be a sustainable gardener; how to grow herbs plus get the dirt on their amazing multifunctional uses
While I wilt, fade and become lifeless in summer there is an upside. Most herbs appear to thrive even in challenging, sub-tropical Brisbane. If it can be done here, it can be done anywhere. So if you’re not already doing it, you need to grow herbs! It can mark the beginning of future gardening ventures. My theory is that herbs are a gateway to growing more food. Growing herbs is sustainable gardening at its best due to their many functions including delicious culinary uses, flowers, medicinal properties, attracting pollinating insects and repelling unhelpful ones. The scent of a herb comes from the etheric oil found in leaves and flowers so during the warm heat of summer the amount of volatile oils are at their highest and most fragrant. Herbs are beyond easy to grow, low maintenance and provide a sense of achievement. Just imagine nipping out to the backyard or balcony to snip some herbs, throwing it in a teapot and pouring tea for visitors. You will appear to be a very together person.
Most herbs enjoy sun for the majority of the day with a bit of shade on the side. They are pretty forgiving and tolerant when it comes to soil but good drainage is very important. Moist is good but soggy soil is not, particularly in a humid climate where fungal issues can be a problem around the roots. Planting herbs with some sand or drainage gravel along with your soil and compost can help with this. Grow them in close proximity to your kitchen for regular use or in permaculture speak, Zone 1 (“oftenest is nearest”). I grow about half of mine in containers (need to water more in summer) and the other half in the garden mainly for companion planting and attracting and repelling insects. When planting in containers, use an organic potting mix and add water crystals to help survive the summer heat. I tend to fertilise every now and then with comfrey tea. Perennial herbs tend to die off in winter but return to their glory in spring and summer. Make sure you regularly harvest to keep them growing well.
So here is some herb porn from my garden with notes on my growing some of my summer favourites that I love to cook with. Check out my other posts on herbs…lavender, peppermint, bay leaf, curry leaf, basil, nasturtiums and rocket. They make a great gift for family/ friends during the merry season. Have a fabulous and safe xmas readers! :: Jem x
B A S I L
I beg you to plant your basil next to tomatoes. Not only a divine culinary marriage but choice companion planting. Basil has the ability to repel fruit flies and mozzies if you grow heaps of it. It’s an annual herb that will die off in winter so I let it drop seeds wherever and always seem have a constant supply. So easy to grow from seed (sow in spring and summer). You’re supposed to pull off the tips before flowering but I leave them on as my bees love them. Basil is said to relieve headaches, anxiety and mild depression and can also help with digestion issues and upset stomachs. Something is wrong if I don’t have pesto in my fridge during summer (also check out my recipe for basil semifreddo). I grow purple ‘dark opal’ (Ocimum basilicum ‘Purpurascens’) and sweet ‘genovese’ (Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese’).
O N I O N C H I V E S (Allium schoenoprasum )
I grow them in pots and throughout my garden around the borders. Chives are a perennial herb that grow in clumps and die back in winter but are resurrected in spring when they produce pretty heads of mauve flowers. Don’t forget that the flowers are edible and awesome in salads. Chives also famously pair up with any egg related or gloriously cheesy dishes. In the garden they act as a natural pest repellent and can prevent apple scab and deter aphids (and blackspot under roses). Sow seed in spring and autumn.
M E X I C A N T A R R A G O N (Tagetes lucida)
This tarragon packs a punch with its full on aniseed scent and flavour. It’s similar to French Tarragon but is much stronger so don’t go too crazy with it. In summer it produces pretty golden yellow flowers on the top of the plant. I often infuse tarragon with white wine vinegar and this year it will be chopped and thrown into my roast duck fat potatoes for xmas eve. You can pretty much grow tarragon in any climate, it’s so so easy. Sow seed in spring.
R O S E M A R Y (Rosmarinus officinalis)
A perennial with evergreen leaves that loves hot weather (it’s Mediterranean) and will stand the test of time. I grow it everywhere, in pots and all over all my garden to deter cabbage white butterfly and attract beneficial insects. I think rosemary has the best fragrance ever and the aroma is meant to clear the mind. No wonder I grow so much of it. So delicious to cook with especially lamb and roast veggies. It grows to a decent height of around a metre and a half so it’s great for hedging as well. In summer it produces pale mauve flowers and it grows really well from cuttings.
L E M O N B A L M (Melissa officinalis)
A perennial herb that has the most beautiful lemonade fragrance (it doesn’t flower in south east QLD). I often use fresh leaves (you can also dry them) to make herbal tea (seep in hot water for 5 mins) and it can be used as a remedy for fatigue, stress, insomnia and headaches. You can use fresh leaves in drinks, desserts and savoury dishes. Great for fruit salads, pairing with apples and making a herb butter. I also add it to my gin of course. Lemon balm attracts bees and butterflies and is a good companion plant to fruit trees, anything from the onion family, roses and tomatoes. Make sure you give it more shade when the weather gets really hot. Sow seed in spring.