Grow your own!
Herbs are incredibly easy to grow – you just need pots and or soil, water, light – they take up little time or cost and once established provide valuable nutrients for years and can turn the most mundane ingredients into a culinary experience.
If you don’t have a garden you can still grow herbs on a balcony or window sill. They need minimal root space but need 4-6 hours of daylight – south or southwest facing give best results but east or west-facing will do.
If that isn’t possible you can still grow herbs indoors (along with some salad leaves) using fluorescent light (they’ll be quite happy as they don’t fruit) – just give them an occasional feed with organic plant food.
Pinterest offers lots of inspiration and some nice design ideas for indoor growing
Indoor garden ideas:
Growing herbs ideas:
PARSLEY for Vitamins K, C and A
Parsley is the world’s most popular herb (a relative to celery). It’s a biennial plant so will return to your garden year after year once it is established. I planted in one of my big pots last summer – it’s grown into a monster bush and has provided me with lots of fresh green parsley throughout the winter and still going strong. I use this free source of vitamins as much as possible and add it to smoothies, soups, stews, salads, omelettes, mixed veg sautés, etc.
Health benefits of parsley
A half-cup of parsley (30 grams) is just 11 calories and is rich in nutrients
Cooking and storing parsley
Italian flat leaf parsley has stronger flavour and is the best one for cooking.
You can easily dry flat leaf parsley it by laying it out in a single layer on a clean kitchen cloth. Once dried, it should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark and dry place. Use within 6 months.
Curly leaf parsley is best preserved by freezing, as opposed to drying. Although it will retain most of its flavour, it has a tendency to lose its crispness, so it is best used in recipes without first thawing.
- Combine chopped parsley with bulgur wheat, chopped green onions (scallions), mint leaves, lemon juice and olive oil to make the Middle Eastern classic dish tabouli.
- Add parsley to pesto sauce to add more texture.
- Serve a colourful salad of fennel, orange, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and parsley leaves.
- Add to smoothies!
An small evergreen shrub related to mint, rosemary is available throughout the year.
I use it fresh all year in breads, roast veg, and sauces and stews.
Health benefits of rosemary
2 tablespoons (4 grams) is just 6 calories and is considered useful for stimulating the immune system, increasing circulation, and improving digestion, contains anti-inflammatory compounds and has been shown to increase the blood flow to the head and brain, improving concentration.
Cooking and storing rosemary
Rinse under cool running water and pat dry. Some recipes call for rosemary leaves which are easy to remove from the stem. Alternatively, you can add the whole sprig to season soups, stews and sauces, then remove it before serving.
Drying makes the leaves woody but you can store the rosemary sprigs in ice cube trays covered with either water or stock that can be added when preparing soup and sauces (lovely with tomato) or stews.
- Add fresh rosemary to omelettes
- Better than butter – purée fresh rosemary leaves with olive oil and use as a dipping sauce for bread.
Sage has been held in high regard throughout history both for it culinary and medicinal properties.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF SAGE
Two teaspoons of dried sage (1.4 grams) contain 4 calories and provides RDA 27% of Vitamin K and, like rosemary, sage contains a variety of volatile oils, flavonoids, and phenolic acids and acts as an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. It’s considered to enhance brain function.
COOKING AND STORING SAGE
Since the flavour of sage is very delicate, it is best to add near the end of the cooking process so that it will retain its maximum flavour.
To store fresh sage leaves, carefully wrap them in a damp paper towel and place inside a loosely closed plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator where it should keep fresh for several days.
Dried sage should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.
- Mix cooked navy beans with olive oil, sage and garlic and serve on bruschetta.
- Use sage as a seasoning for tomato sauce.
- Add fresh sage to omelettes.
- Sprinkle some sage on top of your next slice of pizza.
- Combine sage leaves, bell peppers, cucumbers and sweet onions with plain yogurt for an easy to prepare, refreshing salad.
There are about 60 different varieties of thyme – French, lemon, orange, silver being the most popular. It’s easy to grow though not as hardy as some of the others but mine has survived through the winter and has started growing back.
Health benefits of thyme
Thyme is an excellent source of vitamin C, a very good source of vitamin A, and a good source of iron, manganese, vitamin B6, copper, and dietary fiber and has a long history of use in natural medicine in connection with chest and respiratory problems including coughs, bronchitis, and chest congestion.
Cooking and storing thyme
Thyme, either in its fresh or dried form, should be added toward the end of the cooking process since heat can easily cause a loss of its delicate flavor.
Store fresh thyme in the fridge wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. Dried thyme should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.
- Thinly sliced courgettes tossed in olive oil mixed with lemon thyme – bake until slightly crispy.
- Add thyme to your favorite pasta sauce recipe.
- Fresh thyme adds a wonderful fragrance to omelets and scrambled eggs.
- Kidney beans, pinto beans and black beans taste good when seasoned with thyme.
- Season soups and stocks with fresh thyme.
Chives are one of the most sought-after ingredients used for flavouring and garnishing recipes in many parts of the world, especially in French and Mediterranean cuisines. They have subtle onion flavour, besides imparting bright green colour to the recipes.
Garlic chives are popular in China, Taiwan, and Japan, where the fresh leaves used as flavourings in delicious dumplings, soups, stews, and stir-fries. In Europe, chives are mainly used as garnishing, especially in baked, or mashed and cream cheese mixed potatoes. Vichyssoise, a classic cold soup, is served with freshly chopped chives. Also used in muffins, scones, quiche, pizza, omelettes, biscuits, etc
Health benefits of chives
Just 1 tbsp. of chives supplies many vitamins and minerals, including 9 mg of potassium, 3 mg of calcium, 78 mcg of beta-carotene, 3 mcg of folic acid and 6 mcg of vitamin K. Chives also supply lesser amounts of magnesium, iron and trace amounts of several B vitamins.
Aid to digestion – antibacterial chives work by getting rid of bacteria, yeast and fungi in your intestinal tract so that your entire digestive system works as it should.
How to cook and store chives
Choose young leaves for mild flavour. Larger ones tend to have sharp, strong onion-like pungent flavour.
Wash in a bowl of cold water and dry gently with a paper towel. Chop the leaves closely with sharp knife. Add to final moments of cooking to prevent loss of flavour (essential oils).
Fresh leaves can be stored in a plastic bag and keep inside the refrigerator.
Dried leaves may be placed in an air-seal container and stored in a cool, dark place.
- Fresh chopped leaves add great taste to mint, cucumber, shallot, parsley, tomato salad.
- Closely chopped fresh leaves are added in sandwiches, soups, and cold sauce.
- Quiche with caramelised onions, shallots, porcini mushrooms, ementhal cheese and chives
- Add a sprinkle of chives to a potato dish, pasta recipe or tossed green salad.
There are more than 60 varieties of basil, all of which differ somewhat in appearance and taste. While the taste of sweet basil is bright and pungent, other varieties also offer unique tastes: lemon basil, anise basil and cinnamon basil all have flavors that subtly reflect their name.
Highly fragrant leaves are used as a seasoning herb for a variety of foods but has become ever popular as the main ingredient in pesto, the mixture of basil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese.
Health benefits of basil
Basil is rich in vitamin K (21.5grams = RDA 98%,) manganese (12%), copper (9%) and A (6%), C (5%) iron, folate and calcium (each 4%), magnesium and omega-3 fats (both 3%).
Basil offers unique health-protecting effects from flavonoids and volatile oils, including DNA protection, anti-bacterial properties, anti-inflammatory, and nutrients essential for cardiovascular health.
How to cook and store basil
Since the oils in basil are highly volatile, it is best to add the herb near the end of the cooking process, so it will retain its maximum essence and flavor.
Fresh basil can be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. It may also be frozen, either whole or chopped, in airtight containers. Alternatively, you can freeze the basil in ice cube trays covered with either water or stock that can be added when preparing soups or stews.
Dried basil can be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool cupboard.
- Combine fresh chopped basil with garlic and olive oil to make a dairy-free variety of pesto that can top a variety of dishes including pasta, salmon and whole wheat brushetta.
- Enjoy a taste of Italy by layering fresh basil leaves over tomato slices and mozzarella cheese to create this traditional colorful and delicious salad.
- Adding basil to healthy stir-fries, especially those that include eggplant, cabbage, chili peppers, tofu and cashew nuts.
- Purée basil, olive oil and onions in a food processor or blender and add to tomato soups.
- Enjoy a warm cup of invigorating basil tea by infusing chopped basil leaves in boiling water for eight minutes.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST – MINT!
There are 25 different kinds of mint and it is really easy to grow – best in a pot because it spreads. will go dormant when exposed to freezing temperatures, and then sprout again in the spring.
Mint is an ancient herb used for thousands of years for its culinary, medicinal and aromatic properties.
Peppermint (strong), spearmint (cool and mild) are the most popular but you can also find chocolate mint (great with ice cream) apple mint, orange mint, water mint, curly mint and Corsican mint.
Health benefits of mint
Peppermint contains traces of 80 different nutrients and is a good source of manganese, copper, and vitamin C.
Digestion soother – the menthol contained in peppermint is a soothing, muscle relaxant to relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including indigestion, dyspepsia, and colonic muscle spasms.
Anti-microbial – the essential oil of peppermint stops the growth of many different bacteria including Helicobacter pylori, Salmonella enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). It has been found to inhibit the growth of certain types of fungus as well.
Breathe easy aid – the rosmarinic acid in peppermint has several actions that are beneficial in asthma. In addition to its antioxidant abilities to neutralize free radicals it has been shown to block the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals. It also encourages cells to make substances called prostacyclins that keep the airways open for easy breathing. Extracts of peppermint have also been shown to help relieve the nasal symptoms of allergic rhinitis (colds related to allergy).
How to cook and store mint
Wrap fresh mint leaves in a damp paper towel and place inside a loosely closed plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator – should keep fresh for several days.
Dried mint should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark, dry place, where it will keep fresh for about nine to twelve months.
- Peppermint leaves are especially good in warm weather when they can give a burst of cool flavor to a summery salad or cool drinks.
- Toss cubes of cooked eggplant with chopped mint leaves, plain yogurt, garlic and cayenne.
- For a quick and easy salad, combine fennel, onions, oranges and mint leaves.
- Adding some fresh mint leaves to fruit salad.
- Chocolate mint leaves with vanilla ice-cream.
- The freshness of mint complements the sweet/acid taste of tomatoes – add chopped mint leaves to gazpacho or other soups with tomato.
- A cup of fresh mint tea can help to soothe your stomach and your nerves.
- Add to smoothies!
We hope you enjoy these ideas and have fun growing your own!
Written by Maggi M.