Buying, using and growing on living herb plants from supermarkets
Last night I went to a superb Guild of Food Writers (www.gfw.co.uk) workshop where herb expert James Seymour from The Fresh Herb Company (www.freshlivingherbs.co.uk), and food writer Rosemary Moon(www.moonbites.co.uk), linked the pots of herbs we buy in supermarkets to the food we eat.
And, additionally, James explained how to care for these living plants to keep them in good condition so that we could harvest leafy material from the plants over a long period.
There are nine core herbs in the range that come into the supermarkets from The Fresh herb Company as ‘living herbs’. They are sweet basil, Greek basil, Moroccan mint, rosemary, thyme, coriander, curly and flat leaf parsley and chives.
Photo: Flat-leaf parsley, Greek basil, Moroccan mint (back) and chives are among the core living plants grown by The Fresh Herb Company for supermarkets.
These are the basic herbs that a dedicated gardener cook grows in the garden, but how many times have you bought a pot of herbs from the supermarket, harvested some of its leaves to use, and then watched as the plant seems to wither? What is the secret of success with indoor, kitchen herbs?
James Seymour offered five top tips to keep herb plants healthy. First off is good light. To keep these herbs from the supermarket growing well you need to give them good light. So when you position them in the kitchen choose a place where you have good light, where the plants are out of any draughts or fluctuating temperatures.
Watering and drainage are crucial for the health of the plant. Don’t stand the plants in water – after you have watered them check that there is no standing water in the plant saucer or cache-pot after five minutes; if there is then tip it out.
Frequency of watering depends on the individual herb’s needs, but according to James, the key is to “water a little and often”. If you check the top of the compost and it is very dry and crumbly to the touch, then water. But only water at the surface, don’t splash water over the whole plant. Basil, in particular, should only be watered sparingly. Always water herbs in the early part of the day, rather than at night when temperatures are lower.
James’ last point is about how to harvest from your herb plant to get the maximum flavour and also maximum re-growth of leaves to use again and again. Plants such as coriander and parsley, send up new growth from the base of the plant, so don’t cut them too low down or you will lose the next batch of leaves. Some herbs, such as basil, rosemary, thyme and mint, are best harvested by snipping off leaf sprigs and stripping the leaves off the sprigs. You know how pungent herbs are when you rub the foliage between your fingers – so avoid handling the leaves too much before you add them to food, as this may reduce their flavour!
Photo: A sprig of rosemary in a jug of elderflower cordial looks good and adds a pungent flavour to the drink.
So, even if you don’t have a garden, there is no excuse to not grow herbs. Find the right place for them and bring them into the kitchen and keep them growing on for use every day in salads, drinks, hot dishes and desserts.
Photos and text copyright Barbara Segall 2012 (with acknowledgement to James Seymour of The Fresh Herb Company).
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