METRO PLUS

When herby goes green

Coriander, mint, celery, dill, basil, parsley, curry leaf, rosemary, thyme, lemon grass, oregano — no kitchen garden is complete without herbs; the vital ingredients that add flavour and nutrition at the final step of the cooking process.

Plan: A wide range of aromatic herbs can be grown in your garden, in a separate herbarium if space permits, or tucked between other favourable plants. They will thrive in pots on window sills, in larger troughs for mixed planting, or in vertical planters hung in a sunny spot. Herbs can be broadly divided into two categories: Perennial herbs — mint, lemon grass, thyme, curry leaf and oregano, which produce aromatic leaves through the year; and annual herbs with short growing periods like coriander, celery, parsley and basil that are raised from seed and harvested as a whole. As your herb garden is established, add indigenous herbs like wild lemon-thyme found in the hills and medicinal herbs which can be used for home remedies. Herbs are rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, essential oils and have a range of health benefits.

Companion plants: As most herbs are aromatic, they thrive when grown with certain plants, each complementing the other. Mint will repel aphids and attract bees; however, as they can be invasive, it is best to contain it in a pot and place it along with other plants. Coriander deters spider mites in spinach and dill; plant basil with tomato and capsicum, rosemary with beans, cabbage and broccoli for similar benefits. However, keep fennel away from other plants, as it does not make a good companion.

Soil: Moist, well-drained soil, rich with compost, will yield healthy plants and leaves year-round; alternately, coco peat enriched with nutrients can be used for potted herbs in terrace and balcony gardens.

Sow/plant: Annual herbs can be grown from seed in pots or beds. Coriander seeds can be lightly crushed before sowing; fine seeds like celery will be easier to broadcast evenly if mixed with fine sand. Loosen and remove the prepared soil to a depth of three inches, scatter the seeds evenly and cover with soil.

Perennial herbs can be grown with stem cuttings and increased by separating mother plants from the root. They can also be raised from seed, but this will take considerably longer.

Moon phase: Annual short-term herbs can be sown as the moon wanes (gets lighter); perennial herbs must be sown as the moon waxes (gets darker) to encourage root growth.

Care: Most herbs are hardy, and once sown will thrive with basic care and good sunlight. Perennial herbs must be pruned regularly to produce more leaves; regular snipping of the leaves and stalks is sufficient to keep the plants thriving and productive. Water regularly to ensure the soil remains moist.

Harvest: Herbs can be harvested on a regular basis as soon as the leaves are fully formed. While most perennial herbs can be stored away — by sun-drying or freezing, annuals like coriander and parsley are best used as soon as they are plucked.


Seed of the matter

  • Most annual herbs will self-seed; they can also be collected from the plant as it dries for future use. Fresh coriander seeds can be harvested from the plant if allowed to go to seed; they can be dried for use as a spice.

  • Stagger planting every three weeks will produce a steady supply of annual herbs like coriander, dill, basil and parsley.


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