Herbs - add home-grown flavour to your cooking

Herbs in a window box. Picture: Getty Images

Herbs in a window box - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Walking the dogs to the allotment through the park this week has been much more exciting for them than me.

Winding my way through the wisps of barbecue smoke has led to the inevitable wood-fired meal at home.

These are always enhanced by the contents of the nearby herb container/garden where leaves and branches get torn off and stuffed into whatever’s been seared or thrown into the marinade.

Even the tiniest gardens tend to have a herb patch or container in a sunny spot.

They are worth it just for the joy of running a hand through the rosemary or mint.  

You don’t have to stick to just the more traditional herbs in your patch as most things will grow and save you a small fortune in the process.

Buying a few herbs can cost upwards of a crisp ten pound note at the supermarket whereas you can buy and look after an endless supply if you’re willing and able.  

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Parsley is the most popular herb in our house and seems to manage well with some decent watering and feeding.

It’s a biennial so if you want a continuous crop, plant them in late summer as those sown in spring will go to seed next year.

Parsley is the next best source of iron after nettles, which in my book makes it the best source.

They can be a touch fickle in germinating and are said to travel seven times to hell and back before sprouting. Soaking the seed prevents them taking this risky trip.  

Coriander is a close second. I know its a love it or hate kind of herb and it either tastes of soap or heaven depending on your stance.

We can t get enough of it and always have a few pots of it on the go. They like a well drained and sunny spot and sow the seeds two weeks apart to have a continuous supply.

They do bolt - go to seed very quickly - so pick the leaves while you can.

Coriander seeds were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb as they were seen to have medicinal qualities against the two-headed serpent - I’ll bear that in mind next time I’m weeding a particularly neglected patch.

Also in the herb ‘garden’ but in a pot is the ever reliable lemon verbena.

This is native to Chile and smells and tastes of lemon sherbet sweets.

It’s probably easier to buy a small plant that will soon grow to give you more fizzy lemon leaves than you can ever need.

You could always make a sugar syrup with it and make a smug cocktail.

If you want to grow something easy that you can use all the time, then mint is for you.

They are easy to grow but hard to control so a pot is a good option.

There are numerous mint varieties to choose from including chocolate, pineapple and spearmint all with multiple uses.  

I've yet to see a herb garden without the universally popular rosemary.

Not only does it cover multiple uses but its tiny purple blue flowers keep the bees happy for most of the day.

Although it is a Mediterranean herb, it will thrive here in well drained soil, sheltered and in full sun.

If you trim it a few weeks after planting you'll be rewarded with plenty of oily leaves and strong sticks to use as skewers for kebabs, the wood imparting flavour into whatever it is you are attaching a flame to.

Other herbs on the plot are feverfew, bergamot, comfrey, oregano and thyme among others.

In our climate there really is no excuse for not growing your own herbs and expanding on those only available in the local supermarket.  

The feeling you get from adding your own herbs into cooking is well worth growing your own and we haven't even touched the surface of the aromatics available to grow.