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From the team at Gardeners' World Magazine

Five favourites - herbs

Published: Friday, 17 June, 2022 at 10:50 am

Queen of herbs, Jekka McVicar, shares her five favourite herbs to grow

Jekka McVicar (Photographer - Andrew Maybury)

Herbs provide a feast for the senses, they are the high notes in the orchestra as the conductor makes the music swirl around the auditorium. Herbs are very generous, they complement many meals and turn the simplest ingredients into a feast. However, herbs are far more than just flavour. The famous quote, attributed to Hippocrates, 'Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food' further enforces their importance as food for our health and well-being. I'd encourage everyone to have a pot or two for use in cooking.

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Aloysia citrodora

Lemon verbena
Lemon verbena

Lemon verbena is the Rolls-Royce of bedtime herbal infusions. An infusion made from the highly fragrant leaves, that have a lemon sherbet flavour, has mild sedative properties which makes it a most relaxing and calming bedtime drink. The fresh leaves can also be used in fruit puddings, oils and vinegars.


Artemisia dracunculus 'French'

French tarragon
French tarragon growing in a pot

Tarragon is a culinary herb I cannot live without in the kitchen. It is a herbaceous perennial with aromatic, long, smooth, green leaves that have an anise flavour. It complements many dishes such as chicken, veal, fish, stuffed tomatoes and, of course, it is the main ingredient in Béarnaise sauce and a traditional ingredient of Fines Herbes, a combination of herbs used in French cooking.


Ocimum basilicum

A selection of basil growing in a container

Basil is a must-have culinary herb, which is frequently seen in Italian cooking in pizzas, salads, sauces and pesto. Basil has a unique flavour and should be used with discretion otherwise it will dominate other flavours. It is a unique culinary herb in that its flavour increases upon cooking, so for best results, you should add at the end of cooking.


Salvia rosmarinus

Rosemary
Rosemary

Rosemary is a staple in the kitchen, combining well with meat, especially lamb, casseroles, tomato sauces, baked fish, rice, salads, egg dishes, apples, summer wine cups, cordials, herbal infusions, vinegars and oils. On a barbecue, use the twigs as skewers for lamb. This not only makes the lamb taste good but also smells lovely - as its name suggests, Rosmarinus officinalis 'Barbecue ' is ideal for this.

Rosemary is reputed to have properties that may help boost your mood and improve your memory, simply add a sprig to your drinking water.


Salvia officinalis 'Italian'

Italian sage
Italian sage. (Photographer Jekka McVicar, VMH)
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Italian sage is a particularly wonderful herb with big, highly aromatic, grey leaves. You can use the leaves with rice, vegetables and meat dishes. However, we prefer to simply shred the leaves, fry in oil and then toss in cooked fresh pasta.

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