You love to cook. You love to eat. But most importantly, you love good food. But what is food without flavour. What is pho without Thai basil, an omelette without chives or tabouli without parsley? The rich aromatics of herbs make a dish, so if you find you’re always buying them, now is a good time to consider growing your own. We all know fresh is best and it’s true when it comes to herbs too – they impart a more intense flavour than you get with dried herbs.
Herbs don’t need a lot of room to grow. Even larger shrubs like rosemary and bay tree can be kept rather compact, so you can grow them in all sized spaces or even indoors, as long as you have a sunny spot. Here’s our pick of the bunch and how to grow them:
Basil (Ocimum spp.)
This incredibly versatile herb is grown as an annual, so it’s best to get it in the ground early to make the most of the season. The best time to grow basil is during the warmer months of the year, from spring to autumn as it dies off once winter arrives (unless you grow perennial basil). Plant in full sun, so it receives 6-8 hours of direct sunlight, ideally with protection from the hot afternoon sun. When planting in pots, use a premium quality potting mix and regularly feed with a liquid fertiliser formulated for herbs. Pinch off flowers when they appear, otherwise the plant expends too much of its energy into blooming instead of growing leaves. There are many varieties of basil to choose from, including sweet basil, Thai basil, perennial basil, lime basil and purple basil.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
If you love the flavour of onion and garlic, but don’t have the patience to grow them (they can take up to 6 months till harvest), then chives are the perfect substitute. This perennial herb is happy at home in the garden or pots and can grow in full sun or part shade. If planting in a container, use a long trough or pot at least 300mm wide and fill with quality potting mix. Water well and deeply and apply a liquid fertiliser once a fortnight. To harvest, simply snip the leaves as required and remove flowers when they appear.
“We all know fresh is best and it’s true when it comes to herbs too – they impart a more intense flavour than you get with dried herbs.”
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Once established, rosemary can withstand a little bit of neglect – perfect if you’re forgetful with watering. Its narrow needle-like leaves are well-adapted to growing in hot, dry climates (it’s native to the Mediterranean), so don’t lose as much water as larger leafy herbs. If planting in pots, it’s best to give it its own pot as it can grow up to 1.5m. For a smaller variety, look for ‘Roman Beauty’, which grows between 30-50cm tall. Position in full sun and water well until established.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
It’s said to be one of the world’s most loved herbs, and considering its culinary uses, it’s easy to see why. This biennial is available in two forms, Italian flat leaf or curly leaf, but the Italian leaf features more prominently in cuisines. Plant in a sunny or partly shaded spot in garden beds or pots. To promote bushy growth, feed regularly with liquid fertiliser and remove flowering stems. You will need to water regularly to keep the soil damp. When ready to harvest, select a few of the outer stems and snip off at ground level.
Mint (Mentha spp.)
If you have a partly shaded spot that receives between 4-6 hours of sunlight, mint will love it. This highly aromatic herb is fast growing and likes to run wild, so plant it up in a pot or give it a dedicated planting space to help contain it. Mint is typically grown as a perennial herb, but it may die off in winter if it becomes frosty. It normally comes back in early spring though, so don’t be too quick to replace it. Pick the leaves regularly to promote more growth and remove the flowers.
Other herbs to try:
Lemongrass, coriander, sage, bay leaves, thyme, dill or oregano.
Annual: Plants that complete their lifecycle in a single season.
Perennial: Plants that continue to grow for many seasons, especially if they have been well maintained.
Biennial: Plants that complete their lifecycle in two years.
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