I like to grow own food. I suppose it goes without saying that I like cooking my produce also. I have recently had my range fitted in the kitchen and have been keen to use it too. Some of the easiest and most useful plants to cultivate for the kitchen are herbs. With a little thought and preliminary care everyone can have a thriving herb garden.
Herbs have been farmed for thousands of years. Grown for many purposes, the culinary and medicinal uses of herbs are well known. They are also highly decorative and strongly scented. Herbs do need a little management. Some will run riot if left to their own devices, so herbs tend to be grown in specially cordoned off areas when planted in the garden. They are particularly suited to patio or container gardening and this is what I have decided to do.
I have used large pots positioned fairly near to the kitchen door, on the whole, for convenience. I can just open the door, go out and grab the herbs I need. Herbs are generally Mediterranean in origin so on the whole, they tend to prefer those areas with ‘poorer’ soil. I tend to add some stones and a little sharp sand into the pots to replicate their home conditions. Many herbs also prefer shady areas, so are ideal for those more drab areas of the garden. Getting bees into the garden is essential if you want good crops, and in my experience they just love the strongly scented herbs and will buzz around sage, for example, all day long.
Companion planting is considered very helpful to the organic farmer and herbs have an important part to play here. Basil, for instance, is said to improve the fruit growth of tomatoes and deter black/whitefly. Chives are said to deter fungi and aphids. Parsley is said to deter white caterpillars. Nasturtiums will deter almost everything! Having a new garden we have decided to keep things simple for this year and let the standard herbs establish themselves.
Originating in Asia, this aromatic plant has been grown for thousands of years. Best started off indoors, Basil doesn’t like cold so will grow only as an annual outdoors in the British climate. It doesn’t respond well to too much watering and enjoys a sunny warm position. This is my favourite herb, actually.
Plant near tomatoes, aubergines and cucumbers as it is said to deter aphids and improve the fruit growth of each. Pinch out the tips to eat to encourage the shoots to branch out. Eat fresh with tomatoes, make pesto to add at the end of cooking. It is most aromatic prior to flowering so pinch of at least half of the flower stems leaving some to attract beneficial insects.
Vasily Petrenko has been ‘Chief Conductor’ of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for a few years now. This young, dynamic music director has caused quite a stir, and is proving very popular with audiences, critics and musicians alike. When translated into English, Vasily means Basil, and RLPO Principal Trombonist, Simon Cowan has devised this special recipe in Maestro Petrenko’s honour. Simon is a cracking chef:-
Recipe devised by RLPO Principal Trombone Simon Cowan
This wonderfully fresh and aromatic sauce, when added to cooked pasta or just casually dolloped over your char grilled chicken, will lift your spirits higher than the leaning tower of Pisa. Rest assured ‘miei amici’ you will be singing louder than Luciano Pavarotti by the end of this meal!
And here’s the best bit – it’s an absolute breeze to prepare.
2 good handfuls of fresh basil leaves – all the better if you have hands like Ray Clemence!
1 large garlic clove
A generous handful of pine nuts – I like to lightly toast mine!
125ml good olive oil
8 tbs grated Parmesan, or for the purists amongst you, 4 tbs each of grated Parmesan and grated Pecorino cheese
A pinch of salt
Tip all the ingredients into a blender (or food processor) and whizz!
If you have a little more time, with the aid of a pestle and mortar, you could lovingly pound the basil, garlic, nuts and salt to a pulp then slowly stir in the oil and cheese but between you and me, unless you want to be sweating like a Chiuaua in a Mexican restaurant, I’d stick with the blender!
Buon appetito amici…
A very popular herb from the Middle East, which is happy in a semi-sun/semi-shade position. Take the plant inside for winter to help it through the winter for next year. The aroma of tomatoes will improve if parsley is planted in the shade behind the tomato cordons. Susceptible to critters having a nibble so best to have several plants in different areas. can be used in a variety of dishes and is always best when added close to serving. The flavour of ‘curled’ parsley tends to be slightly milder than the flat leaved ‘French’ parsley.
A perennial herb that unusually enjoys moist soil. Split the plants in spring each season to encourage more growth and avoid rust. Plant alongside carrots to deter carrot fly and anywhere to deter fungi and aphids. Chives will improve the flavour of many dishes with their mild onion flavour and they are a favourite of mine in potato salad and used in a salad dressing with rapeseed oil, lemon juice and pepper.
“Why should anyone die who has sage in their garden?” Old saying – source, ‘The family kitchen garden,” by Liebriech, Wagner and Wendland. A damned good book, published by Francis Lincoln Ltd.
Sage is my favourite garden to look at in the garden. It is a hardy perennial and will survive all but the harshest frost. It is reputed to prolong life, cure profuse sweating, stomach ache and was well documented in Roman times as a cure for bad breath. In fact, I quite often mix some with salt to use as a homemade toothpaste.
The bush is great in borders, has spectacular blue flowers and is an evergreen herb. It deters slugs, aphids and caterpillars. Bees find sage irresistible; more so than any other common plant in my experience. It has no particular problems and is sensational with pork.
“Where Rosemary thrives, women wear the trousers!” Age old saying supplied by Ted Chance, wizened French Hornist.
Said to prolong memory, the scent of Rosemary was used by ancient Greeks to improve their chances in examinations. It is an evergreen perennial and was brought to Britain by the Romans. Standing for ‘remembrance, it was carried at funerals in ancient times and held at weddings by the betrothed to help them remember their vows. Rosemary likes well drained soil; plant it with a mix of sharp sand in the soil. It is attractive to bees and useful as a breath freshening mouthwash. Rosemary is a spectacular herb with lamb and roast potatoes. I also add it to gravy.
Marjoram and Oregano are much the same. It would appear indispensable in Italian cooking and it’s antiseptic qualities have been used for centuries. Will grow in most conditions. In ancient times it was recommended as an air freshener, tea for colds and catarrh, a digestive and when placed on graves it was said to bring happiness to the dead. It is best picked and used while flowering although it can be used all year round.
An evergreen plant, thyme can be used all year round, in just about any conditions. Ancient Egyptians used it for embalming the dead: Romans used it in water as an energising bath. It was believed to have antiseptic effects and to ward off plague and other diseases. It is a versatile herb and goes with just about any meat, very popular in French cuisine. Drunk as tea, thyme is said to discourage flatulence, PMT and sore throats. It is used in bouquet garni and in conjunction with lavender in potpourri.
There are a wide variety of different mint types available. I am growing peppermint and the more delicate apple mint. It is best to grow all mint in containers because it is ao invasive. It prefers a moist soil but in my experience it will grow, rampant, in any conditions. As a companion plant, mint is said to keep caterpillars, aphids and carrot flies at bay. It can be planted in pots, next to plants you wish to protect. Mint tea is an easy, refreshing drink: it is good with lamb; nice sprinkled in salads, with beans, on potatoes and goes wonderfully well in low-fat, organic yoghurt.