First Time Gardener? - Top 5 Easy to Grow Flavoursome Herbs
Fresh herbs make all the difference
There is a world of difference between fresh and dried herbs so I always try to have at least some herbs growing in my garden or on a balcony, or even on a windowsill no matter where I live. Using fresh herbs is a must for me.
Because I spend periods of time away from home in our holiday home, I grow herbs in both places but of course they must be able to look after themselves. Over time, I've learnt which ones cope best with a small amount of neglect. They are easy to grow and are the ones I use most.
My easy-to-grow herbs - There are more, of course, but these are my top five
I've chosen these partly on the basis of their easy upkeep but also because they are ones I use very frequently, they are easy to grow, and they are common garden herbs. They are in alphabetical order so that I show no favouritism. :)
I was surprised to read that bay leaves are one of the most commonly used herbs in Europe and North America. I do use it quite a lot but the main reason I grow it is because my father told me I would never be able to kill it.
That seems to be true. When we first found our holiday home there was the most enormous bay tree growing in the sadly neglected garden. All attempts to remove the bay have been totally unsuccessful and small offspring from the roots still appear in various parts of the garden. Does anyone want a small bay leaf plant?
The leaves can be used to flavour stews, casseroles, pate`s, and soups, among other things. They can also be dried very successfully, giving an even stronger flavour to the leaves.
The plants grow easily in a container. I have mine on my balcony in England in the same container as thyme and rosemary because they like similar dryish conditions. My latest venture is to grow a bay tree from a small two-stemmed plant, twisting the stems to form a spiral. It was coming along quite well until the severe frosts we had in February, and now it's back to square one. A familiar story in gardening. :)
Red onions braised with bay leaves
This is just one of the ways you can use bay leaves. It's a quick and easy recipe.
3 large red onions
3 bay leaves each torn into 3 pieces
3 tbs olive oil
1 tbs white wine
1 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt, or to taste.
Heat oven to 180 C or 375 F
Peel and slice the onions, and spread over a baking tray.
Sprinkle with oil, vinegar, wine, salt and torn bay leaves.
Cover the baking tray with aluminium foil.
Place in the oven until the onions are tender, about 45 minutes or so.
Uncover and put back in the oven until the juices evaporate and caramelise into a dark, glossy, sauce - about another 30 minutes, but watch carefully.
Before serving, remove the pieces of bay leaf. The onions can be served with grilled meats, or as a topping to goats' cheese crostini.
Mentha longifolia, Mentha piperita and others
Mint is another plant that my father assured me I couldn't kill.
It can be invasive so it is best grown in a pot. I prefer to sink the pot in the earth rather than have it standing above ground. This keeps the roots cool and allows the pot to draw moisture from the earth below. Do make sure there are plenty of drainage holes or the soil will become waterlogged and this really will kill the mint. I know, I tried. :)
Even with the roots contained in a pot, you may find they can escape. It is best to keep a close eye on the plants because once they get a hold, they can be something of a problem. They do require some cool shade and plenty of moisture.
There are so many different types of mint, it would be impossible to list them all. Some are best suited for use in the kitchen (spearmint, peppermint), others are better used for their fragrance (e.g. Eau de Cologne mint). Two varieties I've particularly liked are ginger mint, and chocolate mint. They are delicious when used in the right recipes.
I don't think dried mint is very successful at all.
Parsley is a biennial, that is to say, you can sow the seed one year, it will grow and you can harvest it. It dies back during the winter and reappears the next spring. It will flower in the summer and then die, but in the meantime you can harvest the leaves and raising new seedlings. I have never, ever, tasted a dried parsley that gets anywhere close to the flavour of fresh parsley.
You need to decide where you want to grow it early on because it doesn't take too kindly to being moved. It likes sunshine and plenty of moisture.
The great debate is whether to grow flat leaf or curly leaf parsley. The answer is to grow both! The flat leaf plant is undoubtedly more flavoursome but the curly leaf is more decorative. You rarely see the curly leaf varieties in Mediterranean regions so my daughter in law loves using the curly varieties when she visits me.
There is a third type of parsley, parsley root. It is grown mainly in Europe and used in soups and stews. I haven't tried it but I believe it tastes something like a cross between carrots and celery.
Like bay and thyme, sage is evergreen in that it doesn't lose its leaves in the winter, though in the case if sage the leaves are very much a greyish green!
Sage can be grown from seed but it also roots readily so I frequently take cuttings. I do this because I sometimes find it suddenly dies back so a cutting already established can take its place and there will be a steady supply of leaves. There are various forms: golden, variegated, purple as well as the standard.
Sage likes a sunny and dry spot in your garden. On my balcony I have it in the same container as thyme and the indestructible (so far) bay tree because the same conditions apply to all.
It is used most frequently as an ingredients of stuffing for poultry or pork. As I was researching for this article I discovered that there is some evidence that it may be of use in the treatment of patients with Alzheimer's Disease. That would be an exciting development if it proves to be the case.
Thyme is a plant you can find growing wild in Mediterranean areas, spreading a wonderful fragrance in the air. It grows very easily in a hot and sunny corner. In fact it is one herb which retains its flavour well when dried. Nevertheless, having the plant growing is still better than having a jar on your shelf. It can be used as leaves or as whole sprigs which are removed at the end of cooking.
Thyme also has medicinal uses as its essential oil has antiseptic properties.
Again, there are several different varieties, not all of which are useful in the kitchen.
Containers for growing herbs
Some of these are so lovely that even if you have an outdoor herb garden, they would look great on a balcony or windowsill.
This may be a little small but it's so attractive! It wouldn't be for long term use, you would need to keep replacing the plants, but I tend to do that anyway so it would be no hardship.
A book to help you with your herb gardening
Because once started, you are unlikely to stop at only five herbs. I love all types of herbs even those I don't use so very often so I urge you to think big. And when you have finished tending them, you will smell good enough to eat!!
If you had to choose your top five, what would they be? I had a long debate with myself, partly because "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme ..." kept going through my mind at the time.
© 2012 SheilaMilne