Herbs do best in a hot, sunny spot. In these conditions they’ll make the highest level of the aromatic oils that give them their smell and taste. They also prefer well-drained soil, and are perfect for growing in pots near the kitchen door. Like all plants they enjoy regular feeding throughout the growing season.
Some perennial herbs, such as mint and lemon balm, are a bit too vigorous for their own good. To help keep them under control, plant them in big pots and sink them into the ground.
A great way to store herbs that you’ve harvested is to freeze them because this keeps the flavour fresh. Here are some flavoursome and healthy herbs that are easy to grow and are essential for any herb garden.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Oregano, also called “wild marjoram,” is a hardy perennial that has sprawling stems which can grow to 2 feet tall. This plant is much coarser than sweet marjoram and smells more like thyme. It has small pink or white flowers.
It grows well in poor soil and can be propagated by seed or division. Thin plants 10 to 12 inches apart. Stimulate foliage by cutting back flowers. Replant when plants become woody in 3 to 4 years. Use fresh leaves as needed.
Preserve leaves by drying. The leaves are often used as a flavouring on pizza. Sprinkle leaves over lamb or steak rubbed with lemon juice. Add to other Italian-type sauces.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Parsley is a hardy biennial that is usually treated as an annual. It is popular because of its much-divided, sometimes curly leaves which have a characteristic flavour and smell. Cut parsley when the leaves are of suitable size.
Leaves can be used fresh or dried. Parsley is one of the most familiar of all herbs and is used for both garnishing and flavouring. It is relatively high in vitamins A and C and iron.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Peppermint is a perennial plant with spreading rootstalks and many upright stems 2 feet or more in height. Its dark green leaves and reddish-tinged stems have a characteristic warm, spicy scent. Tiny purplish flowers appear in thick terminal spikes 1 to 3 inches long.
Peppermint does best in a rich, moist soil. Propagate by division or cuttings. The plant will grow in sun or shade. It is best to renew beds every 3 to 4 years.
The more frequently the sprigs are cut, the better the growth. Use leaves at any time. Leaves to be dried are best taken just as flowers begin to appear. The leaves are used in tea and for other flavouring.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary is a hardy evergreen shrub in areas where winter temperatures stay above -15oC. The narrow leaves have a leather-like feel and a spicy, resinous fragrance. Rosemary grows best in well-drained, sunny locations in lime-rich soil. It can be propagated by cuttings or grown from seed.
Pinch the tips to direct growth. Use fresh leaves as needed. Rosemary is a popular flavouring for meats and dressings or as a garnish on large roasts.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is a woody, hardy perennial plant with oblong, wooly, gray-green leaves that are lighter underneath and darker on top. Sage grows 2 to 3 feet or more in height and has a tendency to sprawl. Start from seed or cuttings.
A slow starter, sow the seeds indoors and transplant. Plant sage where it will receive full sun. Space plants 2 to 2 ½ feet apart. Plants eventually become woody and should be renewed every 3 to 4 years. Pick the leaves before or at blooming. Cut back the stems after blooming.
This aromatic and slightly bitter herb is noted for its use in stuffing for poultry, rabbit, pork, and baked fish.