With spring in full swing, what better time to go all green-fingered and grow your own batch of fresh and fragrant herbs? As well as giving you a great sense of achievement each time you snip off a sprig to season your meal, you can ensure your home grown herbs are organic, unlike many of the pre-potted versions you’ll find in the supermarket.
Spring is the perfect season for growing basil, thyme, parsley, mint and lavender, which will fill your kitchen or garden with divine smells and can be used to season a variety of delicious meals and drinks. Our guide tells you everything you need to know about growing your own herbs and includes some mouth-watering recipes to showcase your home grown delights.
What you need
- Good quality seeds
- Herb pots
- Plant food and fertiliser
- Hand trowel
- Watering can
This deeply aromatic herb not only smells great, but has a rich and distinctive flavour that has become something of a staple in traditional British cooking. As thyme is a perennial shrub, you can easily get in excess of two years out of your plant, if you keep it well fed and watered. Here’s how you can grow your own:
- Due to its irregular germination process, thyme is difficult to grow from the seed and can take as long as a year to turn into a harvestable plant; you may find it easier to grow from fresh cuttings instead.
- Use well-drained, light soil – thyme doesn’t like soil too rich in nutrients.
- Plant your seeds/cuttings indoors anytime from the beginning of February.
- Place the container in a warm place (preferably around 16C).
- Thyme seeds can take between 1-12 weeks to germinate.
- Once your shrub reaches four inches in height, you then have the option to replant them in the garden where they can flourish over the summer months.
- Thyme requires little attention and should be fed and watered sparingly.
- You can harvest the plant all year round, but expect the best flavour in June and July.
Cooking with Thyme
Celeriac, pancetta, pea and thyme soup
- 100g pancetta
- 1 large red onion
- Drizzle of olive oil
- Small knob of butter
- Handful of garden peas
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 chopped up celeriac
- 100ml double cream
- 850ml chicken stock
- Fry the pancetta in olive oil for approx. 5 minutes until crispy, before setting aside.
- Melt the butter into the pan, before adding the finely chopped onion, thyme stalks and bay leaf and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes.
- Next, add the celeriac and cook for a further 2 minutes.
- Pour the stock in and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the peas and stir in the cream, gradually bringing back to the boil.
- Remove the thyme stalks and add some thyme leaves.
- Pour into bowls, top with crispy pancetta and serve with crusty, buttered bread.
Rich in iron and Vitamins A and C, parsley is a biennial plant that is often used to garnish salads, soups and sauces. It’s leafy, bright green appearance makes it an attractive shrub to have on your windowsill or out in the garden – here’s how to grow it:
- To aid the germination process, soak the seeds in some warm water for 8-12 hours.
- Plant in pots indoors from January onwards, or wait until March if outdoors.
- Plant the seeds about 6-8 inches apart in rich, moist soil.
- Aim for a temperature of around 16C for your shrub.
- Water frequently throughout summer whilst germinating.
- Parsley is ready to harvest once the leaf stems have three segments.
- Only harvest outer leaves of the plant, leaving the rest to mature.
Cooking with parsley
- 2 handfuls of parsley
- 2 tbsp. of pine nuts
- 4 tbsp. of grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp. of olive oil
- Sprinkle of pepper
- Toast the pine nuts until golden brown
- Add to blender with all the other ingredients and blitz
- Enjoy with pasta and chicken or cherry tomatoes, or as a salad dressing or sandwich spread.
With its gorgeous scent and leafy appearance, basil is a popular herb that features prominently in Italian cuisine. It doesn’t like cold extremes and only grows naturally in summer, so be sure to harvest wisely and freeze for use during the winter months. Here’s how you grow it:
- Plant your seeds indoors around mid-April onwards, keeping them about 10 inches apart.
- Place in pot using moist, well-drained soil, using mulch in hotter climates to ensure soil doesn’t dry up.
- Water the plants regularly.
- Make a habit of picking leaves over summer to encourage further growth.
- Trim off any flowers that may appear.
- Basil is most flavoursome when the plant starts to bud, just before flowering.
Cooking with basil
Lemon and basil tiger prawn pasta
- Large tiger prawns
- Juice from one lemon
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- Handful of freshly chopped basil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring your pasta to the boil and set aside.
- Toss your tiger prawns into a pan to fry with the olive oil.
- Add the pasta to the prawns and stir.
- Add the lemon juice, capers, basil and another drizzle of olive oil and stir well.
- Garnish with a little more fresh basil and serve.
Arguably the most versatile herb, nothing beats the smell of fresh mint, which can last for several years if it’s given a little TLC. It can be tricky to grow from the seed, so you might want to take a cutting from an existing mint plant and give yourself a head start:
- Plant your mint seed or cutting in mid-late March in rich, moist, well-drained soil in a large pot, approximately 12-16 inches wide.
- Place the plant in an area that will give it some sun in the morning, but partial shade in the afternoon.
- When planting outside in and amongst other plants, be sure to contain the mint in a submerged pot, otherwise its fast growing roots may get out of control, spreading all over your garden.
- For the best flavour, harvest mint before the plant flowers.
Cooking with mint
Asian duck with mint, lemon and red chilli dressing
- 2 duck breasts
- The zest and juice from ½ lemon
- 2 tbsp. of Chinese 5 spice
- Salt and pepper
- Handful of finely chopped mint
- Drizzle of olive oil
- 1 large red chilli, diced
- Optional sprinkle of chilli flakes
- Season the duck breasts an hour before cooking with a mixture of Chinese 5 spice, salt and pepper, ensuring to score the fat with a sharp knife.
- Place skin side down on a medium heat pan and cook for 8 minutes without oil.
- Turn the breasts over for 30 seconds to seal the meat and then transfer to tray in the centre of an oven, pre-heated at gas mark 4 for a further 8 minutes (or 7 if you prefer a pinkish centre).
- In a small pan, mix together the lemon zest and juice, chilli, mint and olive oil to create your dressing.
- Carve your duck breast, drizzle with dressing and serve with garlic mash and sugar snap peas.
Known for its pretty, purple flowers and distinctive fragrance, lavender is a perennial herb that makes for an eye-catching addition to any English country garden. Although it thrives in more Mediterranean climates, it can still be successfully grown in our unpredictable weather quite easily; here’s how:
- Best suited to the great outdoors, April and May are the best times to grow lavender.
- Use well drained soil with low fertility and plant shrub bought from a reputable nursery.
- Lavender needs at least 8 hours of sun a day to thrive, and is best placed close to a sheltered spot to block out wind.
- Plant in a relatively shallow hole or pot, with just enough room to contain the shrubs root ball.
- Fertilize the plant by adding some composted manure to the lavender.
- Be sure to prune the plant, removing dead parts to assist healthy growth.
- Water the plant thoroughly, but only when the soil has become dry.
Cooking with lavender
Lavender tea cake
- 180ml milk
- 3 tbsp. finely chopped lavender
- 200g caster sugar
- 6 tbsp. butter
- 2 eggs
- 250g plain flour
- 1 ½ tsp of baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- Pre-heat oven to gas mark 3.
- Mix lavender into milk in a sauce pan on medium heat until simmering begins, then remove to cool.
- Mix the butter and sugar into a paste and then beat in the eggs until a fluffy texture is achieved. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt, followed by the lavender and milk, before pouring into a baking tin.
- Place in the centre of the pre-heated oven for 50 minutes.