Grow a Kitchen Herb Garden
Here is a starter list of favourite herbs that most of us use frequently. But do not restrict yourself to only grow these. People grow dozens of herbs for all different uses, such as cooking, for dried teas, potpourri, and medicinal uses - to name jus a few. You can also grow them all around your house and gardens because of their beautiful flowers and foliage. There is always a spot to tuck in an herb or two, and to even use herbs and vegetables in your landscaping. You may consider growing some herbs in quantity in a main garden, because you need to use a lot of them in certain recipes. Basil is an example that comes to mind. You need handfuls for each batch of pesto - it's a recipe that's easy to make, and everybody loves. You can also make it to freeze for that 'just from the garden' taste over pasta, or spread on roti in the dead of winter.
Herb plants like full sun (6-8 hours a day) and dry to semi-dry conditions. They also taste better if not fertilised too much (try to dilute to half the amount on the fertiliser label, and make sure it is for edible food plants).
These herbs can be purchased as plants year round from a good plant nursery or garden center. However, most can be started from seed in pots, especially if you have some time before the plants can be put out-doors (or you can plant the seeds outdoors after all danger of frost is gone in your area).
These herbs will give you a great start to a basic kitchen garden that you can add to and expand as you like. They can add so much to your cooking pleasure that you will be proud to say “I grew it myself!”
BASIL- Ocimum basilicum
You can grow this member of the mint family indoors but not in the quantity you would need for recipes that feature Basil such as delicious pesto. If it's winter in your part ofthe world, it would be nice to get a start on spring and you can use the fresh leaves as a garnish or in small amounts in recipes like you use mozzarella and tomatoes. Use it fresh in wraps, salads and in sandwiches. Add basil to the end of cooking as the flavor gets stronger the longer it cooks. It is a natural in tomato dishes such as a sauce for spaghetti and in pizza.
This plant is a heat lover, so don’t bring it outside until night temperatures remain above 50 degrees, and daytimes are in the 70s or higher. Frequent harvesting of the leaves will produce more. Do not let it go to seed because it will not grow any more leaves. This plant is a tender annual and will not survive winter. Basil comes in many varieties including cinnamon, spicy, such as Thai basil, and lemon. Genovese Basil is the one used for pesto with it’s large, flat leaves. It is most food lovers favourite!
CHIVES - Allium schoenoprasum, and GARLIC CHIVES - Allium tuberosum
Chives has round leaves and a delicate onion taste, while Garlic Chives has flat leaves and a garlic taste. They both grow well on the window sill and you can cut all the way down to ¼ inch above the dirt and the leaves will grow back. Cut out any yellow leaves and discard. Both types of Chives will grow well indoors as long as they don’t get too dry. They are a great first plant to try. Chives come in handy for cream cheese and chive spread, and also to throw into scrambled eggs or top up soup, and baked potatoes, too. The leaves keep best frozen as they will lose their flavour when dried.
CILANTRO - Coriandrum sativum, Coriander
Coriander leaves resembles flat parsley in appearance and is sometimes called Chinese parsley. It is great for a quick salsa, fresh, or to put into a stirfry. This Spanish, Asian and Indian food favorite is one you will either love or hate. But it is surely one to try. It probably won’t set seeds if you are growing it in the house but if it does you will have another spice in Coriander seeds, which have a lemony taste quite different from that of the the leaf. This herb likes the cooler weather of spring and autumn. The heat of summer will make the herb taste bitter and is likely to make the plant go to seed.
This family of herbs comes in many varieties; the two most popular are Peppermint, Mentha piperita and Spearmint, Mentha spicata. They grow well in nearly all temperate climates and moist habitats. Gardeners often grow it in pots or planters due to its invasive spread-ing roots. In fact, it is best reproduced by rooting the stems in water. The plant prefers partial shade, but can flourish in full sun to mostly shade.
They are very good dried for tea. Spearmint leaves are more puckered than peppermint’s leaves. Spearmint overall, is especially good for Iced Tea. It is less robust, so if you don’t like Peppermint, try Spearmint. Also good are Orange mint for tea and Mojito mint for the drink with the same name. I like to chew on a sprig of mint for fresh breathe and it’s zippy taste.
OREGANO - Origanum vulgare
The ordinary, common type of oregano likes to sprawl, and will do well in a hanging basket indoors or on the patio. Common oregano has blue flowers.
Oregano heracleoticum, 'Greek Oregano’ has white flowers and gives a more robust flavor – as if you've just stepped into a pizzeria. Grow both. Prefer the Greek variety for drying. Add towards the end of cooking as it may taste bitter the more it cooks. Remove leaves from stems to use.
PARSLEY - Petroselinum crispum
Parsley is a great plant for indoor growing in the winter to bring fresh green taste to your recipes. You can also use it dried, all year-round. The flat leaved variety, also called Italian parsley, is great for your fresh parsley, however, many people prefer the curly leaved variety for the crunchyness of the curled leaf. Grow what you like. This is one herb to grow in quantity outdoors, indoors, use it as garnish, and enjoy the high vitamin C boost! curly leaf and flat leaf
ROSEMARY - Rosmarinus officinalis
Bring this one in before the frost hits. It doesn’t like the cold or dry house air, so keep it near the kitchen sink - there's more humid air and most kitchens are bright day and night. Snip to keep it in shape, you can even shape it into topiary - many are sold as mini Christmas trees! You must strip off the leaves to use it. Keep the stems to dry and bundle up to throw into the outside fire-pit. There is a new variety that grows extra stiff stems that you can use for skewers (think Rosemary and Root vegetable Shish Kebabs).
Rosemary seeds are a bit tricky to germinate but you can propagate it by rooting a cut branch in water. It flourishes with sun, good drainage and air circulation. Don’t crowd it in a corner. Make sure it gets 6-8 hours of sun. One suggestin it to keep this plant in a terracotta pot year round and repot it once a year, in the spring.
There are many varieties including ornamental ones with fancy leaves. However, the basic Rosemary is fine for culinary uses.
SAGE - Salvia officinalis
You can grow enough Sage in an indoor pot to add great taste to roast vegetable dishes. Use the leaves fresh or dried. Sometimes the leaves are dried for crafts such as wreaths. Sage enjoys living in pots as long as it gets 6-8 hours of sun.
This herb comes in many varieties and colours. In the garden the sage plant can border on a bush, so keep trimming off leaves and drying for the holidays. This will also invigorate the plant’s growth. There is also an annual variety called Pineapple Sage that’s good dried for herbal tea.
THYME - Thymus vulgaris
This is another plant that likes to sprawl, keep it trimmed or in a hanging pot. Thyme is flavourful fresh and dried. It makes a nice complement to tomato sauces, cheeses, eggs and vegetables. It can also be used to flavour jellies, breads, vinegars, marinades, sauces and in bouquet garni.
This herb also comes in many varieties. Lemon thyme is good dried for tea. There is also a type you grow between stepping stones that gets crushed as you walk on it to scent your way. It is not for eating, though. Keep this plant on the dry side or it will rot.
Shanti Gowans is the globally recognised author and founder of Shanti Yoga™, Meditation and Ayurveda for the self, family and community.
Shantiji has brought the concepts and practices of a healthy body and a still mind to thousands of Australians through her Yoga and Meditation programs on national television... Read more about Shantiji's biography
Travel with Shanti & Peter Gowans this November for a trip of a lifetime.