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September Food Champions Challenge - Herbs

:herb: :ear_of_rice: :leaves: What herbs do you grow and how do you use them? :herb: :ear_of_rice: :leaves:

As spring has sprung, it is a great time to prepare and plant herbs at home. This month’s Food Challenge is:

  • What herbs do you grow in the garden/pot?
  • How do you use them in the kitchen?

If you don’t grow your own, that’s okay. Instead let us know what herbs you often buy and how you use them.

The most interesting and detailed responses will earn a Food Champion Badge.

In relation to badges, @vax2000, @Gaby and @phb would like to congratulate @Guitarfish, @Fred123, @Poida, @Southerton, @Oldfield, @jzarate, @ScottOKeefe, @Sophie, @tim-bailey, @pamelanorth4, @sydneydowers and @payneheck for their August 2021 contributions and Food Challenge Badges which have also been awarded to the top three replies.

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Mine are grown in pots on a balcony. I have a bay tree, rosemary, parsley, lemon thyme and oregano. I probably use bay leaves and parsley the most. I’ve tried growing basil and mint in the past but I think the caterpillars thought I was growing it for them.

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I grow herbs in the garden as I have the room and it is easier than looking after pots. The exact list varies over time as heat/frost/drought/acid soil/limited drainage constrain what will thrive at any time. That is the first thing I want to say, that there is a tendency for people to lump herbs all together, even to grow them together and wonder why they don’t succeed. Compare rosemary, basil and Vietnamese mint.

Rosemary: Mediterranean, likes neutral to somewhat basic soil, well drained almost dry in winter, hates wet feet, perennial woody shrub, deals with frost, not subject to pests much, likes full or part sun. Useful both fresh and dried but better fresh.

Basil: Fast growing, fleshy and soft, best treated as an annual, likes warm dry air but hates roots drying out, copes with most soils but will do better if fed, very frost tender, easily grown from seed or tip cuttings, likes full or part sun, can get pests. Not native to the Mediterranean but important to the cuisine. Useful both fresh and dried, each having somewhat different sensory qualities.

Vietnamese mint: Not really a mint but looks and smells a bit like it. A stalky vigorous perennial from south east Asia that likes warmth and dampness and does not like drying out, not fussy about soil. Frost will tip prune it but the roots will re-shoot in spring. Easily grown from cuttings and/or roots, it tends to run. Best grown in a cool shaded or part shaded part of the garden to reduce drying but like true mints will grow in full sun if you can keep it moist. No pests that I have noticed. Used fresh in dishes like laksa, useless dried.

So my first suggestion is if you want herbs to grow well don’t put them all together as what suits some will not suit others.

Others that I grow are broad leaf parsley, thyme, sage, lemon balm, lemon thyme, lemon grass, oregano, horse radish, mint, garlic, tumeric, chillis. {edit} My bay tree died, drainage not good enough.

I have grown tarragon, both French and Russian. These are quite different plants that grow in different conditions although they have similar smells. The French is too hard to grow as my soil is heavy and you can only amend/raise so many beds. I happen to think the French is one of the herbs that is better dried than fresh and I like sauce Bearnaise. The Russian grows easily but the flavour isn’t as good and it doesn’t dry well quickly becoming dull and insipid even in the tightest jar.

What do I do with them? Too long to recount details but a hint on each.

Parsley; broad has more flavour than curled, only used fresh, mainly on French, Italian etc foods. When abundant in tabbouleh, tabooli or tabouli.
Thyme and variants, sage; roasts and stews.
Oregano; mainly Italian, especially pizza. Another that may be better dried than fresh.
Lemon balm; summer drinks
Lemon grass, tumeric; SE Asian spice pastes, curry, laksa etc Not smoothies!
Horse radish; sauce for roast beef, fresh is so superior.
Mint; both occidental and oriental garnish, with lamb and in taboolee.
Garlic; one of the 5 food groups, essential to many dishes, can be used to improve almost anything except ice-cream.
Chilli: I grow medium strength chillis to use fresh in Asian food but also to make sambalan which keeps well and can be used to perk up a dish, as a side dish, or to the dedicated, to eat on crackers with beer.

Last of all a little gem, all you wanted to know but were afraid to ask: Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages. A wealth of information of the history, growing and uses of herbs and spices. Currently has entries for 117 plants - drooling :drooling_face:.

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I almost always have a small bunch of the leaves of four trees drying in my kitchen: bay, curry, kafir lime, lemon myrtle. I like curry leaf in scrambled eggs as well, of course, as in curry. Also casseroles. Bay leaf I use in soups and casseroles. Kafir lime leaves and zest are great for Thai food and some Middle Eastern food. The Lemon Myrtle I have used in biscuits and cakes. Also steeped as tea. In my herb garden I grow all the usual herbs - basil, thyme oregano, parsley, coriander… I also grow Stevia as a sugar substitute, mushroom herb for its taste in salads, and three in one herb for its usefulness in pasta sauses and casseroles. Nothing like fresh herbs in cooking and salads.

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Include some Land Cress in your herbal mix. This herb is particularly effective against Cabbage Moth caterpillars but does also work to some reasonable degree for other species. When the caterpillars eat the Cress they are killed, the benefit is increased as Cabbage moths are so attracted they will lay their eggs on the Cress even if other types of plants they like are in that area. Other caterpillar producing layers will also attempt to lay their eggs on the Cress.

Cress also makes a very nice addition to your herbs for human consumption.

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I buy Hoyts Herb packs . Usually Oregano , Rosemary Leaves , their mixed herb pack which contains Marjoram , Thyme and Sage . I also always keep a jar of their Italian Herb Mix on hand . I use them to add to casseroles and sprinkle over pasta and home made pizza .

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Basil, rocket. parsley, garlic, garlic chives, chives, sorrel, mint, basil mint, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, sage, and two Bay trees.

I do tend to grow them as companion plants, to vegetable crops!

In pasta sauces, in salads, in/with roasts, in soups, in sandwiches, and in salads.

I use worm castings tea on everything in the garden, and in pots, and on shrubs and trees.

Throughout the year!

We have two worm farms, bought from Bunnings, cast from ‘recycled plastic?’ This practice is THE best thing I’ve ever started doing as a gardener. ???

Viz. Pests don’t infest, and its well over 2 years since I began. Pests are around but don’t get going, IYTMMeaning!

We have eleven of those Bunnings 1.2m sq. treated-timber garden beds.
In the Northern part of the garden.

And, quite a few herb-pots under the big & long Nth facing shaded deck. The pots placed so they’re in the sun and can get wet from rain as well.

Tim Bailey

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We grow our herbs in half wine barrels on our sunny terrace. Parsley, oregano, chives and sage in one; basil in summer in the other. Also thyme and rosemary in the ground, mint in a terracotta pot, and occasionally coriander and Vietnamese mint (always in its own pot!).
I rarely cook the soft leaves, preferring to tear or shred them for garnishes, add into salads, Asian or Middle Eastern style, or in omelettes. Sage, thyme and rosemary get used mostly in roasts and bakes. Oh, and not traditionally regarded as a herb, but also nasturtiums: the flowers as an edible garnish and the delicious peppery leaves are great with cream cheese on crackers! (And apparently the buds can be pickled, much like capers, although I haven’t tried this.)
I also use sprigs of herbs in small tins or vases as table decorations when we have guests, since they make nice low and fragrant table decorations.

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I know from years of trying what doesn’t grow in my western Sydney garden with clay soil and terrible aspect:

Coriander, chervil, basil and mint. Weather’s too hot for coriander and chervil, and the other two just don’t like my garden. Pots or ground, sun, shade, no luck.

Vietnamese mint and Thai basil last a bit longer but have failed prematurely in pots, so the next victims will go into the ground.

What grows well:
Curry leaf bushes - one of my absolute favourite herbal flavours that is popular in southern Indian regional cuisines. The bushes give off a heady scent, but frying the leaves is next level heaven. I use them fresh all year round
Lemongrass - an ever-expanding thatch of vicious stalks with abrasive leaves to catch out the unwary, which I can’t use up faster than it grows
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

What I’m trying for the first time this year: perilla (shiso) - another favourite herb

It’s used in Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean cooking and has a very distinctive flavour I can’t describe. Often appears in the pile of mixed fresh herbs that accompany some Vietnamese dishes like pho, banh xeo (savoury pancake) and other salad-y dishes

It’s also hard to find bunches of perilla for sale anywhere in Sydney except around Cabramatta, and right now it’s outside my lockdown radius. So may as well plant something that is hard to source instead of common herbs I can easily buy. Apparently it’s a bit tricky to grow but now’s the time of year to plant the seeds so cross fingers.

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We grow a range of herbs in the garden such as:

  • parsley
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • oregano
  • coriander
  • common mint
  • Tasmanian pepperberry
  • chives
  • garlic chives

We also starting to grow have some lemon grass in a pot in our glasshouse - as it is to cold to grow outdoors successfully in Tassie. We also plan to grow some basil this summer as well (basil is the perfect companion to tomatoes).

Some of the herbs we grow can be used as a flavour or vegetable. Garlic chives is an example where it can also be stirfried with egg as a vegetable dish.

We regularly use our herbs in cooking … from adding to pasta sauces to salads, flavouring roasts (such as using Tasmanian pepperberry leaves) to making a salsa verde as a condiment for a meal.

We love coriander and our favourite use is for Hainan (Southern) Chicken. A home style recipe is:

Ingredients

  • Chicken
  • Coriander (roots & green leaves)
  • Star anise (about 3-4)
  • Cracked pepper
  • Garlic (however much you want)
  • Onion (cut into big chunks)
  • Ginger (about 1-2 teaspoons)
  • Soy sauce
  • Oil
  • Lemon juice (fresh is best)
  • Mixed vegies (whatever we have in the crisper)

To cook the chicken

In a big pot, put the chicken with coriander roots, pepper, star anise, garlic bulbs & onion - cover with water.

Bring to the boil – put the lid on & put on to simmer.

When chicken is nearly cooked, start popping in your veggies (carrots, greens, etc) so they cook in the water.

To make the sauce…

Cut the coriander leaves pretty finely & put them in a jug.

Pop in the ginger, a decent splash of oil & pretty equal amounts of soy sauce & lemon juice (I don’t know amounts, just cover the ginger & coriander & taste to see how it is)

Serve with rice

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I have a large garden and grow lots of herbs. The raised bed close to the back door has: parsley, oregano, chives, thyme, garlic chives, sage, rosemary, coriander and dill. It’s great to just go out the back door and snip the herbs I want. Further out in the garden there is a large bay tree, and every now and then I wander down, pick a handful of leaves and freeze them for later use. I also have more herbs in the vegetable garden - lots of garlic, fennel, dill, lots of coriander and lots more parsley. In the igloo there are different types of basil. I love having an abundance of herbs! I use many of them in salads (which we grow). My favourite is parsley as it is so versatile. An essential ingredient in tabbouleh, also tomato salad. I sometimes use it in pesto, and a while ago saw a recipe for an omelette with lots of chopped parsley and walnuts. I could go on …

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I am quite surprised at the number of accidental herbs we grow in our north-facing back garden.
Flat-leaf parsley has self-seeded all over the garden. I am addicted to its fresh crunchy flavour with lemon and garlic. Coriander springs up everywhere too. A big lavender bush for its fresh smells by the gate, and tarragon and thyme growing happily next to it. The young leaves from the lime tree are good in a curry. Mint under the fig tree, and marjoram growing its carpet in the front garden.
And the rocket (aruglia) - is it a herb, or is it a vegetable? Its spicy flavour is more interesting than spinach, and again, self-seeded everywhere from a crop planted a couple of years ago.

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We always grow, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Kaffir Lime and Bay Leaves as a minimum. Many are grown in long and deep pots on our balcony with the Bay Tree, Sage, Kaffir and Rosemary grown out in the garden. This year we will grown perennials such as Thai basil (it lasts longer than English), Coriander, Long Red/Green Chilli, Spring Onion. I cook a lot of different styles such as Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Indian, Moroccan and Australian. The later are traditional slow cooked foods, baked dishes and soups. I tend to purchase a fair bit of garlic and additional coriander. I also like to preserve lemons, fruit from our trees, make relishes, jams and this year I’m pursuing fermented foods. Anyone for dinner? :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

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What’s on and what time? You may get a lot of acceptees. :wink:

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I grow flat-leaved parsley in a pot on my small balcony which faces East. I like to have that versatile herb available whenever I need it: parsley intensifies flavour in cooking; makes a refreshing green sauce for fish and potato salads; can be used to garnish dishes for a cool visual appeal.

My other herb is Rosemary, not really suited to an east facing balcony, but I could not do without being able to cut a fresh sprig whenever I needed one: it’s an indispensable seasoning for meat and chicken, not to mention roast potatoes!

I buy a packet of bay leaves to make up my bouquet garni, a little bundle of fresh herbs tied with kitchen twine which can be easily removed without having to strain chopped-up herbs. Usually made up of parsley, thyme, and bay leaves, it enhances flavour and aroma during cooking.
For a stronger infusion I use rosemary, oregano, sage,

If only dried herbs are available, a small square of cheesecloth tied with kitchen string is very easy to remove just before serving.

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A few have mentioned the Australian native Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora).

In it’s natural environment it can grow into a 20m rainforest tree. Ours is close to 30 years old. It is a good 15m tall. The adventurous roots stretch out down slope 10-15m seeking out the house dam. It shoots vigorously from the roots adding to the ground cover.

If not in a large pot, regular pruning to maintain a compact shrub may be important. I run the brush cutter or mower as needed over the spreading carpet of shoots. It does leave a wonderful aroma. Often, just walking on the dried fallen leaves is enough for some soothing free and natural aroma therapy.

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One of my favourites! Not sure how many heads of garlic to use mind you…

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This motivates me to plant out the makrut and bay, because they have been struggling in pots for far too long

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I posted in another topic last year regarding our herb garden.

I have not planted anything in it this year so it has developed into this.

The parsely finally died and the sage has gone gangbusters. My wife has trimmed it severely but it just keeps coming back.

I tried to grow sage at both of our previous homes without success.

The coriander died but self seeded this year.

The fallen fruits off hybrid chillies had virtually every seed sprout but they all died. A few more have appeared this year but have come to nothing. I suspect that they have been developed to be sterile.

Before my wife took over the herb garden with her cuttings, we had a prolific rosemary bush which died after it was shaded out by the cuttings.

I finally managed to buy another plant from a local nursery after Bunnings claimed that they could not get them last year, but it has struggled to just stay alive in the pot beside the herb garden.

The rosemary may not be performing, we can offer “sage” advice.

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