#BritishVeg hour was all about herbs this week – and it turned out to be a very popular topic… although reading the round-up it may sound as though #BritishVeg was turning into #BritishIceCream hour.
Herbs are easy to grow, useful and many are ornamental too. You don’t even need a garden to grow them – lots of herbs will be quite happy in a pot or windowbox.
The discussion started with soft herbs – that’s basil, parsley, coriander and the like…
When growing from seed, sowing into modules was preferred by some, but others like to direct sow into prepared ground for herbs like parsley, chervil, coriander and dill. Successional sowing through spring and summer is good for a regular supply – although you should be able to get a few harvests from each plant. Making regular sowings also works well for leafy herbs that tend to bolt in warm weather.
And these were some of the soft herbs that #BritishVeg growers like –
Coriander – ‘Leisure’ is a popular variety for leaf production because it’s slower to bolt than others. Most people said they had no problems getting seed to germinate, but a tip for easier germination is to try semi-crushing the seed.
Parsley – can be very slow to germinate (the story is that it has to travel down to hell to pay its respects to the devil before it will germinate), for the best chance of success you’ll need fresh seed, a bit of heat and a lot of patience. If started off indoors with a heated propagator, parsley should germinate in a couple of weeks at this time of year. Direct sown outdoors it will be nearer to three weeks. Italian giant was recommended as a flat leaf variety. The curled leaf parsley overwinters better outdoors, but flat leaf will be fine with some protection.
Basil – ‘Sweet Genovese’ was a favourite variety. Purple leaved varieties were not so popular – pretty plants but the leaves can have quite an astringent flavour. Mammoth leaf, Greek (with small leaves and plenty of flavour) also got a mention. Basil is another herb to start off in modules before planting in a greenhouse or polytunnel (or pots on a sunny windowsill). It likes damp, deep, rich soil –given the right conditions a single plant can get quite big and will produce just as many, if not more, leaves than the pots containing lots of seedlings from the supermarket. Basil makes a good ice cream.
Chives and garlic chives – both are worth growing for leaves and edible flowers. Add the flowers to salads and omelettes. Bees love the flowers too.
Fennel – a herb that gets very big, but is ornamental and useful in the kitchen. Fennel pollen is popular in restaurants, it has great flavour and is easily collected by knocking it off the flowers into a bag before the pollen beetles get to it.
Celery leaf – grown for its celery flavour, cut when about 15cm tall or bigger
Lemon balm – easy and reliable, use to make a tasty ice cream
Borage – the leaves have a lovely cucumber flavour and the edible flowers are very pretty. Steam the leaves then pan fry in olive oil
Mint – lots of different varieties of mint available. Moroccan was a favourite, it’s compact, doesn’t suffer from mildew and has a good flavour. But then there is Florence, Chocolate, Basil, Black, Apple, Ginger, Spearmint, Pineapple and lime mint. Chocolate mint is good with vanilla ice cream – chop the leaves finely and sprinkle them over.
Then we moved onto woody herbs…
Rosemary – some people are seeing dieback on older plants this year, particularly ginger rosemary
Lemon verbena – a handful of leaves make a lovely cup of tea, and are good for flavouring cakes too
Thyme – common thyme was generally thought to be best for everyday cooking, lemon thyme also good but not so hardy. Use with potatoes and chicken, and add the flowers to salads. Lemon thyme can be added to a persillade, and citrus thymes are good for flavouring ice cream
Hyssop and bergamot – both very reliable
Greek oregano – a good form to grow for cooking with
The hour finished up with a list of herbs we wouldn’t want to be without in the garden. So here, in no particular order, are some herbs you might want to try growing – parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, coriander, basil, tarragon, chives, garlic chives, dill, fennel, wild garlic, mint, savory, bergamot and lemon verbena.