Monday, 11 June 2012

Growing and cooking Herbs


There is always room in a garden or on the allotment for a few herbs. Although they are grown for culinary uses in the kitchen, many of them such as sage, lavender, thyme and rosemary are quite ornamental and very attractive in their own right. Most do not grow very big so you do not need a lot of space to grow a decent range. There is a resurgence of interest in cooking at the moment with emphasis on easily prepared meals that cook quickly as many people do not have time to spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals. The correct use of herbs adds a higher level of flavours to enhance many foods, reducing the need for salt. Most herbs can be harvested and dried for storage.
Many herbs have a medicinal use such as Aloe vera where the jelly like sap is used for burns, insect bites and other skin problems. Others are useful against colds, anxiety or are very good for your health. Parsley is full of iron and vitamins A, C and E.
Some are very fragrant and grown to enjoy the smells or used in potpourri. Rosemary, lavender, mint and thyme all have wonderful scents, but avoid the curry plant at all costs as the very strong smell is not very pleasant.
There are very many herbs in use, for medicinal purposes, for cooking, for extraction of essential oils or just because they are attractive. I will run over a few of my favourites grown for the kitchen.

Rosemary is top of my list as I just love the smell on my hands and it adds a fantastic flavour to roasted lamb, pork and chicken dishes, and a very useful tasty addition to pasta dishes.
Very easy to grow preferring a dry sunny soil, but can die out in a severe winter.
Mint comes in many different types including applemint, peppermint, spearmint and even eau de cologne. Mint sauce with lamb is hard to beat, but mint goes very well with new potatoes and freshly harvested garden peas. Easy to grow but can become invasive though is not too difficult to control. It imparts a lovely smell on your hands when crushed.

Thyme is a great low growing ground cover plant useful in the rock garden. Thyme is used in meat stews, roast chicken dishes and in ham, vegetable and chicken soups. It gets trimmed periodically as we cut bits off for flavouring chutneys and stews.

Chives is another very easy to grow plant that quickly multiplies up as clumps, and it can be used in   tuna mayonnaise, omelettes and salads where it imparts a mild onion flavour. Cut into small pieces, it is a very useful garnish in soups, egg and cheese dishes.

Basil is treated as an annual and is not very hardy so has to be pot grown on a sunny windowsill. It is used in pesto and goes very well in all tomato dishes. Remove flowers as they appear as it is the leaves that are used in the kitchen.

Sage has attractive soft green pungent leaves used for adding flavour to stuffing for meat dishes, particularly pork. It is an attractive garden plant and easy to grow. It prefers a well drained soil with a sunny aspect.

Lemon balm also needs a well drained soil in a sunny spot. It is used steeped to make healthy calming teas, flavoured ice cream and stuffing for poultry.

Bay is best grown in a pot and can last for years though a hard frost will kill it. Use a few whole leaves in soups, when cooking rice, in casseroles, stews and marinades. Do remember to remove the bay leaves before serving.

Lavender is a favourite for dry sunny places and is great for attracting bees in mid to late summer when it is covered with deep purple flowers. It has a great scent and its flowers are used to extract scented essential oils.

Parsley is grown from seed as an easy to grow annual. It is often an added ingredient in potato and leek and Scotch broth soups.

Coriander is a hot spicy herb very useful in curries, Indian and Mexican dishes. It grows easy from seed and will come up every year but prefers a dry sunny spot. Use both the leaves and seeds after you harvest them and dry them off for storing.

Plant of the week
Azalea Gibraltar has large fiery orange flowers coming into bloom at the end of May and into June. This deciduous azalea will grow to about five feet. It is very reliable and easy to grow, so long as you give it an acidic soil, so mix plenty of leaf mould into the top nine inches of soil before planting. It likes a moist but well drained soil in a sunny or dappled shade location, and do not let it dry out during the summer as it has shallow fibrous roots. It benefits from an annual mulch in winter of more leaf mould or ericaceous compost, to maintain the acid soil and retain moisture.


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