni in stocks, or to flavour a rich risotto or casserole. The flavour of thyme is more subtle that some other herbs and infuses more gently into any dish. Thyme is a forgiving plant to grow, but is not as hardy as something like rosemary so ensure that it gets a drink every now and again in dry whether.
Perhaps equal with parsley, rosemary has to one of the easiest things to grow, it’s a perennial (like mint and thyme) so once you have it in your garden it’s there for good (well, unless you manage to kill it I guess). It is also supposed to be easy to strike (I haven’t tried, though I’m pretty sure my plant was originally struck by mum) and makes a pretty, fragrant hedging plants. Rosemary is a good plant to add to any type of garden (edible or not). In terms of its use in the kitchen, again it’s in winter that rosemary makes more of a regular appearance in my cooking. The flavour is much more obvious than thyme, but being a woody herb it can take long cooking times rather than added at the end like parsley. Rosemary is perfect for roasted meats, crispy potatoes or strong flavoured vegetables like mushrooms.
There are several herbs that just missed out in my top five. I also grow sage, but use it less frequently and bay leaves (not actually a herb but used in the same way). Coriander would definitely make my top five if I could actually get it to grow in my garden. My herb garden is certainly a little bare at the moment, so I’m looking for additions. What would you recommend?
I’m sure Liz has another great list up her sleeve, pop over and have a look.