You might have guessed this already from the title of the post, but this week is National Herb Week (6th – 12th May 2014) and very welcome it is too – perfectly timed for me to do some research into herbs as I am moving house in a couple of weeks. For the first time in a long time, we will have a garden of our very own and being a lover of all things food, the first the that springs to mind when I think ‘garden’ is not ‘roses’ or ‘lawn’ or ‘swing set’ – it’s, well, ‘food’. Our space will be limited, but what space we do have, I’m going to try and devote as much of it as possible to attempting to grow some food stuffs of our own.
We all know the cheapest herbs are the ones you cultivate yourself, and if you don’t have any outdoor space to dedicate to the herbaceous goodness, a window box or large pot will suffice, even if it’s just for one or two varieties. So what can you experiment with and how can you use it in the kitchen?
I think this is probably the herb I use most in cooking, so it seems like a sensible place to start. It will work well in containers or in a bed and it loves a chalkier soil, but if you’re not blessed with that, adding some grit to the earth will help.
I usually use fresh thyme in meatballs, especially pork ones – combine this with a bit of finely grated lemon rind and it will really bring out the flavour. Of course, you could always grow some lemon thyme too and kill two birds with one stone – again, great with pork, but also useful to put in the cavity of a roasting chicken, making it all the more aromatic and tasty, as well as adding an extra dimension to your gravy.
This is a trickier one to grow – is dislikes being uprooted or being grown in cold conditions. Providing you have plenty of sun and preferably a greenhouse, this should work.
You might be wondering why I’ve mentioned it, seeing as it’s so darned difficult to cultivate. Well, I’ve recently discovered the joys of home-pickled cucumbers and the presence of loads of fresh dill can make these taste pretty spectacular. Of course, it also goes brilliantly with smoked salmon and in dips.
From a more fiddly herb to a ridiculously easy one – all chives need are a reasonably sunny spot and a pot to thrive in and they’re happy. Perfect if you’ve got limited space and a love of all things onion-flavoured.
Not ones to use in complicated cooking, these are much better to add to dishes as a garnish just before you serve, or finely chopped in cream cheese for an easy dip. When we’ve grown them in the past, I’ve always put them in homemade potato salad – they give that essential onioniness without completely overpowering the other flavours.
There are plenty more herbs you can experiment with – most of them you can sow the seeds for in March or April, but if you’ve missed the spring deadline (you might be just in time), then buy the plants from garden centres or large supermarkets and pot these wherever convenient. If you’re new to growing your own vegetables, herbs are a great way to start and whether they survive or thrive is a good measure of how green your fingers actually are.