Gardening expert and TV presenter Sarah Raven – author of a new book, A Year Full Of Veg – says there are lots of unusual herbs, which you can’t buy in the shops but are easy to grow at home.
These herbs will give you masses of flavour – plus they’re great to grow even if you don’t have much space.
“In a window box or a series of pots on a doorstep, you can produce delicious flavour-enhancers for countless meals and, unlike newly sown annual salads, neighbourhood cats tend to leave these pungent leaves alone,” says Raven.
Here, she suggests six alternative herbs to grow this year and perk up your dishes…
“Myrtle is incredibly commonly used in the Mediterranean, where it’s a marker for slightly damp ground. It’s a wild shrub, really, and the leaves are incredibly aromatic and deliciously fragrant.
“There’s a hint of ginger, a little bit of bay, so it’s slightly spicy and aromatic. It has a very unusual smell, so might be used in potpourri, but I would use the leaves in a tomato sauce in the winter, because it’s evergreen, to give it a warm, aromatic flavour. Use it as you would bay, such as in a stock.
“It has flowers which are brilliant for pollinators, and then in the autumn it has these juniper-like berries. In Turkey, those are used crushed slightly in Turkish delight with rose petals.”
2. Rosemary prostrata
“This is again used widely in the Mediterranean as a terrace filler and you’ll see it growing wild there, cascading down the side of olive terraces. If you don’t have it on the edge of a wall, it spreads out in a very low, undulating dome about 40cm high.
“There’s also a ‘Green Ginger’ rosemary, which doesn’t look unusual, but smells and tastes of ginger beer, which is very popular with cocktail makers. You’d want to crush the leaves and use them in a cocktail, or to flavour puddings, either using it to flavour sugar syrup to then drizzle over a cake or when you are preparing your mix, you could step a few stems in the mix and then remove them.”
3. Garlic chives
“These are among the great pollinator plants. All the alliums are fantastic for bees and butterflies, but particularly garlic chives, which have a white flower with a flat leaf cross section. It’s fantastic grown in succession with ordinary chives.
Pick the leaves, but you can also use the edible flowers in savoury dishes such as soups or over a tomato salad, where you want some sharpness, and also on a rice salad. Keep picking the leaves, as they become tougher than ordinary chives.
“A classic ingredient in Hungarian goulash, this is widely used in northern Europe because it’s an incredibly hardy herbaceous perennial, which forms quite an elegant border plant. It’s an umbellifer which can reach about 1.5m, with classic umbels like angelica.
“But when you are using it as a herb, just pick the baby leaves from the heart of the plant, or the taste can be too intense. If you continually crop it, it will continually produce new foliage. That is where it is most delicious, like a smoky celery. You can use it to flavour soups, stews and stocks.”
5. Leaf and stem fennel
“This is not the same as Florence fennel. We grow a lot of bronze fennel, partly because we love it for the frothy copper carpet you get from it very early in the year.”
Use it to bring an aniseed flavour to dishes. For instance, where you might use tarragon in summer chicken or fish dishes, tarragon is late to emerge, so you could use leaf and stem fennel instead. It’s also a key ingredient for a spring salsa verde.
A Year Full Of Veg: A Harvest For All Seasons by Sarah Raven is published by Bloomsbury
Unusual herbs to grow
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