Five versatile herbs every keen cook should plant this spring

Gardening author Jane Griffiths reveals how to grow some of the most popular fresh herbs — it's easy, fun and will save you money on your grocery bills

04 October 2020 - 00:02 By Jane Griffiths
Cooks who are keen on Mediterranean food should consider planting oregano.
Cooks who are keen on Mediterranean food should consider planting oregano.
Image: Keith Knowlton

With a quick nip and snip, you can elevate a meal from ordinary to sublime with a handful of homegrown herbs — and spring is the perfect time to plant them.

Whether you grow them in pots on a sunny windowsill, containers on a small patio, or in a dedicated herb garden, here are the varieties every keen cook should consider planting now: 

1. OREGANO

Oregano is a robust herb that withstands being cooked. It dries very well and can be added to spice rubs and mixes. It is also superb mixed into herbal salt.

The hotter and drier the weather, the heartier its flavour.

How to grow it:

Oregano is a hardy perennial, with varieties ranging from golden creeping groundcover to upright bushy plants. It prefers to grow in hot, sunny places and doesn't require much water.

Although it can be grown from seed, it is easier from seedlings. Once you have a healthy plant, rooted cuttings can be taken.

It is a very undemanding herb - all it needs is to be trimmed back every now and then so it doesn't become straggly or too bushy.

It's best to add parsley to a dish towards the end of cooking so the flavour isn’t lost.
It's best to add parsley to a dish towards the end of cooking so the flavour isn’t lost.
Image: Keith Knowlton

2. PARSLEY

Parsley comes in two main varieties: flat leaf (or Italian) and curly leaf. Italian has a stronger flavour.

Add parsley towards the end of cooking so the flavour isn't lost. Parsley is good chopped into egg dishes, salads and sauces, or pureed to add to a spice rub or mix.

How to grow it:

Parsley takes ages to germinate and is easier to grow from seedlings.

Although it is a biennial and hardy enough to survive mild frosts, rather grow new plants each year as second-year plants become tough and bitter.

Leave a few of the second-year plants in the ground and they will start flowering when the heat builds up. These attract many beneficial insects.

Parsley likes fertile soil, full sun and plenty of regular moisture.

Along with being eaten raw, chives can be used to flavour oil, vinegar or salt.
Along with being eaten raw, chives can be used to flavour oil, vinegar or salt.
Image: Keith Knowlton

3. CHIVES

Chopped fresh chives are great on just about anything. They are also delicious used to flavour oil, vinegar or salt.

Chive flowers can be tossed onto a salad or added to ice cubes and dropped into a cold soup.

How to grow it:

There are various types of chives, from skinny-leafed onion-flavoured ones to flat-leafed garlic types. They all grow easily from seeds or seedlings. They prefer full sun and moist soil but can handle dry weather.

They do a great job of protecting vegetables from harmful insects.

Every couple of years, divide chives in spring by lifting them and splitting them into new plants.

Don't cut the tops as if you are giving them a hair trim, as this will just weaken the plant. Harvest by snipping off leaves 2cm above the base with a pair of scissors. They will regrow quickly.

Add basil to a dish towards the end of cooking to retain its bright flavour.
Add basil to a dish towards the end of cooking to retain its bright flavour.
Image: Keith Knowlton

4. BASIL

Basil has a strong and unique flavour. It is best added right at the end of a dish to make the most of its flavour.

There are more than 60 varieties. Culinary basils vary from small purple-leafed bushes to large green-leafed mammoth varieties with flavours ranging from classic sweet basil to citrus-scented or liquorice-flavoured ones.

Use basil with fresh tomatoes in salads or cooked in sauces, or add stronger liquorice-flavoured basil to spicy stir-fries or coconut curries. If you have excess harvest, make basil pesto.

How to grow it:

Basil likes a protected site with well-drained soil. It prefers full sun but doesn't mind afternoon shade in summer.

It can be grown from seeds or seedlings. Basil likes hot weather so wait until early October before planting seedlings out.

Trim flowers off to encourage bushy leaves to grow.

Coriander is a must for your herb garden if you love cooking Asian or South American dishes.
Coriander is a must for your herb garden if you love cooking Asian or South American dishes.
Image: Keith Knowlton

5. CORIANDER

The seeds, flowers, leaves, stems and roots are all edible. Coriander leaves and seeds taste quite different.

Leaves and roots are used in curry pastes. The roots and stems can be diced and added to stir-fries. Leaves are added right at the end of cooking or as a garnish.

Seeds are used in spice mixes for curries and stews and to flavour pickles, vinegars, chutneys and sauces. It is best to store seeds whole and grind as needed. Roasting whole coriander seeds before grinding adds to their flavour.

Fresh green seeds are also delicious - try blending them into curry pastes or use them in stir-fries.

How to grow it:

Coriander likes well-drained soil and a sunny spot, but appreciates shade from hot afternoon sun, especially during hot midsummer months.

It tends to go to seed quickly, especially if transplanted, so rather sow directly where it is to grow. Encourage plants to become bushier by snipping off flower heads.