These annual, perennial and sometimes shrubby plants are usually grown by amateur gardeners, and cultivated for their culinary and sometimes medicinal applications, even though they can make attractive specimen plants in mixed borders. In most gardens, a little plot can easily be set aside for developing a few choice herbs. Large or medium Patio style planters and hanging baskets, close to the kitchen, using cultivated herbs is quickly becoming a popular hobby, as healthy lifestyles have been hunted around the world. The aromatic fragrances are so refreshing on those balmy summer days as you put basking and relaxing in the sunshine, enjoying your iced lemon juice.
Generally, herbs require a light, fertile, well-drained soil or compost, in sunlight. They can easily be grown in odd corners in the backyard, but if space permits, a designated herb garden is the most suitable and may be a most attractive means of grouping them. The early Romans, Greeks and even the terrific traditional English gardeners, all appreciated and valued their herb gardens in there several shapes, sizes and complexities throughout history.
Ideally the website should be a south facing position, and on a small slope to help drainage. Herb beds should be organized and intended to make access simpler to every group of plants, setting the taller types into the trunk or centralised, where they won’t overshadow the smaller ones, and maintain moisture loving varieties to the base of any incline. Raised bed culture can also be excellent for an herb garden feature, add a waterfall or running water and enjoy the relaxing aromatic tranquility it generates.
Many herbs can be grown from seed in window boxes, on patios, in pots on external windowsills, hanging baskets or old lost wheelbarrow. Use John Innes potting compost No 1 or 2, or a similar great quality brand from your community garden supply centre, and place a good layer of broken crocks or small polystyrene bits in the bottom to ensure good drainage. Keep the compost just moist throughout the growing season, and give a liquid feed sometimes, to promote good growth. The true windowsill or patio should rather face west or south, so the plants get direct sunshine for the greater part of their day.
The medicinal and culinary uses of individual herbs is beyond this report, but generally the very best and fullest flavours always come in the freshest of your chosen herbs that will keep for just a limited period in well sealed, and dry air tight plastic containers on your fridge. For winter use, herbs have to be dried or frozen. Particular citrus herbs, such as chives and dill, aren’t acceptable for drying and should be suspended or the plants re-potted up for growing indoors, within a conservatory, glasshouse, or on a sunny windowsill.
Harvesting and drying your herbs
Off the time harvesting human herbs varies according to if the herbs are being grown for their leaves, blossoms, seeds or stems.
Plants grown for their leaves and stems should be accumulated from the young leafy point before flowering starts for best flavour. Harvest flower heads whilst in full blossom, as well as the seeds when the pods start to open and divide naturally as they turn yellow or golden brown.
Always select a dry day for harvesting your herbs, and collect then early in the day until the sun gets hot, but only after the morning dew has evaporated, to lock in the flavours. Handle the leafy shoots and sprigs carefully to prevent bruising. Large leaves can be removed from the stems before drying but little leafed forms are best left intact. Discard all damaged and discoloured leaves, and if possible wash the rest gently in cold water. Spread the leaves in horizontal shallow containers, ideally on cheesecloth-covered frames, which will allow air to circulate. Place the containers in a dry, airy and warm place from the direct sunlight. An airing cupboard or the warming drawer of a stove is appropriate provided there is ventilation. Leave at least 4 to 5 times turning the herbs once a day. They are prepared for keeping when they become fragile and rustle slightly when touched.
An alternative technique is to tie into little bunches and hang upside down in a shaded, dry, warm and airy location. These can take a little longer to dry out completely. You can dry your herbs out faster before a fire, or in a oven on low heat but a few of the aroma and flavour will be lost.
The leaves should be completely dry before storing. When completely dry large leaved varieties should be stripped from their stems, small leaved, and fine-stemmed herbs like rosemary, thyme and bay, keep their flavour better when kept whole and crumbled before use. Discard as much chaff (waste) as possible and pack the leaves or sprigs into small, rather opaque containers. Clear jars should be kept in a dark location. Remember to seal and label each jar instantly. Herbs both frozen or dried, could be kept separately according to variety, or as your favorite mixtures and combinations. It’s often labour saving to compose your herb bouquet, tied in muslin bags in the drying stage.
The process for drying flower heads and seedpods are the same. Loosen seeds by rubbing pods between your palms until the seeds fall out. This is best done outdoors with a small breeze gift as this will dismiss some of the chaff. Once split dry your seed for a further week and after completely dry shop in precisely the exact same manner as for the leaves.
Frezzing your herbs
Freezing is an exceptional method of maintaining and keeping your herbs, particularly chervil and parsley, which have tender leaves unsuitable for home drying. Gather and wash your herbs and put them in a metal colander. Blanche the herbs by immersing your colander in boiling water for 1 minute, then into cold water. Leave to completely cool, drain and freeze instantly, storing in little plastic bags, ice cube making or plastic containers, kitchen foil or even waxed cartons. Frozen herbs do not have to be thawed before use in soups, stews or gravy’s and may actually be chopped more readily whilst frozen. Frozen herbs are best used for flavouring since they become limp when thawed, and so useless as garnishes. Never refreeze.
Other uses for your dried herbs
Apart from their medicinal and culinary uses that is beyond this guide to describe in any depth, your dried herbs may also be used to produce sachets, pot-pourri’s and pomanders, which give off a long lasting aromatic fragrance to rooms, airing cupboards, drawers and linen closets. Lavande sachets are so famous, but many different herbs and flowers make nice mixtures.
Fragrant and aromatic mixtures
- 1/. La verveine citronnelle thyme with verbena.
- 2/. Fragrant leaved geraniums with rosemary.
- 3/. Lavender, rosemary and a couple of cloves with a sheet of orange, lime or lemon zest.
- 4/. Equal portions of peppermint, lemon verbena, lemon balm, rose geranium and rose petals.
My friends I hope you have enjoyed today’s “Over The Garden Wall with Oaky”… it is off into the potting shed for me, as an amateur gardener’s work is never done no matter what time of year it’s…”HAPPY GARDENING” until we meet again.