Culinary and medicinal herb gardening in Tenerife

Cilantro

Balcony grown coriander
Balcony grown coriander | Source

Fresh herbs are best

Fresh herbs are usually the best for cooking with and adding to our meals and here on Tenerife the warm climate really brings out the flavour and aroma in the ones we grow ourselves. Most of the plants that are grown in herb gardens in the UK and elsewhere in the world will do fine here and many will even do better. Herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme really taste and smell so much better when grown in a subtropical climate where they can benefit from the sunshine.

Cilantro leaves

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Coriander or Cilantro

If you don’t have a proper garden but only a balcony or terrace it is still possible to grow herbs in pots and other containers. Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) or Cilantro as many call it today is perfect for this. I find the seeds will germinate if simply scattered on wet compost and soon produce plenty of the aromatic and spicy foliage which is so good as an ingredient of curries and many other dishes. The plants will grow quickly too and will produce seeds so you can plant them for another crop. You really can’t beat fresh home-grown Coriander for flavour!

Growing Cilantro from seed

Culinary and medicinal uses of Cilantro

In the kichen:

Coriander or Cilantro leaves are good in salads and as a garnish. Leaves and seeds can be added to curries, pickle and chutneys, as well as ingredients in Middle Eastern, Indian and South American cuisine.

The seeds are used as flavourings for sweet dishes, bread and cakes.In herbal medicine:

The leaves and seeds of Coriander are good for the digestion and stimulate the appetite. In Indian traditional medicine decoctions made from the seeds were thought to be a Smallpox preventive. The essential oil of the herb is antibacterial and antifungal and is used by the pharmaceutical industry. Coriander is believed to lower cholesterol levels.

Rosemary

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Scarborough Fair

The herbs of that old hit song Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, are all easily grown here too and the subtropical climate really helps to bring out the best flavours and aromas from these popular garden herbs.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) will form an evergreen and fragrant bush over a metre in height and can be grown from cuttings. It provides a classic flavouring for many meat dishes and an infusion of Rosemary leaves makes a good hair rinse. The dried herb can be added to pot-pourri. You can often see Rosemary growing in gardens around the island.

Sage

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Sage

Sage (Salvia officinalis), like Rosemary can be propagated by cuttings and forms a small bush. There are many varieties of this popular herb and the leaves are used to add flavour to a wide variety of cooked dishes as well as being an important ingredient of stuffing.

Tenerife even has its own wild form of the plant. Canary Islands Sage (S.canariensis) can be found forming large clumps where it grows on waste-ground and in dry and rocky areas. It is an important herb in traditional herbal medicine of the Canary Islands and is used for its antiseptic properties and as a mouthwash.

Parsley

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is probably too well known to need much of a description. This popular culinary herb that is used as a garnish and in cooked dishes is rich in Vitamin A and C. As a matter of interest though, it is a member of the vast family known as the Apiaceae, to which the Coriander also belongs. The flowers of most species in this family are carried in umbels.

Thyme

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a commonly grown herb that is used both in cooking and for its medicinal properties, It is added to many dishes, including soups and casseroles, and in herbal medicine it is used to treat eczema, psoriasis and ringworm, as well as for mouth infections. There are many other varieties and species of Thyme, and here in the Canary Islands where all types of the herb are known as “Tomillo,” there are a number of species in the genus Micromeria that grow wild and are also called this. Strictly speaking these Micromeria species, such as M. varia should be known as Canarian Savoury and not as Thyme, though they are very similar being small shrubs with tiny aromatic leaves.

Fennel flowers

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Basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is another very popular herb that we use in our cooking and that grows very well on Tenerife. It is easy to grow in pots and is often sold by garden centres and florists. Or you can buy the seeds in packets. The Internet is an excellent source of seeds for most garden herbs too. There are different varieties of Basil you can try.

Fennel

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is also in this family and grows wild on Tenerife in many places in the north of the island. It is very popular as a herbal tea and known as “Hinojo” in Spanish. This herb has delicate feathery foliage that smells of Aniseed and tall stems that carry umbels of yellowish flowers which in turn become the brown seeds which we use in curries and to make tea from. Fennel makes a great plant for the herb garden too because it is perennial and will grow every year while needing a minimum of care once established.

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Lavender

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) grows well in the Tenerife garden and is often available from garden centres. This herb is well known for its attractive purple flowers and wonderful scent. There is a Canary Islands Lavender too which is the species L. canariensis and it can be found growing wild in many parts of Tenerife in the semi-desert areas along the coast and on volcanic hillsides. It is a very pretty plant again but is sadly lacking in perfume though it has its place in traditional herbal medicine.

Aloe vera

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Aloe vera

One more herb that is often grown in gardens here on Tenerife but not back in Britain is the succulent Aloe Vera. It is too cold and wet for it in the UK but the warm climate here is just right for it.

First published in the Tenerife Weekly, April 2013


© 2014 Steve Andrews

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