No matter if you have a large garden or no garden, a green thumb or a black one like me, everyone can grow some herbs.
They are super easy to grow – if I can grow them anyone can – and they make an inexpensive but tasty and healthy addition to just about any dish you cook.
Fresh herbs are essential for wholefood cooking; they add flavour and nutrients, but they cost a fortune if you buy them from the shops. And they don’t last long in the fridge, making herbs one of the most common foods to be wasted. Grow your own and they are practically free and you don’t need to worry about storage or waste.
You don’t need a garden to grow herbs – they do fine in an old tin can on a sunny windowsill. Or you can grow them vertically on a sunny wall if you’re short on space.
Start from seed if you’re keen, or pick up some seedlings, which is the easier option (I like the easier option). You can even pick up herb seedlings in the supermarket. Leave your herbs to go to seed, and they will self-seed for years to come, providing you with free herbs season after season.
The picture above is the little garden at our front door. When I dug it up, it was rocky, sandy and uninhabitable for all but the hardiest of weeds.
A bit of compost and cow poo, and the plants are now thriving. We have rosemary, oregano and thyme right at our front door (and right near the kitchen).
The central bush is a beautiful native Callistemon, which when flowering is a mass of red. It brings the bees and it was the inspiration for the new Frugal and Thriving blog logo. Excuse the mess, the neighbouring Dracaena drops leaves everywhere, faster than I can sweep them up. It’s all mulch anyway, right?
Out the back is the parsley, garlic chives, lemon balm, coriander that’s going to seed, basil and some very sad looking mint. The bracken in the garden, by the way, keeps the cats out.
essential herbs to grow in your garden
Chives are useful in many dishes in the kitchen where you want to impart a subtle onion flavour. Add to salads, fritters, savoury muffins, scrambled eggs, steamed vegetables or use as a garnish on stews and soups.
Chives are a hardy, easy to grow herb. We actually grow garlic chives – they’ve been in the same pot now for 6 years, there’s almost no soil left, they hardly get a water, but they thrive nevertheless. That’s how easy they are to grow. You can grow them in the soil or in a pot, even inside on a sunny windowsill.
Every year, chives die back, but don’t pull them out, they’ll come back next season.
Every few years, you can divide the clumps and replant or share with your neighbours.
Parsley is the king of the herbs in the kitchen. It can be added to just about anything, and used as a garnish for the rest.
Parsley is rich in vitamins and minerals including C, B12, K and A, which means it is great for your immune and nervous systems. It helps flush excess fluid out of the body, and can help control blood pressure if you eat enough of it.
Choose between curly leaf or the flat leaf Italian variety, or plant both. Parsley will grow happily in a shady spot, so if you’ve got a bare patch, try planting parsley.
Parsley is an annual, so it will eventually go to seed and die down, although our parsley is still going strong after a couple of years. If you leave it, it will self-seed, keeping you in parsley forever.
Let’s not forget the rosemary, a hardy plant that tolerates hot and cold climates.
Studies are showing that sniffing rosemary actually does improve your memory.
Rosemary grows as either a bush or a ground cover. I grow both. My mother’s rosemary bush is almost as high as the fence and almost as wide – left alone in a garden bed with plenty of space, it can grow into a large bush. Or grow it as clipped hedge.
It can also be grown successfully in pots, but it won’t grow as big.
Once established, you can harvest this herb all year round.
Rosemary is nice with roast lamb, tossed through roast vegetables, or cooked with sautéed mushrooms.
Like Rosemary, thyme is another hardy herb. It likes full sun and dry gritty soil, perfect for neglectful gardeners like me. There are many variety of thyme, including the delicious lemon thyme and mother-of-thyme that is planted as a ground cover and will tolerate foot traffic.
You can use thyme to flavour stews and sauces by dropping a whole stem into your cooking and removing it at the end. If you want to keep the thyme in the dish, strip the leaves off before adding as the stem is quite woody. Small leaves don’t need chopping.
Thyme is used in the traditional French bouquet garni, along with with parsley and a bay leaf.
Basil is probably my favourite herb. As it is a subtropical plant, it grows really well here in QLD all year round.
Usually an annual, if you live in a colder climate it will die off as the weather cools.
Grow it where it gets plenty of sun and water and add lots of compost to the soil before planting.
Basil is the star of pesto. It also makes a lovely addition to pizzas and pasta. Add it at the very last minute if you are going to cook it, because the flavour will diminish with cooking.
Grow oregano in full sun in well draining soil. It will grow bushier if you cut it back regularly, so harvest away.
Oregano is a perennial, so will continue to grow for years to come.
Mint is hard to kill, but I’ve never had much success growing it well either. Probably because it doesn’t like to dry out.
This perennial plant often dies down over winter, but will come back. Keep it chopped to prevent it from growing straggly.
Mint is best grown in pots because it runs. Grow it in your garden and it might just take over!
On the other hand, if you have a shady spot, plant mint as a ground cover. We lived in a rental property where mint was growing just about everywhere and in some of the harshest conditions like between pavers under stairs.
I’ve recently grown a fondness for mint, and have been putting it in just about everything. Lovely in homemade juices or smoothies, great in salads, in wraps, tossed through steamed vegetables, made into mint sauce for the Sunday lamb roast, or brewed as a tea.
8. WILDCARD: YOUR FAVOURITE HERB
There are dozens of other herbs that can be grown, from the familiar to the exotic, so the last essential herb to grow is your own particular favourite.
For me, that’s coriander, a delicious addition to curries, stir fries, rice paper wraps and homemade sushi. Sage comes in at a very close second.
Some people love tarragon (I’m not a fan myself), or if you’re a fish lover, dill might be your herb of choice.
If you live in the subtropics, lemongrass is a nice to throw in a corner, along with ginger or ginko.
You could grow your own stevia plant, a bay tree, a curry bush…the options are almost endless.
Everyone can grow a few herbs, regardless of space. Homegrown make a cheap, delicious and nutritious addition to just about any meal, taking it from ok to gourmet.