When choosing herbs for your kitchen garden, plan ahead to make the most of your space. Knowing the optimum growing conditions and what you can use them for, should help you decide.
If you visit the herb section in your local garden centre, you might be amazed and a little overwhelmed by the endless varieties to choose from.
There is a different type of mint for every occasion, thyme comes in all different sizes and flavours and you’ll probably spot a few you haven’t even heard of before.
It’s easy to come home with armfuls of herbs only to plant them up and never make the most of them… Or you might make the mistake of planting mint directly in the garden, only to find that is all that is left standing the following year and you have enough mint for your entire street. More on that later.
What do you want to get from your herb garden? Are you looking for useful herbs for the kitchen? Or perhaps you would like to use them for alternative medicinal purposes? Maybe you just like their different smells wafting through the air as you brush past?
If you are a herb beginner, lets start with some easy and very useful herbs to get you going and you can go and grow from there.
Using Herbs in the Kitchen
Herbs have so many wonderful benefits when you cook with them. They add some amazing flavour boosting qualities to many dishes and drinks and if you choose the right ones, they are surprisingly easy to grow.
Knowing exactly how to use herbs in cooking can take a little getting used to. For example, sometimes, it is better to use dried herbs in certain dishes when the cooking time is long.
You may also need to add them at different stages of the cooking process, some herbs are best left to the end and otherwise could produce a bitter taste if cooked too long.
Some herbs can be eaten raw, while others are need to be cooked in the dish and are often removed before serving. This can depend on whether you are using soft herbs such as basil, parsley or coriander or woody herbs such as rosemary, sage or thyme.
Herbs for Beginners
If you are a beginner to gardening and want to produce some lovely fresh herbs for your kitchen, here are 6 different types to get you started. Some herbs will grow quickly from seed whilst others have a long growing time and are best bought as plants.
You can grow your herbs in many different ways from your garden plots, to pots and window boxes. If you have a sunny spot in your house, you will even some produce indoors with the right care.
Rosemary is one of my all time favourite herbs in the kitchen. I use it in so many different recipes, such as this focaccia bread. But, it’s also great with roast potatoes, flavouring steaks, chicken recipes and so many more.
It has been used for years to ease headaches and strengthen memory.
Rosemary is evergreen, so you can use it fresh all year long. Be careful about picking too much from a juvenile plant or one that has yet to become established.
Rosemary is pretty hardy, but doesn’t particularly like the frost, so grow it in a pot that you can move indoors during particularly cold winters.
Don’t over water rosemary, they do better in drier soil. Planting rosemary in terracotta pots will help the soil dry out quicker, providing the best condition for your herb.
Another strong favourite of mine is sage. I love to use it to flavour chicken like this sage chicken recipe or add it to soups to deepen the flavour.
It has been used for over 2000 years in home remedies that supposedly cure all manner of ills, mixing it in boiling water with honey and a pinch of cayenne pepper creates a gargle to use for a sore throat.
Sage thrives in similar conditions to rosemary and prefers being in the sun for the best part of the day. Sage does take a while to grow and establish itself so be patient or buy a bigger, more established plant and you can start harvesting your herb a little earlier.
When you think of basil, you may usually relate it to Italian Pizza and Pasta Dishes, like this pesto But it can also be used in breads and even desserts.
Steeped in boiling water to make basil tea, the stalks and leaves provide a relief from mild nausea.
This leafy green herb endured years of verbal abuse from the Ancient Greeks and Romans. They believed it was essential to shout abuse at a plant of basil to ensure it grew strong and healthy. Thankfully you don’t need to do this. Basil is a faster growing herb than the previous two on the list and can be sown from seed. Be aware it’s a delicate plant and should only be planted outside in the summer. However, you can keep basil indoors all summer long near a sunny window and it will be fine.
Basil likes a moist soil, so it will need watering more than sage or rosemary do.
There are endless varieties of Thyme available. But, it’s a good idea to start with simple English Thyme as a beginner.
I like to use Thyme to flavour roast pork. You can also add it to soups, chicken dishes and roast vegetables.
Thyme has been used in the past to treat coughs, with the leaves being ground down, mixed with honey and taken when needed.
Thyme seeds are slow to germinate and can be quite tricky, so it’s best to buy a plant.
It prefers poor, dry soil, so if you are prone to neglecting your plants, then choose Thyme.
There are many, many different varieties of mint you may come across. Each with a slightly different smell and flavour.
Mint can be used in many recipes from drinks and desserts to potato salad or served with lamb.
The leaves can be steeped in boiling water to make a tea and sipped slowly to settle the stomach.
Mint is a great beginner plant, since it is fast growing and easy. That said, be aware of it’s invasive nature. Mint will quickly take over an entire bed and beyond, should you allow it the freedom to.
Always plant mint in a pot or a container sunk into the ground. This will prevent it’s roots from spreading far and wide.
Whilst lavender isn’t used for many culinary dishes. You can use it to delicately fragrance shortbread or used as an infusion to flavour sugar or milk for baking. It has a strong flavour so use it sparingly.
It isn’t as common in the kitchen as my other beginner herbs, it still very much, deserves it’s place in your herb garden. Bees LOVE it, flies HATE it. So you can happily attract the wanted guests to your garden whilst warding off those pesky pests. Combine a bunch of lavender with stinging nettles and hang in a doorway or window to ward off flies.
Lavender has calming properties and is great when used in a bath or sown into a pillow to aid sleep and calm the soul.
Lavender prefers a very sunny position in well drained soil.
How to Store Your Herbs
When it comes to storing fresh herbs for later use, there are a number of ways in which to do this.
- Soft herbs are best stored in the freezer. Wash the herbs thoroughly before chopping them up and allowing them to dry on some kitchen paper. Once dry, you can store them in freezer bags with as little air inside the bag as possible. They will keep for around 3 months like this. You can use the herbs straight from frozen.
- Woody herbs such as rosemary can be dried in bunches. Hang your bunches upside down in a warm and dry place.
- You can mix your chopped herbs in butter and freeze the portions. Add these portions to dishes for extra flavour.
- Herbs can be used to flavour oils too.