SINCE living in Spain herbs have featured in the plantings in the garden, experimental terrace gardens, builder’s bucket salad bars, our allotment when we had it, and the naturally occurring herbs left to grow wild on our naturally cultivated olive grove.
Knowing that space is a premium a baker’s dozen are described below. Why a baker’s dozen? Well my first Saturday job was to count up piles of 960 farthings and bag them for the bank at my father’s baking business.
Every 13th bag was my pocket and birthday money in the same way that in those days a 13th Easter hot-cross bun, doughnut or roll was free.
So to an interesting selection of beneficial herbs:
• Mint (perennial) – Best planted in a large sunken pot to control the expansive roots. Added to boiling water adds a good touch to your new potatoes.
Has several culinary and medicinal uses ranging from mint sauce to serve with lamb to a strong infusion in the morning after a night on the town.
If you hunt around, an interesting collection of mints can be built up with a diversity of leaf colours, scents and flavours.
• Stevia (perennial) – The leaves are very sweet and a great natural replacement for sugar. Summer leaves can be dried for the winter months.
• Garlic (annual) – The healthiest vegetable/herb of them all with a wide range of culinary uses and a useful insecticide in the garden as an infusion spray or growing in geranium pots or under rose bushes.
• Chives (perennial) – A row looks ornamental and a good addition to salads.
• Horseradish (perennial)– A couple of plants in the ground or large sunken pot can add zest to trout and meat dishes and grated the root can increase one’s metabolism after a gluttonous meal.
If you look at the labels on horseradish sauce bottles you will be surprised by the small percentage of horseradish included and the range of other ingredients. So grow it yourself.
• Sage common (perennial) – Obviously for sage and onion stuffing. An infusion good for gums. The common culinary sage is just one of over 800 varieties of sage or salvias. Collecting them is an interesting hobby.
To understand what is available have a look at the catalogue of photographs and descriptions on the website of ’Robbins salvia’.
• Purslane ( annual but can self-seed for continuity) – An interesting addition to salads.
• Rocket (annual but late growing plants can also seed) – Adds a spicy taste to salads.
• Basil (annual) – Each year we grow a selection of the annual seeds from the interesting and long list offered by Chiltern Seeds. Great with chopped tomatoes and salads.
• Perilla (annual but easily self-seeds for continuity) – Infusions are said to help hay fever sufferers. Reputed to be useful for panic attacks such as the Sunday morning you find that slugs have eaten all the recently-planted lettuces overnight.
• Parsley (generally an annual but some varieties will over-winter) – Great with fish dishes and infusions useful for the wife’s cystitis.
• Comfrey (perennial) – A must for ecological vegetable growers, one can harvest several crops a year to put in a bucket of water for a month to produce a handy ecological fertilizer.
It’s also beneficial to wrap seed potato in a couple of leaves before planting; add some to the compost heap as an accelerator; use a poultice on a strained knee or ankle, or a gouty toe.
• Rosemary (perennial) – An important culinary herb and a perfect partner for many meat dishes.
Well that should get you off to a productive start. There are many more. Forty that we regularly use for cooking and various preventive health measures are listed in our book ‘Living Well from Our Garden – Mediterranean Style’ available from Amazon Books.
Finally a few words of warning. Most annual herbs are best if not grown in full sun all day long as they can soon go to seed.
© Dick Handscombe www.gardeninginspain.com