You don’t need much space to grow herbs for your kitchen. All you need is a small sunny area and a couple of pots or planters.
And if you want to plant herbs in the ground, the area should as far as possible be free from weeds and overhanging trees and have good access to the house so that the herbs can be harvested in all weather.
The description of plants as herbs generally refers to a group of plants that are used by humans for their aromatic, culinary or medicinal uses.
What herbs to plant? Well you will discover that some grow better in your area than others, but mainly if you want a culinary herb garden, select those herbs used in your favourite dishes.
Good Drainage and Sunshine
Most of the herbs that we can successfully grow in South Africa originated in the warmer climates of the world where they grow in full sun. It is these conditions that we must create for them.
Herbs are like most people: they do not like to have ‘wet feet.’ It is very important that your soil have good drainage. And good air circulation, so avoid overcrowding containers (both with plants and in one space).
So, even if you plant a limited number of pots of herbs, placed on a sunny kitchen windowsill or a tiny patio, you will be saving money and transforming the dishes that are served from your kitchen with the addition of fresh cut herbs.
What Type of Soil?
Herbs are some of the easiest, most grateful plants to grow.
A mistake often made when growing herbs in containers is to use the wrong type of growing medium. It needs to offer sufficient drainage so that the roots don’t sit in wet soil but it also needs to retain moisture so that the plants have access to nutrients. The best growing medium would be a high quality organic potting soil.
Easiest the Grow
Chives, Mint and Parsley are easiest to grow but others like Basil and Dhania, also don’t require much effort.
Before planting, set out the herbs in the positions you’d like to plant them. Space them according to their expected height and spread so they have enough room to reach their full potential
Water the herbs well before planting and loosen the root balls to encourage new root growth. Pinch out the tips of shrubby herbs to encourage a bushy habit.
Firm the soil gently around the plant and water thoroughly to settle the soil.
Newly planted herbs need regular watering. It’s better to water deeply and less frequently than little and often.
Soft Herbs and Hard Herbs
Soft herbs are those with tender stems like basil, parsley, coriander and tarragon. They are also annuals which means they will complete its life cycle within one year.
Soft herbs require more watering and should be grouped together if planting in a single container.
Hard herbs are those with woody stems such as rosemary, thyme and oregano. These are perennial plants and they will happily grow in your garden for more than two years.
They require good drainage (don’t like wet feet) and also less watering, so again should be group together.
It helps to know a bit of about the herbs you are planting, so here is some info on the most popular herbs to grow for the kitchen.
Basil – Synonymous with Italian and Summer
One of the most popular herbs, especially for those who love Italian food like pasta, pizza and pesto, is Basil (also known as sweet basil) easily grown in containers.
The basil plant is thought to have originated in India.
Basil is cultivated for its aromatic leaves that are used fresh or dried and for the production of essential oils and essence. The fresh and dried leaves are used in cooking as flavouring and also eaten raw in salads.
Basil does best in well-drained sandy loam soils that are high in organic matter. When preparing the soil in the plant area it is essential to add enough organic manure or compost to the soil.
Excessive heat or cold damages the basil plant and its very sensitive leaves.
Coriander – Easy to Grow
Whether you know it as cilantro, dhania or Chinese parsley, coriander is commonly used by cooks across continents and regions. Every part of this short-lived annual herb is used; its leaves, the seeds (dried) and its roots. The seeds can be used whole or ground for use in confectionery, bread, salads and pickles.
Coriander originates from the Near East. The first evidence of the plant, its cultivation and use by humans is over 6 000 years ago from Egypt to Turkey, Central Asia and Persia. Following this, the use of coriander had also spread to India and China more than 3 000 years ago and then later to Southern Europe. Today coriander is used and cultivated worldwide.
It is easy to grow but can go to seed quickly. It does like a bit of afternoon shade, especially during hot Summers. These plants need a nice deep container with good drainage
When growing dhania, the aim is to maximize foliage. Pinch back young plants an inch or so to encourage fuller, bushier plants. Snip off the top part of the main stem as soon as it appears to be developing flower buds or seedpods. Cutting off the flower heads redirects the cilantro plants’ energy back into leaf, and not flower or seed production.
Chives – Member of the Onion Family
Chives thrive in full sun and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. The easiest and most successful way of growing chives is planting rooted clumps. The chive is related to the onion and has similar leaves to onions but finer.
Chives are thought to have originated in Asia and Eastern Europe
Chives are a low maintenance, easy to grow perennial herb, grown for their onion-scented tasting leaves.
Because chives are compact, they are ideal for edging paths and borders, as well as growing in mixed borders, vegetable gardens, herb gardens and in containers.
You can easily grow chives indoors in a bright, sunny location. Harvest chives by snipping leaves from the base of the plant.
Oregano – a Hardy Perennial
Oregano can easily be started from seeds, though you can also use cuttings from an established plant.
This fragrant herb originates from Southern Europe and Mediterranean North Africa.
The Oregano plant is a hardy perennial that grows to about 500 mm in height and has a grey-green leaf. The plant produces numerous side branches from which the leaves develop.
As with most herbs, oregano leaves taste best before the plant flowers. The flowers should be pinched to keep the plants bushy and prevent it from bolting to seed.
In the garden, oregano can be grown as a good companion to all vegetables. Grows well with: Basil, chives, parsley, rosemary, sage, savoury, thyme.
Oregano in both its fresh and dried form is used in many food dishes as a flavouring.
This sun-loving herb has a distinctive aromatic flavour.
Parsley – Two Main Types
Parsley is cultivated for its aromatic leaves, which are used fresh or dried in cooking as flavouring or eaten raw in salads.
The Parsley plant originated in southern Europe and North Africa. Today it is planted throughout the world for its fresh and dried leaves.
There are two main types of parsley: the curly leaf parsley (Crispum) which is a slightly tougher plant, and the more delicate Italian flat-leaf parsley (Neapolitanum).
Parsley is considered a soft herb but it does have hard herbs tendencies in that it is a low maintenance plant and can survive for more than a year if maintained correctly. It likes full sun and regular moisture
Parsley is also known for its high vitamin C content.
Each time you prune its stems it will grow back to full size after two to three weeks.
Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow, and well suited for containers (if planted out in garden beds it can take over). It likes full sun and plenty of water
There are many varieties of mint—all fragrant, whether shiny or fuzzy, smooth or crinkled, bright green or variegated. However, you can always tell a member of the mint family by its square stem
Most will tolerate some shade, and the variegated types may require some protection from direct sun. Supply your mother mint plant with enough water: unlike other plants, mint needs a lot of water.
Most mint varieties are quite invasive, so keep them under control by planting them in pots. You can also sink them – pot and all – into a garden bed if you want to use them as a groundcover. Plant mint close to a tap; it loves the heavy and moist soil generally found there.
Divide the plants occasionally to increase your stock.
It is such a refreshing addition to dishes, best added freshly chopped.