How to Plant and Use Herbs
Want to up the ante in your summer cooking? Just add herbs. From salads to stuffings, marinades to dressings, herbs lend extra freshness and punchier flavours. And they give a dish visual X-factor — a sprinkling of green makes a platter or plate look both more professional and more inviting.
If you get planting now, you’ll have an abundance of herbs to pick and pluck well into late summer. Spring, with its high levels of both showers and sunshine, is the perfect time to plant seeds or seedlings - start them indoors in seedling pots, then transplant to bigger pots outdoors or on a balcony once they’ve taken off. And, if you plant herbs now to enjoy in the coming months, you can also try your hand at drying any excess for winter, plus store the seeds for the following season.
If you don’t have a garden or any outdoor space, it’s still entirely possible to be a green-thumbed guru - herbs typically do well on sunny windowsills. Favourite soft green herbs such as basil, parsley, mint, coriander and chives are a good place to start with windowsill-growing, while hardier herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage will also work well on balconies.
And of course that’s just the beginning — also consider different kinds of mint (there are hundreds of varieties); Asian herbs such as Thai basil, lemongrass and garlic chives; dill to enliven summer seafood; and even edible marigolds to add a splash of colour to salads and drinks.
Once you’re repotting seedlings into pots, go for individual pots that measure about 10cm diameter across the top, so that there’s room for the herb to put down roots (planting them in separate pots ensures that herbs such as mint, which tend to take over, don’t overwhelm your other plants). Make sure that the pots have drainage holes (plus saucers to catch water!). Use a good-quality potting mix, and gently water your herbs regularly, keeping the soil moist but not wet (and avoid wetting the leaves, as this can cause fungal diseases).
Come summer, when you are ready to pick, prep and present your herbs, follow our handy kitchen guide:
· Wash herbs thoroughly, then drain in a colander – the drier the leaves the better, as wet leaves tend to go mushy when chopped.
· When chopping leafy herbs, make sure you use a sharp knife with a flat blade, not a serrated edge or a dull knife as it will only bruise the tender leaves. Alternatively, you can use kitchen scissors.
· Finely chop herbs for cooking as their flavours will blend more easily, but shred or leave them whole when using fresh in a salad.
· A mortar and pestle is ideal for making pesto and also great for pounding herbs for marinades. An essential utensil that has been around for centuries, there’s something time-honoured about the mortar and pestle that sits in a corner of your kitchen.
· Use your ice trays to freeze flowers such as borage to garnish jugs of water, iced tea, or a summery G&T.
· A surprising array of fresh herbs can be used to make soothing, therapeutic teas. In addition to well-known herbs, such as lemon balm, mint and chamomile, you can also use basil, thyme, sage, parsley and rosemary to make a refreshing drink. As a general guide, use three teaspoons of fresh leaves (or 1 teaspoon of dried leaves) to 1 cup of boiling water. Watch the steeping process unfold in a glass tea press.
· When it comes to herbs, there’s no need to stop at eating – they also make a lovely addition to a vase of fresh flowers, or placed in a posie as a gift.