Paul West’s Guide to Growing Herbs

Host of the hit series on The LifeStyle Channel, River Cottage Australia, Paul West, shares his top tips to help you grow and enjoy herbs at home.

Whether you live in a sprawling country manor or a sunny, shoebox apartment, no home kitchen is complete without a herb garden. Along with leafy greens, growing a small collection of culinary herbs has to be the easiest foray into the world of gardening for the enthusiastic, green-thumbed home cook. When I was first finding my way in the world of growing and cooking, I found that a small selection of home-grown herbs could elevate even the most mundane foodie faux paus into something that I could, (and would!) rave about. A flourish of finely chopped, home grown parsley added at the end of preparing a dish was like sprinkling on some magic, fairy, flavour dust, it just made everything taste better.

As I said before, the best thing about growing a few herbs for the kitchen is that almost every household can do it. All you need is a sheltered spot that gets at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day, a bit of water and a bit of soil. To me there are four herbs that are a non-negotiable inclusion in any garden.

1. Parsley

In my mind, underrated and underused. You can add parsley to almost every savoury dish without ill effect. It's a great way to cut through the richness of a braise or to give a little lift to some scrambled eggs. I personally prefer the flat leaf variety, which can be cut finely, ripped or left whole depending on the dish. Definitely no florets of curly leaf parsley to add a little visual “interest” to a dish, leave that to displays at the local butcher shop.

2. Mint

Comes in array of exotic varieties but for the purposes of this discussion let's stick with the classic. The most refreshing of the herbs, mint has somewhat of a confused identity, being equally at home in a sweet dish, a savoury dish or in a drink. It combines wonderfully with strawberries and passionfruit to top a summery pavlova. It can be added to a stir fry or pasta for a hit of freshness or it can be muddled to within an inch of its life as an essential ingredient in a refreshing mojito. It grows vigorously, and left unchecked will take over wherever it has been planted, so it's always best to grow your mint in a container.

3. Thyme

Whoever has enough thyme! Where parsley and mint are added toward the end of the cooking process, thyme is more robust in texture and subtle in flavour and is generally added at the beginning of the cook. No stock or braise would be complete without adding a few sprigs of thyme to help add to the complexity of the dish's flavour. Thyme also comes in an abundance of variations though again I tend to stick to the classic, or if I have a bit of extra space, some lemon thyme usually sneaks its way into my garden.

4. Basil

A herb that loves the heat of summer, which just so happens to be when all the veggies that it pairs so perfectly with are growing. Fresh basil has an intoxicating aniseed scent that immediately speaks of hot days and vegetable rich dinner enjoyed in the cool of the evening. I plant both Italian and Thai varieties, though I find that I use much more of the former. There are, of course, many other herbs that are available to us as both cooks and gardeners, all of which are worth growing, though in my mind non-essential.

5. Coriander

Very divisive, though a fundamental part of Mexican and Thai cuisines. Grows over the warmer months

6. Rosemary

One healthy bush and your whole neighbourhood will never be without it.

7. Tarragon

Can be a little tricky to grow, another aniseed flavoured herb that pairs wonderfully with chicken

8. Chervil

Parsley's delicate cousin is great with light meats like chicken and fish or with young vegetables.

9. Oregano/Marjoram

A couple of closely related Mediterranean herbs that are sweet and pungent, great with fried mushrooms or on a pizza.

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