There is something really satisfying about growing your own herbs. A quick snip of lovingly grown basil, chives, mint or coriander into an equally lovingly prepared dish adds a level of completeness you just can’t achieve from a jar of dried stuff you bought in Tesco.
Growing herbs is relatively easy, and the results are fantastic. Who can resist a sprig of fresh basil atop a home-made spaghetti bolognaise? Or fresh coriander chopped into salads, soups and curries? Chivey mash and minty peas are among my favourites, made all the more special if I’ve grown the potatoes and peas as well.
No kitchen is too small to accommodate a pot or two of fresh herbs; even a windowsill has room for a little basil and coriander. A porch, yard or garden can afford a tub of mint, chives, sage, rosemary and oregano, which will last for years and become as much a staple to the kitchen as an herb rack (and smell much more appetising).
While pots of basil, coriander and parsley can be bought from the supermarket for around 59p, they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. Fresh herbs from the supermarket are grown in intensive, hot-house conditions, and can be fed with a host of unsavoury pesticides and fertilisers. Because they’re put under so much pressure to produce lots of lush leaves, their root-balls don’t develop properly, so they’re most likely to die as soon as you’ve got them home.
It’s far better to buy herb plants from a reputable garden centre, or grow the plants from seed. I love sowing the seeds myself. Every March I part fill several 5cm pots with moist, peat-free compost and sprinkle a few seeds of basil, coriander and parsley into them. I cover the seeds with a loose layer of compost, and then wrap the top of the pot with clingfilm to create a microclimate in which the seeds can germinate (it works like a greenhouse). Once the seedlings have developed their first ‘true’ leaves (after about five weeks), I thin them out, to around 5cm apart, or transplant them into separate pots. These pots provide me with bundles of fresh herbs, often leaving me with a surplus to freeze, dry, or make into a delicious home-made pesto.
Of course, it’s not just regular dishes that benefit from home-grown herbs. Ever tried lavender biscuits? Or making your own horseradish sauce or mustard? Now there’s a challenge…
Do you grow your own herbs? Do you make your own bouquet garni, make intricate herbal concoctions, or just snip chives into a salad?