by Dick Handscombe
Since I first had a personal garden 74 years ago at the age of five, herbs of one sort or another always featured. From memory the first were almost non-destructible horseradish, chives and dandelions; the latter to add to wartime salads and to feed my pet rabbit.
While living in Spain we have an allotment to supplement the garden, plus an olive grove, but I can still recall the herbs that grew well in the UK and they now feature in the Mediterranean style holistic garden around the house. Knowing that space is a premium, a baker’s dozen are described below. Why a baker’s dozen? Well my first Saturday job was to count up piles of 960 farthings and bag them for the bank at my father’s bake house and shop and every thirteenth bag was my pocket and birthday money, in the same way that in those days a thirteenth donut or roll was free.
So to the herbs:
- Comfrey – consuelda – (perennial) – a must. One can harvest several crops a year to put in bucket of water for a month to produce a handy ecological fertilizer. We also wrap each seed potato in a couple of leaves, add some to the compost heap as an accelerator and use as a poultice on a strained knee or ankle, or a gouty toe.
- Mint – menta/hierbabuena (perennial) Best planted in a large sunken pot to control the expansive roots. Added to the boiling water adds a good touch to your new potatoes. Also useful for mint sauce and an infusion is better than a mug of tea or coffee for a Saturday night hangover. Interesting for the range of leaf colours scents and flavours. At one point there were fifteen varieties of mint, including chocolate, strawberry and ginger flavoured ones in our garden.
- Stevia – stevia – (perennial) The leaves are very sweet and a great replacement for sugar. We have just dried some of our leaves for the winter months.
- Garlic – ajo – (annual) The healthiest vegetable/herb of them all, from our experience.
- Chives – cebollino – (perennial) A row looks ornamental and a good addition to salads.
- Horseradish – rábano picante – (perennial) Grow a couple of plants in the ground or large sunken pot. Can add zest to trout and meat dishes and grated root can increase one’s metabolism after a gluttonous meal. If you look at the labels on Horseradish sauce bottles you will be surprised by the small percentage of horseradish included and the range of other ingredients, so grow it yourself.
- Sage – sabio – (perennial) Obviously used for sage and onion stuffing. An infusion is good for gums. The common culinary sage is just one of over 800 varieties of sage or salvias. Collecting them is an interesting hobby. To understand what is available, have a look at the catalogue of photographs and descriptions on the website of ‘Robbins salvias’.
- Purslane – verdolaga – (annual, but can self-seed for continuity) An interesting addition to salads.
- Rocket – rúcula – (annual) Adds a spicy taste to salads.
- Basil – albahaca – (annual) Each year we grow a selection of the annual seeds from the interesting and long list offered by Chiltern seeds. Great with chopped tomatoes and salads.
- Perilla – perilla – (annual but easily self-seeds for continuity) A good looking purple leaved plant. Dry the leaves in the autumn and an infusion is useful for Spring hay fever. Reputed to be useful for panic attacks such as the Sunday morning you find that slugs have eaten all the lettuces overnight!
- Parsley – perejil – (generally an annual, but some varieties will over winter) Great with fish dishes and infusions useful for cystitis.
- Good King Henry (perennial) A broad leaved perennial alternative to spinach, being full of vitamins and minerals.
That should get you off to a productive start. There are many more. We list forty that we regularly use for cooking and various preventive health measures in the popular book ‘Living Well from Our Mediterranean Garden’ available from Amazon Books and The Book Depository.
I hope these words have stimulated a few actions, but just a couple of words of warning; most annual herbs are best when not grown in full sun all day long as they can soon go to seed.
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