Herbs for health
Herbs have so many uses that no garden should be without them.
Life is a garden in which you can grow herbs for their culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, aromatic and decorative qualities. If there is sufficient space, a formal herb garden offers a neat and practical way of growing and displaying herbs. Beds are usually square or rectangular, dissected by brick or paved paths.
Another option could be in the shape of a wheel, with spokes of bricks or wooden sleepers radiating from a central point, such as a bay tree or sundial, with herbs planted between the spokes and an outer ring of rosemary or lavender to strengthen and enclose the design.
Image on the right: Thyme
Popular culinary herbs
Plant up these herbs in your kitchen garden this month:
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) has tiny aromatic leaves and with parsley and bay leaves is part of the traditional bouquet garni. Thyme is known for its antiseptic and digestive properties.
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare) leaves can vary from mild to hot and peppery and are added to vegetables, meat and fish.
- Sorrel is a large-leafed herb that reaches about 60cm in height. Fresh young leaves are delicious in salads and with eggs. It combines well with herbs such as thyme, chives and marjoram. The indigenous sorrel, Oxalis pes-caprae is used in traditional Cape Malay cooking.
- Rocket grows very easily and is a very hardy herb. Its young leaves are great for salads while the older leaves can be added to soups and stews.
- Chives are a great tonic herb and help to ward off colds and flu. They can be used in any savoury dish but are especially tasty with egg and cheese dishes.
- Pak choi is very low in calories and is rich in vitamins A and C and folic acid. It has a bulbous base, thick white stems, dark green, oval-shaped outer leaves and inner leaves that are almost white. It is mild flavoured and succulent and is used boiled, sautéed, steamed, braised, stir-fried, in salads and in soups.
- Mustard - also called Japanese greens, this plant can be grown like true spinach and harvested young.
- Tatsoi is very rich in calcium and vitamins and has a lovely strong taste that makes it an excellent ingredient for stir-fries and salad mixes.
- Fennel is a hardy perennial that is easy to grow. It has a strong flavour which goes well with parsley and chives. It is a good digestive herb, a leaf or piece of stem chewed after a meal does wonders.
- Coriander is a hardy annual that makes a great insect repelling spray. Its leaves are widely used in salads, sauces and as a garnish.
- Sage. The grey-green leaves of sage (Salvia officinalis) are used to flavour poultry and pork dishes, and pineapple sage (S. elegans) grows a metre tall and has red flowers for flavouring fritters, drinks and fruit salad.
- Dill has feathery leaves on long, 75cm-high stems. It is a favourite herb in fish dishes and adds a wonderful flavor to green salads.
- Spearmint has light, lime-green leaves and is easy to propagate. It is refreshing as a tea and delicious finely chopped over most vegetables.
Herbs for pots
Where gardening space is limited, grow herbs in pots and hanging baskets on patios, balconies and window boxes. Herbs can turn a dull patio into a colourful and fragrant place, especially when you include colourful, edible flowers like nasturtium, viola, calendula, lavender and rosemary.
For something different try agapanthus, Bulbine frutescens, hypoxis, ivy geranium (Pelargonium peltatum), scented geranium, Cotyledon orbiculata, Leonotis leonurus, plumbago, wormwood (Artemisia afra) and wild garlic (Tulgaghia violacea) which are all African herbal plants used in traditional healing and would make an interesting addition to your herb garden. In keeping with the theme, choose an oversized clay pot as a focal point.
Tips for success
- The majority of herbs need a sunny position and well-drained, composted soil.
- No sprays or pesticides should be used on herbs that are eaten, used cosmetically, or medicinally.
- Encourage bushy, more compact plants by nipping back.
- Make sure pots do not dry out in hot weather.
- To prevent wind from blowing over lightweight pots, place stones in base.
NB: First consult your doctor before using herbs and herbal remedies