I cannot imagine a garden without herbs. They are the powerhouses of food preparation, the behind-the-scenes workers, or the jazz hands on the dinner plate. We need this green stuff to make our food awesome.
The most-used herbs in our household would probably be chives, parsley, basil, oregano and rosemary. But there are a lot more kinds of herbs that we use too. Here is what I’ve been growing lately, including some leaves for cooking that are not technically herbs.
Annual. I used to have basil growing year-round in a pot on the sunny kitchen window. But I haven’t got anywhere to do that at the moment so it’s just been growing outside over summer. When it’s readily available we put basil in all sorts of foods like pasta, omelettes, salads and Thai green curry. And it’s always good for homemade pesto, or salsa verde for the lactose intolerant.
Shrub/tree. Not a herb but an important flavouring leaf, to be taken out of the dish before eating. Hugh from River Cottage got me putting bay leaves on my fish every time I cook it and they’re also great for Morrocan dishes.
Perennial. Chopped chives are an easy flavour-enhancer for salads, giving a mild onion taste that isn’t overpowering. They’re also good in or on eggs. They have hollow, cylindrical leaf blades and purple-pink flower heads.
Perennial. Similar to common chives in taste and use, but with a mild garlic flavour. A little more slow to multiply, they have flattened leaf blades and lovely tall globes of white, star-shaped flowers.
Coriander / Cilantro
Annual. Coriander is definitely one of our favourites, but it is subject to availability due to its finicky nature and tendency to bolt. I prefer its pungent flavour in hot rather than cold dishes. We mostly use it in curries and asian-style soups. Then there’s my latest great use for coriander: guacamole. I don’t know if it’s just the pregnancy, but homemade guacamole is totally awesome!
Annual. Dill has a soft, ferny appearance and its tall, narrow growth habit means it’s good for slotting in amongst other plants. It has a tangy taste that is great for seafood dishes or dressings. And I forgot to take a photo of it before it died down…
Shrub. Lemon verbena lets off a beautiful, fresh lemon scent when you brush past it or crush it’s leaves. It is worth having just for its fragrance, but can also be used for teas or to give a lemon flavour to water or oil. It’s frost-tender so needs to be grown in a sheltered place or given protection in cool winters.
Perennial. I haven’t been growing lemongrass for all that long, but once the shoot bases are big enough they make some asian curries and soups very tasty. It is frost-tender so I’ve been growing it in a pot so I can move it into a sheltered place of I need to.
Shrub/tree. Kaffir lime is a citrus tree but it can be kept rather small in a pot. I have mine on the kitchen window sill at the moment. The leaves have a very strong, fragrant, lime flavour, which is great for Thai green curries and various other curries, soups and lime-infused concoctions. I have a chili-lime cashew nuts recipe awaiting trial, which has kaffir lime leaves in it.
Mint (English / Spearmint)
Perennial. Mint is one of those funny herbs; sometimes you forget about it and sometimes you need it, like NOW. We use it in cous cous dishes and various other odd assortments of things. I grow it in a pot so it doesn’t invade everywhere with its runners. Trimming it or pinching out the tips regularly helps keep it bushy and less prone to disease.
Perennial. Greek oregano is said to be the best culinary oregano due its strong flavour. It is has white flowers rather than the pale purple/pink of other oregano species. It is indispensable for numerous types of cooking and it is one of the few herbs that tastes good dried as well as fresh. We mostly use it fresh for things such as pizza, pasta, and roast veges and meat.
Biennial/Annual. I didn’t used to like parsley, but now I can hardly do without it. I prefer the Italian flat-leaved parsley because I find curly parsley too prickly and not as flavoursome. I use parsley in cous cous salads, pasta dishes, egg salad, other egg things and it is a great and more-often-available alternative to basil for pesto or salsa verde.
Sub-shrub. Rosemary is another of the few herbs that still tastes good when dried, but we tend to use it fresh since it grows year-round. My favourite use for rosemary is in rosemary bread, which we make in the bread maker. That stuff is just too darn good. It is also indispensable for roast veges and meat and the flowers are great for the bees.
Perennial. Sage is probably my least-used herb, through no fault of its own I’m sure. I just don’t seem to have many recipes that involve sage. It goes well with various meat dishes. I like to let some of it flower to feed the bees as well.
Perennial. Pineapple sage isn’t a hugely culinary herb, but it smells divine and I like to put some crushed leaves into juice or water to give it a bit of a flavour boost. The red flowers are also an attractive addition to the herb garden.
Perennial. French tarragon is the proper culinary tarragon, being far superior in flavour to the plain but commonly-sold Russian tarragon. The reason French tarragon is harder to come by is that it doesn’t set seed, so has to be propagated more slowly by division or cuttings. It has a strong licorice-like flavour that is useful in fish dishes and dressings. It seems to be very happy growing in a pot. Goes dormant over winter.
Thyme (Common / English)
Perennial. Thyme is a handy herb to chuck into all sorts of dishes such as roast veges and meats, pasta and pizza. It also makes a great edging plant with its small, compact habit, tough nature, pretty flowers and attractiveness to beneficial insects. Trimming some of the flowers off promotes fresh, leafy growth.
Perennial. I was given this lemon thyme for my birthday last year, and I love it! It has a lovely lemon flavour that adds something special not only to fish and chicken dishes, but also garden salads and any other number of things you throw it in.
Well, that’s all I have or have had in my garden this season. I’m so looking forward to creating a proper herb garden at the new house. Then I think I shall expand my herb repertoire too…