While many of us would love to have the time and the space to grow all our own fruit and vegetables, it’s rarely practical. Herbs however, are a different story. Space and time need not be issues when it comes to growing your own delicious herbs. Herbs are relatively low maintenance and whether you have a garden, patio, balcony or windowsill, you definitely have room for growing herbs.
Herbs are usually categorized as:
Aromatic (culinary) These add colour, texture and immense flavour to dishes.
Medicinal Herbs have been used as healing remedies for thousands of years
Ornamental With its fragrant foliage and flowers, lavender is a perfect example of an ornamental herb.
Preserve Your Herbs
If you are growing pots of herbs on your windowsill and in your garden, why not consider preserving them for use over the winter? Not only is it economical, but your herbs (dried or frozen) will add an excellent depth of flavour to so many dishes.
So how easy is it to preserve herbs?
Air-drying works best with herbs like rosemary, thyme and oregano. These herbs do not have a high water content so air-drying works really well.
How to Air-Dry
- In late summer, cut healthy branches off your plant.
- Wash if necessary and be sure to dry fully – wet herbs will go mouldy and rot.
- Tie about 6 branches together and cover with a paper bag in which you have punched some holes.
- Hang in a warm room.
- When they have dried out, store in an airtight jar.
Freezing works best for herbs like mint and basil as they contain a much higher water content than other herbs.
How to Freeze
- Pick the healthiest leaves
- Wash if necessary and dry quickly.
- Put parchment on a baking tray and place the leaves on the tray
- Put the tray in the freezer and remove when the leaves are frozen
- Now the leaves can be put into a freezer bag or container and you can easily remove them one or two at a time.
The freezing process may make some of the leaves quite limp, but they will still retain their full flavour.
Like your garden plants, herbs have varying life cycles.
Annual: Complete their life cycle in one year (basil, coriander)
Bi-ennial: Complete their life cycle in two years (parsley)
Perennial: These have a life cycle of three years or more (mint, chives,oregano, rosemary, thyme)
Sowing seeds works really well for annual and biennial herbs like parsley, basil and coriander. Perennials like chives can also be easy to grow from seed, but I would stick to buying plants when it comes to other perennials like oregano, mint and rosemary. When you are starting off, it really is far easier to start with pots of perennials.
Time For A Cuppa?
Making herbal teas is a really simple process and another delicious reason to grow herbs. Slightly bruise a handful of herbs and put them in a teapot, add boiling water and leave to infuse for 5-6 minutes. Strain as you pour. It’s that simple. You can also buy empty teabags in garden centres and home stores that can be filled with your favourite herbs. Pop the filled teabag into a cup, add boiling water and leave to infuse. If you like sweet tea, add a teaspoon of pure honey after you have removed the teabag. It’s fun to experiment with flavours, but if you are not familiar with herbs, seek advice if you are in doubt about whether a particular herb is safe to use.
If you love the fresh zesty flavour of lemons, a pot of lemon balm or lemon verbena is perfect. Pick a bunch of leaves, scrunch slightly to release the oils and place in a teapot or teabag.
There are so many varieties of mint to choose from, but my personal favourite has to be chocolate mint. Try lots of different varieties until you find your own favourite. Made exactly like lemon tea, mint tea is a wonderful aid to digestion and is a must in any garden. Just keep in mind that mint likes to spread – but it does grow well in containers.
You can add another flavour dimension to many dishes by using homemade herb infused oils. Dried herbs are perfect for making these. When I make herb infused oils, I make small amounts that I keep for a week or two. They work brilliantly well as salad dressings and are a thing of beauty drizzled over ripe tomatoes or on your favourite bread.
How to make Herb-infused Oils
- Pour olive oil into a pot and add your desired herbs.
- Heat the oil gently.
- When heated through, allow the oil to cool completely.
- Strain the oil into a spotlessly clean jar, store in the fridge and use within two weeks.
- Clearly label the jar with the date.
I always err on the side of caution, so making small jars often with dried instead of fresh herbs means that I have wonderfully fragrant oils, while greatly reducing the risk of bacteria taking hold. Try it, it’s so simple and the rewards are very tasty indeed.
The sweet floral scent of lavender is both soothing and refreshing and lavender oil is the most popular of essential oils with its uses ranging from insect repellent to relieving headaches. If you have lavender in the garden, it is worth drying some to use around your home.
How to dry lavender
- Pick a bunch of buds that are just opening as these have the strongest scent.
- Tie about six stems together and hand upside down in a dark place. Keeping them in the dark helps them retain their strong colour. If colour is not important to you, you can quickly dry your lavender by placing it on a flat surface in strong sunshine.
- You lavender is ready to use when the stems are brittle (this may take a couple of weeks in a dark room).
- Place the lavender in a pillow case and gently roll your hands back and forward over the pillowcase as if you were using a rolling pin. This will dislodge the buds easily.
- Remove the stems and use your dried lavender to make little muslin pouches for drawers, a soothing tea or why not sprinkle some over your salad?
Whether you are snipping a bunch of mint to add to a jug of water, freezing thyme for the Christmas stuffing or enjoying lavender scent in your wardrobe, there’s no doubt that herb-growing takes the minimal amount of your time for maximum rewards. If you are new to growing your own food, I do hope I have convinced you to start growing herbs – you’ll be so happy that you did.
Have a great week.