Thinking of starting your very own herb garden (i.e, a few pots near the back door or on the balcony)?
Well, I am.
Deciding what herbs to incorporate into my little herb garden has taken some research, but it mostly comes down to your own personal taste and which herbs you can see yourself using most in your cooking and for other purposes, like medicinal or fragrance purposes.
Here are my top five picks for the most versatile herbs used in cooking- they will all be featuring in my herb garden.
This is one of my favourite herbs. Growing up in an Italian family, I have eaten quite a lot of basil in just about everything and to this day, I still love it. My husband, on the other hand, just can’t seem to warm to it because it gives him a blood nose. Maybe I should sneak it into his dinner when I’m pissed off at him, hey? Rub a little under his nose while he’s sleeping? Hmm, better not because who would then be left washing the sheets? Yours truly, of course.
So anyway, back to basil.
Basil thrives in warm weather and lots of sun, so putting a pot out on your balcony is a great idea. It’s an annual plant, meaning you have to replant the bloody thing every year and it can’t survive the winter if you’re keeping it outdoors. Basil doesn’t like frost.
It’s so versatile, you can use it in a variety of ways. You can use it to flavour oils by popping a spring into a bottle of olive oil and storing it. You can chuck it in the food processor with some pine nuts, parmesan cheese and oil to make your own yummy pesto. Finely chopped, it goes well on fish and chicken and makes a delicious dressing with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The leaves can be eaten whole or shredded in salads like garden salads and warm potato salads. And don’t forget what basil was put on this earth for – Caprese salad (with bocconcini and little cherry tomatoes, DELISH!!). Image source
Believe it or not, rosemary is a member of the mint family. And a really annoying little girl who used to kick me in kindergarten with her stubby little legs. She clearly had some behavioural issues. I wonder what she is up to nowadays. Probably a suicide bomber.
Rosemary is easy to grow and doesn’t have the same problem with a lot of other herbs in the pest department as it seems to pest resistant. It can also tolerate drought conditions, which is good for us Aussies suffering water restrictions (and even better for those of us who are so lazy and cannot be bothered watering our pots regularly!).
This plant also flowers and the the little blooms are a delicate white or sometimes even blue- they are just gorgeous.
Rosemary has been used in the past to treat headaches, dandruff, poor circulation and epilepsy. Hippie nerds reckon it helps improve memory. Hippie nerds reckon it helps improve memory. Hippie nerds reckon it helps improve memory. HAH! (God, kill me now).
Because of its’ sweet fragrance, rosemary is popular for use in all kinds of lotions and tonics, essential oil blends and even incense sticks- one of my favourites, in fact.
Rosemary really is one of the most versatile herb- you can use it in so many different ways. The most traditional and much loved way, of course, is with roast lamb. Rosemary and lamb go together like… well, other good stuff. Crush and chop the leaves and use with pork or chicken dishes. Toss leaves with some chopped potatoes, salt, pepper and olive oil and bake for the best roast potatoes EVER! You can even use the stems as skewers because they’re so nice and sturdy- thread your meat or vegetables on to impart a beautiful flavour. Or like our friend, Jeff Jansz (I can’t be bothered trying to find out if I spelt that right), you can even use a sprig of rosemary as an oil brush when barbecuing. Just dip the sprig in some olive oil and brush the barbecue and baste the meat as you go. Ingenious.
You can add rosemary to sausages, with a good old fashioned roast, as part of stuffing mixes (perfect for chicken and turkeys, YUM!) and even sauces to drizzle over a baked chicken breast. It also makes a fabulous marinade. Definitely a favourite of mine.
There are heaps of varieties of mint, but perhaps the most common are spearmint and peppermint.
Now, talk about versatile.
You can use mint in everything from desserts, fruit salads, drinks, meat, vegies and seafood. There is a trick to choosing which mint goes best with which though- the general rule is that spearmint is ideal for savory dishes and peppermint is better for sweet desserts.
We most commonly associate mint with lamb, but it can also be used in making tea (perfect for settling a queasy belly), marinades and more commonly, used as a garnish for desserts and drinks.
Mint is also widely know to be a very good source of potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, manganese, copper, iron, calcium and magnesium = GOOD SHIT!
The fragrance of mint is often used in essential oils and perfumes and is thought to be revitalising and energising.
It’s also dead easy to grow- in the words of my husband, who hates gardening with a passion, “That bloody thing is unkillable!“[sic]. Righty-oh love. You just toddle off back to your computer and leave the killing of herbs to me. I’m quite good at it.
From my reading , I have learnt that sage is a powerful medicinal herb, having been used in a variety of cooking and medicinal scenarios. It’s been used to treat everything from sprains, swelling, ulcers and to control bleeding. Infused in a tea, it said to be good for sore throats and coughs. I will personally pass on that one. I’m all for herbal tea- as in, peach and mango; strawberry; lemon and ginger, and other sugary crap varieties, but sage? HELL NO!
Herbalists have also used this herb for rheumatism, menstrual bleeding, strengthening the nervous system, improving memory, and sharpening the senses apparently. That’s nice. Let’s get back to the cooking part, this isn’t a bloody herbal remedy lesson.
Now the most important thing you need to know with sage is, GO EASY! This stuff ruins everything when used generously- it basically makes your food taste like compost. Not that I’ve eaten compost, but you get the idea.
One of my favourite ways to eat sage is cooked the traditional way in a saltinbocca dish. Saltinbocca is a dish usually made with thinly sliced veal which is rolled with prosciutto and sage leaves, then pan fried and served with a white wine sauce. This is also fabulous with chicken.
Sage also tends to go well with the zesty flavour of lemon. Lemon and sage chicken is also a delicious favourite. Just remember to go easy on the sage and you’ll enjoy it in almost anything you cook that has a meaty, hearty flavour.
I’ve eaten so much parsley in my lifetime, I am surprised my farts are not parsley-scented.
NUMBER ONE LESSON I LEARNT ABOUT PARSLEY: It cures stinky breath! Not for me of course…but for other people. I wouldn’t know about stinky breath…thank you.
I also learnt that this herb is a part of the carrot family! Amazing what you learn every day. Now because it’s related to carrots, it also has the same high levels of beta carotene. It’s also a great source of vitamin B12, chlorophyll, calcium and even has more vitamin C than citrus fruits!
I have also heard that parsley is supposed to help improve the health and fragrance of roses when grown nearby.
Parsley has a variety of uses in the kitchen. Chop it finely and blend it with butter or mayonnaise as a perfect accompaniment for steak or seafood. Use it as a garnish or chop finely and sprinkle over your meal as you plate up. Blended with other herbs and a little oil, it can be a yummy marinade for fish and chicken. Chop it and mix it into your breadcrumb mix when making schnitzel- it really is lovely. Or make a delicious tabbouleh which is a Middle Eastern salad made of chopped parsley, burghul (cracked wheat), diced tomato, mint, lemon juice and black pepper. This is one of my, “Oh crap, I don’t have anything for dinner” summer meals and we usually just scoop it up with toasted Turkish bread and burp at each other and rate the aroma out of ten.