25 Sep Hooray for Herbs
Fresh herbs are really versatile, not just for garnishing or flavouring food but they can be used for teas, in cosmetics, are said to have medicinal properties, make great companion plants and can also make original, personalised gifts.
Cooking with Herbs
We all use herbs differently. They can be used as a flavouring in slow-cooked stews or stocks, a garnish to lift a curry, in dressings to liven up a salad or as a main ingredient, think basil pesto or parsley and cracked wheat tabouleh with lemon and olive oil. I often make a mixed herb omelette for a quick lunch or dinner.
The type of herb will determine when it is added to the cooking process. Woody, robust herbs like rosemary, thyme, bay and sage stand up to cooking and impart flavour, whereas soft, leafy herbs will lose their flavour if cooked for too long and are generally used raw or towards the end of the cooking process.
Personally, I prefer to use fresh herbs as the dried versions are rarely as good, however, in some countries, dried herbs are used more. Dried mint, although nothing like fresh, is used throughout Greece and the Middle East and dried oregano can be found abundantly in Greek cooking and adorns most pizzas to be found in Italy.
Herbs can be added to oil or vinegar to impart flavour. They can be used anywhere you would use plain oil or vinegar, including salad dressings, marinades, sauces and pickles.
Herbs are believed to have medicinal properties. They are full of antioxidants, vitamins, essential oils, minerals, fibre and numerous compounds said to boost health. It is said that making tea with fresh herbs captures between 50 and 90% of the effective ingredients of the plant. Mint tea is said to be good for digestion and chamomile, soothing and aids sleep.
Companions Planting and Beneficial Insect Attraction
Many herbs make good companion plants. They can attract beneficial insects, deter unwanted pests and even improve the flavour of neighbouring plants.
Basil and mint are said to repel mosquitoes. Mint, chives, coriander and dill repel aphids. Rosemary, lavender and catnip all deter a variety of pests.
Most herbs, when left to flower, are magnets for bees and other beneficial insects such as lacewings and hoverflies, that help with pollination and natural pest control.
We recently divided several clumps of chives, planting them around some of our fruit trees and strawberries. Our rose bushes are surrounded by lavender and rosemary and this year we will be planting abundant basil plants with tomatoes.
Herbs As Gifts
A great idea for a personalised gift, if you have a friend who loves Thai food, for example, plant a tub or large pot with coriander, garlic chives and Thai basil.
Make up a pot or planter with commonly used herbs like parsley, chives, basil, thyme and rosemary.
Make a “Tea pot” with mint, lemon balm, lemon verbena or chamomile.
I like to put a bunch of fresh, mixed, seasonal herbs into our boxes and bags each week. This year we are hoping to grow an even wider range with a number of new (recycled) dedicated raised beds.