My compost may be thankful but my food remains insipid. I have been a victim of catatonic coriander and deceased dill for too long and frankly I have had enough. We are encouraged to grow our own but what are we to do if we don’t have the foggiest? Enter Jackie Day, a herbalist and keen gardener, whose mission is to get us acquainted with the benefits that home-grown herbs can bring. 'I don’t think the average person is going to go wrong with what are described as culinary herbs,' says Jackie. 'Examples include thyme, which is brilliant for the respiratory system, sage and rosemary, both of which are good for the brain amongst other things.'
The National Trust estimates that there are 600 acres of growing space going to waste nationwide in the shape of unused window ledges. And with DEFRA statistics showing that one in three of us wants to take up DIY food production, window box herbs are the perfect way in for frustrated urban gardeners or nervous beginners. But growing herbs on your windowsill isn't just a useful outlet for greenfingered urges; home-grown herbs can transform your supper. Most of herb family is flavoursome, low maintenance, robust and high yielding, which means you can keep going back. Shop-bought alternatives are often transported long distances and are subjected to artificial light, which kills most of their flavour. The conditions in which supermarket herbs are kept reduce the plant's lifespan and results in wilted leaves. They're expensive too, with most pre-packaged herbs costing around 80 pence a pop. Growing your own saves you money and enhances the flavour of even the blandest of dishes. So how do you keep them growing? According to Jackie, it's easier than you might think.
'My culinary herbs well and truly take their chances amongst the weeds and literally get hacked down with secateurs to keep them under control,' says Jackie. 'But, they seem to come back year after year. Herbs don’t generally need much in the way of fertilising and some do better in poor conditions but in window boxes I’d give them a bit of new soil or potting compost (but easy on the potting compost as it’s usually pretty rich in nutrients) each year. Aim for about 30 per cent new soil or compost.' Some herbs, including mint and lemon balm, can grow extremely prolifically so plant them in individual pots in order to prevent overcrowding.
The fabulous five: easy herbs to grow
Mint is almost as bad as ivy in the rampant growth stakes but if you plant it in moist, rich soil and hack it back regularly, you should be able avoid catastrophe. Wonderful first thing in tea form, it helps to improve digestion, and can be used to make a restorative essential oil.
How to cook it: Mint is a key ingredient in mojitos, which are perfect for a festive cocktail party and a vast improvement on cheap sparkling wine.
Parsley thrives with only a moderate amount of light. It calms the digestive system while also promoting good digestion. High in iron and vitamin C, it can help to reduce bloating thanks to its diuretic properties.
How to cook it: Try parsley pesto for a pleasant change from basil or use as a simple garnish.
With anti-catarrhal properties, it helps to remove mucus from the airways and boosts the digestive system. 'Sage is great for the brain,' says Jackie. 'Hence the use of the term 'sage' for knowledgeable people.'
How to cook it: Sage butter is perfect with pasta or used in risotto.
Plant it next to sage to help it flourish. A natural form of pest control, rosemary's insect-repelling properties benefit every plant in its vicinity. In humans, it helps to relieve headaches, muscular pain, neuralgia, and dyspepsia.
How to cook it: Rosemary tastes great on potatoes, pizza or in vinaigrettes.
Thyme is best sown in shallow soil because of its tiny seeds. Extremely bee-friendly, it also helps to treat coughs and asthma by loosening phlegm from the bronchial tract. It's also a good remedy for indigestion and is a great liver cleanser.
How to cook it: Do it like the Greeks and season your lamb with fresh thyme for a fragrant feast.
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