Showing posts with label Sage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sage. Show all posts

18 Mar 2018

Six hero herbs for an evergreen kitchen herb garden

For two days this week the weather here was gloriously uplifting - warm air and spring sunshine - and about time too, you might think! But with settling snow falling over London again today, I'm appreciating six herbs that seem to simply shrug off the worst of the winter weather. These six evergreen herbs can be grown on a windowsill, balcony, or garden and provide freshly picked flavours for my kitchen all year round.

I confess I've never had much luck growing herbs indoors; there's simply not enough good light in my flat - it switches from shade to full sun or vice versa depending which window I'm looking out of. I'm lucky to have a small balcony though and if I didn't have that, I'd anchor planters onto the window sills. Of course I also have herbs in the veg patch garden but when it's cold and dark, it's much nicer just to reach through a door or window.

Tried and tested over the years, I've successfully grown these particular kitchen herbs year round on my third floor balcony, with no extra heat or protection. This past week I've had to clear my balcony completely before it was thoroughly jet washed as part of ongoing building works so all plants have been temporarily removed to the garden downstairs for safety. They’ll withstand ice and snow but not the blast of a powerful water jet!

So these are my six hero herbs; the trick with all of these is to make sure that the compost they’re in is kept just moist but well drained. Waterlogged or parched plants will not survive!

Parsley (Petroselinum)

With more vitamin C in its leaves than an orange, this is the herb I’m never without. The curly leaved variety is what I grow on my balcony. The seeds can be slow to germinate so I buy a supermarket herb and transfer it straight out of its pot and into good quality compost in a planter. It needs to acclimatise/recover from its hothouse start in life but, if the weather's warm enough, it can go straight outside. Watch out for those night time temps though! The roots are free to grow and the plant thrives. Parsley is biennial, so tries to flower in the second year, at which point I replace it.

Celery Leaf (Apium graveolens)

Assuming you like the taste of celery (I do), this is a perfect alternative to celery for the windowsill  or container gardener. This biennial herb is hardy down to -12°C so will happily sit through all but the harshest winters. I add a few leaves to salad but mostly use it in stocks and soups. Edible seeds follow pretty spring time flowers and are delicious ground with sea salt when dried. Sow seeds in spring for a continuous crop.

Bay (Laurus nobilis)

Over time, these can grow huge when planted in the ground so I prefer to keep mine contained in a pot to restrict its size. I bought a small lollipop bay some years ago, repotted it into a similar sized beautiful terracotta container and now replace the top inch of soil every year in spring. Bay likes its roots to be pot bound so it's a perfect container herb. Adds a subtle flavour to casseroles, a classic addition to bouquet garni, and intriguingly good in rice pudding.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

I love having aromatic sages in the garden but, on my balcony, I grow Common Sage for cooking with. As a Mediterranean herb, it’s well suited to the rigours of life on the edge - the crosswinds of an urban balcony can be very damaging to plants - but sage, as with other grey/green or silver leaved plants, takes these conditions in its stride. Growing in a container keeps it at a manageable size, and it makes a tasty addition to vegetable dishes - I particularly love it with squash. It’s also reputed to have anti-aging properties, need I say more?

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

It looks and smells amazing in a winter wreath but that’s not why I grow it. I have an Italian friend who makes a delicious pizza topped with thin slices of potato, chopped rosemary and cheese. It’s one of the classic ‘Scarborough Fair’ four and is excellent for aiding digestion which is why it’s so great with lamb or other fatty meats. It’s versatility extends beyond the kitchen and I love fresh sprigs steeped in warm almond oil to make a muscle soothing rub.

Thyme (Thymus)

The natural habitat of this hardy evergreen herb is paths, rockeries and cliffs so it’s not only a classic culinary herb but perfectly suited to balcony or container life.  My favourite is the low growing creeping thyme in the veg patch garden which I pick from regularly; on my balcony, for ease of access, a small upright thyme is grown in the window box at the edge for maximum light.  This summer I'll switch that out for an orange scented thyme (Thymus 'Fragrantissimus') which I've read is wonderful with sweet dishes, and possibly also cocktails! All thymes can be used for cooking but also medicinally - an infusion of the leaves makes a soothing tea for sore throats because of its antiseptic properties.

And, last but not least, soil for containers:

Good soil is at the heart of every successful garden. Because the substrate that I grow these container herbs is rarely changed, I use a soil based compost such as John Innes No.3 mixed with perlite for added drainage and, during spring and summer, water in an organic liquid fertiliser every few weeks.

What are your hero herbs at this time of year?

The best evergreen herbs to grow for health beauty and taste
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14 Apr 2012

Springtime in the veg patch

Well, yesterday's book review post went down well, didn't it? Not a single comment!  I've silenced you all.   I'm hoping after a rather long break from blogging (sorry) that you'll all bear with me while I review some of the books I've been sent. I've got one more craft book, a balcony gardening book and - the one I'm really looking forward to - Martin Crawford's How to Grow Perennial Vegetables, which arrived unexpectedly a few days ago and I'm quite excited about. I've a feeling that one is going to be a real winner.

It's such a busy time of year, isn't it? I'm still trying to decide what to plant where in the veg patch, I've got seedlings coming up in trays all over the windowsills (I really, really want a greenhouse), the recent warm and wet weather has prompted the brussels sprouts to zoom skywards so they look like sprouting broccoli (albeit with very pretty yellow flowers!)

Sprouting Brussels sprouts
~ Sprouting Brussels Sprouts ~

Purple sprouting brussels
~ Sprouting Tozer Brussels ~

I wonder if I could eat them?  They look so like broccoli, I can clearly see them steamed and served with a drizzle of olive oil or butter and quick grinding of pepper and a sprinkle of sea salt...  Hmmm, perhaps time I had some lunch.

On the plus side, I have 100% germination of my pink broad beans (I'm only growing nine plants as I've yet to discover whether I like them) and the herbs, garlic, onions and potatoes are all coming along nicely. I also have one or two cauliflowers ready to be picked (more on this later) and the fruit trees are in blossom.

I planted a cowslip in the veg patch last summer as the plant provides food for butterflies.  It's looking a bit wind whipped at the moment but has trebled in size and is a real splash of welcome colour (and edible to boot). All in all, a well spent couple of quid in the supermarket.

Cowslip in flower

My sage, repotted last summer to give the roots a nice deep pot, has got wonderful purple buds at the end of the stems - I'm not sure if these are flower buds or not, only time will tell.  Whatever, my liking for a purple and green colour combo continues...

Sage bud

Self-seeded sunflowers are popping up everywhere. I don't want them to completely monopolise the space (I have no idea whether these will be small or giant sunflowers) so I've been nibbling on a few of them and adding them to salad.  They taste a bit like watercress, tasty and succulent.  I'm going to grow a pot specifically for adding to salad leaves - the same technique as growing pea shoots and baby spinach leaves for a salad bowl.

And finally, I'm wondering if I might have strawberries to eat after the next warm spell ...

strawberry flowers

These were photographed this afternoon and are runners transplanted a couple of weeks ago. Amazing what a week or two of sunshine and rain will achieve! 

22 May 2011

The Sunday Saturday Snap

Oh dear, this is not getting off to a good start, is it?  The Saturday Snap appearing on Sunday ...  Not that I've been slacking off, no no. I have been completely distracted by the balcony pigeons breaking through the defences and sitting on my bean and sweet corn plants (supposed to be planted out this weekend). Heartbreaking.  I have therefore been up a ladder with my drill trying again to close the gaps and Keep.Them.Out!

Onto finer things...  The Saturday Snap this week is continuing with the herb theme:

Sage flower

Sages are flowering everywhere at the moment, on my balcony, on the allotment, in the Veg Patch.  The flowers are so beautiful, how could I resist a quick snap? There's a lot more to sage than meets the eye, it being both a culinary and medicinal herb and greatly attractive to bees. Most people will know of common Sage (salvia officinalis) but there are many interesting varieties, pineapple sage and blackcurrant sage (with beautiful red flowers) to name but two. And now, a few facts:

  • Sage is an evergreen herb which you can harvest throughout the year as needed. Leaves picked in the spring (before flowering) have a mild, warm flavour; after flowering the flavour is stronger and more tannin. 
  • Buy any pot of sage in the spring, dig a hole slightly larger than the pot (best in a sunny spot outdoors), firm in and water. Very easy to maintain, it will thrive in either ground or container.
  • Container grown sage should be planted in a free-draining loam-based soil in a pot with plenty of room, such as a tall 'long tom' pot.
  • Sage will need watering in very dry weather but does not like being too wet in the winter so don't stand on a saucer if container grown.
  • Sage grows quickly and will get big within one season (given enough root room) but can be pruned back in the Spring if it gets too straggly. Don't prune in the Autumn as it may not recover from frost damage.
  • Despite pruning, sage can get very woody so replace every five years.
  • Beware! over use of Sage can have potentially toxic effects.

And, for my sister, Using Sage:
  • Traditionally used with chicken (think sage and onion stuffing), this herb also works well when cooked with potatoes, onions or squashes, such as pumpkin. I've also read that it goes very well when cooked with liver but, as I don't like liver, I'll leave that for those that do!
  • Sage butter is made by frying the leaves until crisp in either melted butter or a blend of butter and olive oil and this sauce can be used over gnocchi or ravioli stuffed with squash.
  • Medicinally, sage has antiseptic properties and is used to relieve sore throats and colds. Make a sage tea by infusing one or two leaves in a flask of hot water, strain and add some honey or lemon juice (to make it more palatable!).
  • Jekka McVicar, in her New Book of Herbs, advises that sage is known to be astringent, antiseptic, antispasmodic and a systemic antibiotic.  As well as being used to treat sore throats, it is also used for poor digestion, hormonal problems and to stimulate the brain!  
  • Jekka McV also writes that Sage arrests the ageing process - but, NB the last point in sage facts, above! 

Credit where it's due: a lot of these facts have been gleaned from one of my favourite books Grow Your Own Herbs in Pots, written by Debbie Schneebeli Morrell, a friend from York Rise (the street, not the flats) and from a little book I've just reviewed: Grow Your Food: A Guide for Complete Beginners. My review is in the post before this, also quickly found here.
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