Your Guide to Eating and Growing Herbs at Home

Herbs are essential in great vegetarian recipes, and if you can grow your own, so much the better!
When it comes to herb recipes, my garden is my inspiration of growing herbs at home! Even if it hasn’t been a great year for vegetable growing – and that is definitely the case this year – the herbs continue to perform well, producing an abundance of shoots and leaves which will go on to build wonderful explosions of taste in every recipe!

Herbs are humble plants, they don’t ask for much – just a little bit of space to grow in – the soil doesn’t have to be good – in fact if you plant them in rich organic soil you will get poor results! They are simple unassuming plants that will thrive happily in the poorest of soils – you don’t even have to water them much, once they are established – they hail from warmer climes and love nothing better than a rocky, dry landscape where they will grow away to their hearts content, providing you with all the ingredients you need to produce amazing food!

Mine grow away quite happily in this raised bed – see our raised bed vegetable gardening page for ideas!

Admittingly, we slept in this for a few years before bedding the herbs down here, however when it had outgrown it’s usefulness for us, James turned it into a safe haven for our culinary friends!

For the kitchen garden try chives, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme and a winter savoury.

Some herbs whose roots put out runners, such as mint and lemon balm, will take over the garden if they are not constrained. Planting them in terracotta pots, troughs and other containers is an ideal way to curb their exuberance when growing herbs at home!

Mint will grow well in an old butlers sink as it’s roots do not require soil that is more than 6 inches deep. I am actually overrun with lemon balm – apart from it’s lovely scent I don’t really know what to do with it – I have been known to sleep with some under the pillow and find it eases a troubled sleep!

Another idea would be to plant taller herbs, such as rosemary, close to the hub, with creeping thyme in front, and then edge it with curly parsley!

There are loads of ideas for containers for growing herbs at home in – you could actually build some little raised beds or terraces if you have space – pick a lovely sunny day and just let your imagination run wild – you’ll be amazed what you can do with stuff you find lying around the garden, or being thrown away by other people! James is a compulsive skip raker and we have found some amazing stuff in these – one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure!

One of my favourite herbs is thyme – I include it in loads of dishes – it grows happily in my garden, both in that bed I showed you, and in a little cairn I built out of cobbles in the potager! It seems to thrive in the dry conditions – I never water it, however then again, this is Scotland – you shouldn’t need to!

The thing to remember once you have planted your lovely herb garden is -it’s not just there for decoration – you need to USE them when growing herbs at home! Get into the habit of including them in all your recipes!

Think about how you are going to combine them – things that grow in the same place seem to belong in the same pan! So pair vegetables (or fruits?!) like tomatoes and peppers, which are often thought of as Mediterranean, with herbs from the same place, like basil!

Growing herbs and using herbs are great, however you need to know how to gather, or harvest, them. It is not as easy as picking a flower or a leaf. Depending on what herb you are gathering, the timing and the methods are vital pieces of information that you need.

Wild or Garden

First, you need to know where you are going to gather your herbs. Many herbs grow in the wild and are easy to get. Others do better in composted herb gardens or indoor pots. This is important as how you gather is based on this.

Wild herbs are taken in small batches. This is traditionally called wildcrafting and is a way of treating nature with respect and only taking what is needed. Take an herb basket along with gloves and herb/garden shears and gently take what you need.

Herbs grown in your garden are for the taking. Many harvest their herbs at the prime potency time all at once. Others do it only as they need it. If your garden is close to your house, you might not need an herb basket, however the gloves and shears are important.

What Part of the Herb

Not all herbs have their leaves used. Not all have their roots used. You need to know what part you are harvesting.

For example, you would use the leaves of sage. Honeysuckle flowers are used, however the berries are poisonous. You would use the bulb or root of the garlic.

Research carefully or talk to a gardener or herbalist before guessing what to harvest. Many parts of herbs can be dangerous. So, you want to get the right parts.

When to Gather

Once you know what part of the herb you want to gather, you can then determine when the right time is.

Leaves are generally best gathered right before or during the flowering of the herb. If the herb does not flower, harvest the leaves soon after they have developed. This is when you can find the highest potency in the leaves.

Flowers are better harvested during the budding phase all the way until they are in full bloom. Once the blossoms begin to fade and wilt, their use diminishes.

Fruit should always be picked when it is ripe. Unripe fruit can be toxic or just not good for your health. Make sure you know what the ripe fruit looks like for your particular herb. Keep in mind that many berries are poisonous.

Roots should be gathered after the flowers, fruit, and leaves have begun to fade away. This is the perfect time to dig up the herb and gather the roots for your herbal needs.

Storage and Use

Many herbs are better used fresh. There are times when you might want to dry, freeze, or turn them into liquid form. Most herbs can be stored and used in a variety of ways. This can be the most fun part of having herbs.

Gathering herbs is a satisfying part of growing your own herbs and going out into the wild and harvesting your own. Know where you are getting your herbs, what part you want, and when to gather safely and most effectively.

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