Those who visit the Yard may notice lots of herbs either potted up or for sale. That's because I love herbs!
From their beautiful scents, to their flavours in the kitchen, to their attractiveness to pollinators, herbs offer many uses besides simply looking pretty. Plus, they are an affordable way to spice up your plant collection!
So I wanted to take some time out to write a quick post on some of my favourites (what they are, why they are, and how you can maintain them) so you can feel inspired to try something new and exciting.
Camphor Plant, Tanacetum balsamita subsp. balsamitiodes
An unusual herb, this hardy Perennial from South-West Asia has long silvery leaves. If you rub them you unlock an extremely aromatic camphor scent.
Camphor Plant likes full sun to partial shade with only occasional watering. Full Frost Hardy, this should not give you much trouble. Just note that it's best planted in early Spring.
Camphor is widely known for its benefits of deterring moths and it's said to be good for nasal congestion. The only other use you may find is adding it to pot-pourri.
Whilst there are no culinary uses with a Camphor Plant, it does produce white daisy-like flowers that are very attractive to pollinators. I simply love the warm, spicy smell, particularly on a cold morning.
Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis
A strong lemon scented perennial that originates from the Middle East. The Romans introduced it to Britain for its medicinal properties and it later became popular in Monastic gardens. With flowers loved by bees, it is said planting a bush in all four corners of an orchard helps to encourage pollinators.
Very easy to grow, similar to mint, Lemon Balm loves moist soil in full sun... however be aware - this will spread.
Used in beverages (cordials, wines..), the leaves can also be added to jams and jellies. It's said that fresh leaves can also be used to polish wooden furniture as the oil shines the surface and leaves behind a pleasant scent.
If you're able to find, Lime Balm is a fun alternative to Lemon Balm. Whilst I find the scent not as strong as the lemon variety, this has a softer, slightly less sharp citrus scent.
Lemon Verbena, Aloysia citrodora
Native to Peru and Chile, the Spanish brought this highly aromatic, tender, Perennial back to Europe in the 1600's for its oil. Rubbing the leaves and will unleash a sharp, slightly sweet lemon scent that's not too dissimilar to a lemon sherbet!
Grow Lemon Verbena in well-drained soil in a sunny spot. Whilst it can be grown in the ground, start plants off in pots for a year or two and then transfer to the ground when the weather warms. Heads up, this is very sensitive to frost.
Commonly raised for its oil, the leaves can be infused with bath water, soaked in almond oil for a massage, or simply rubbed to repel midges. Not a bad idea to keep one potted up by the patio in Summer!
The bright green leaves make it an attractive plant for pots.
Red Veined Sorrel, Rumex sanguineus
Native to Europe, this deciduous, flowering, hardy Perennial is becoming a popular herb due to the striking blood red veins that run along its leaves. Picked and eaten fresh, the leaves have a sharp slightly tangy citrus taste.
Red Veined Sorrel likes full sun or partial shade. The only tip to remember is that it likes moist soil. Saying that, it is very easy to grow and should produce leaves all Season from Spring through to early Winter.
In the kitchen the leaves may be picked young and used raw in salads, but can also be used when mature and cooked like spinach. Red Veined Sorrel works well as an accompaniment to fish, meat and egg dishes, and as an ingredient in soup.
I think its an attractive addition to a fresh salad adding taste and colour. If you don't want it to spread just remember to cut back the flowers once they start to shoot up.
Tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus
A prized culinary herb - the recorded use of this aniseed-flavoured perennial goes back to the Ancient Greeks.
Grow Tarragon in a warm spot in well-draining soil. It dislikes being cold and soggy. Take care over winter, particularly with French Tarragon. Sadly, after around 3 years the plant may need replacing as the flavour fades as the plant matures.
In the kitchen Tarragon can be paired with chicken, pork, rabbit, fish and eggs. On top of this, Tarragon is a main component in herbs de provence & dijon mustard and can be used to improve butters, soups & vinegars.
Tarragon is reported to even invigorate the growth of nearby plants, especially sweet peppers and aubergines. As a quick scrummy lunch, I love a few leaves mixed in with a chicken and mayo sandwich!
Thyme, Thymus spp.
A hardy perennial with most species found in the Mediterranean, Thyme has been grown for thousands of years. The Egyptians, Romans and Greeks all had their unique uses for it, from being an ingredient in the embalming process, to being used in oils and bathing.
Easy to maintain (I've tried over 10 varieties with only 1 coming to an unfortunate early end), Thyme is a drought-resistant, hardy evergreen that likes well-drained soil in full sun. The flowers are attractive to bees and it can also be planted near cabbages to deter pests.
A herb found in many recipes (soups, stews, casseroles, roasts, pastas), its flavour compliments many dishes and can be used to aid the digestion of fatty foods. The leaves can be picked year-round.
Some of my favourite varieties are Bressingham (a creeping Thyme, useful for rockeries and pathways), Orange (a beautiful, fresh scent), Foxley (a pretty tri-colour) and Lemon (an interesting variety to experiment cooking with).
Vietnamese Coriander, Persicaria odorata
A tender perennial hailing from South-East Asia, Vietnamese Coriander is a must have for anyone into their Asian cuisine. The slightly lemony-come-spicy leaves are sensational and a serious upgrade from the coriander we are typically used to.
A lover of warm, damp conditions - you may have greater success growing this in pots. However, if the weather is touch-and-go, this may be best sat on the kitchen windowsill. Don't be afraid to cut it back if it begins to look sad and fortunately it is easy to take cuttings as the roots develop in water.
A herb frequently used in Asian cuisine, this is a perfect match with chicken, pork and prawns and it is widely used in spring rolls, soups and salads.
Having spent 2 months in South-East Asia, I can confidently say that once you've had this you'll never go back.
Bay, Laurus nobilis
Whilst this evergreen is a shrub and not a plant in the same sense the above herbs are, I must include it on my list. Originally from the Mediterranean, this is now found in gardens throughout the world with a rich history going back to the Ancient Greeks.
Bay trees love well-draining soil in a sunny but sheltered spot. However, similar to olive trees, they tend to have a shallow root system - so don't leave them hanging for too long between watering. On the same note, they don't like being constantly wet.
Bay's are loved for the aromatic leaves that can be picked year round, and are frequently used in casseroles and stocks. The flavour of a fresh bay leaf compared to a dried, store-purchased specimen is miles apart. You will instantly tell the difference.
As a lover of a good hearty casserole, the Bay Tree is an essential in my life.
From me that is everything for now. As the Season continues, if I discover any more herbs that I get on well with I will update this post by adding them to the list above. I've already got another fun herb that I'm just starting to see some great results with... just need this weather to warm up!
Until then, Thomas