Herbs A-Z

Whilst basil has been grown in the Mediterranean for thousands of years, it is actually native to India and the Middle East but was not introduced to the rest of western Europe until the 16th century by the spice traders. Today this is one of the commonest of culinary herbs, and doesn’t need much of an introduction. It is grown worldwide and is available in a staggering range of forms from lemon basil to cinnamon…
Bay is a long lived, slow growing evergreen shrub native to southern Europe. Thanks to its growing habit it can be trained into all sorts of shapes, and is often seen growing as a perfect pyramid, or a standard. Folklore suggest that keeping a bay tree next to the front door will keep away evil spirits. Nicholas Culpeper (Physician) wrote in the 17th century ‘neither witch nor devil, thunder nor lightning, will hurt a man…
Catmint's name of course derives from the fact that many cats love the smell and taste. They contain chemicals called nepetalactones which are irresistible to some cats, and as a result catmint is often used to fill ‘toys’ for cats. Not all cats are attracted to this though; young kittens and some older cats will show no response at all to catnip. The fact that it does attract cats can however make this a problem…
There are two types of chamomile commonly available: the Roman or perennial chamomile, or the annual German chamomile. Its main uses are medicinal. The flowers have a mild sedative effect and so are often used in teas to help one relax, and the leaves have soothing and anti-inflammatory properties and is excellent for treating itchy and inflamed skin. Roman chamomile is a low growing plant with feathery leaves and small white flowers – sometimes grown…
Chervil is thought to have been brought to Britain by the Romans. It is considered indispensable to French cuisine and is one of the traditional ‘fines herbs’ but only in recent years has it started to become more popular in Britain. It’s lacy, fern like leaves taste a little like parsley, but have a distinctive hint of aniseed.
Chives are another staple of the herb garden. It is very versatile, easy to grow, and once established takes little looking after, and the plant is interesting enough to deserve a place in the flower garden.
Comfrey is essential for all allotment or grow your own gardeners. It is not a culinary herb, but used instead to make free liquid manure to use on your vegetable patch. This hardy and vigorous perennial has very deep roots, and brings nutrients to the surface that would otherwise be inaccessible and stores them in its leaves. The leaves are said to contain more nitrogen and potash than farmyard manure, and can either be added…
Coriander has been cultivated for its culinary uses for thousands of years, and is even referenced in the bible as one of the herbs traditionally eaten at Passover. Seeds were even found in the tombs from the Egyptian Dynasty dating to 1085-945 BC. It is a native of the Middle East and southern Europe and as with many crops was introduced to northern Europe by the Romans – who predominantly used it along with cumin…
Cumin is grown solely for its seeds, which are ground down to a powder for use a spice. It is a key ingredient in many spicy cuisines from Mexico to India, and was also used by the Romans along with vinegar and tarragon to help preserve meat.
OK, so I know you think this is just another weed, and you would be right. The dandelion is a right pain in most gardens, and I doubt that any gardener would choose to grow it. However it is so common, and difficult to get rid of, that if it’s growing anyway why not put it to good use? Nearly all parts of the plant can be eaten, and the dandelion is a necessary ingredient…
Dill is an attractive plant that reaches a height of 70-80cm, and its fine foliage looks great in a flower border. It has a parsley-caraway aroma, and whilst it may look similar to fennel it is different in both its flavour and in the way it is used. The name Dill originates from the Norse word ‘dilla’ meaning ‘to soothe’ and refers to its original use as an indigestion remedy.
Lavender is native to the Mediterranean region, and was introduced to Britain by the Romans, who used it to scent their bathwater, which is in fact where the name originates from the Latin ‘lava’ meaning to wash. Whilst lavender isn’t as useful a culinary crop (although can be used to flavour jellies, and even lavender biscuits) it is an excellent addition to any allotment or garden. The fragrant flower are great for borders, and they…
Lemon Balm is easily recognised by its sweet lemon scent. It is a wonderful herb to grow in borders and immensely useful in the home or the kitchen. Originally native to the Mediterranean region it is now commonly seen growing wild in Britain – usually the result of garden escapees! It is a rampant grower and should be kept confined to pots in the same way as its close relative the common mint. The Greeks…
Lemongrass is a tall tropical grass and is very tender. For this reason it is not often grown in the UK, however of you have space in a greenhouse to store it over the winter it can be grown quite successfully in a large pot.
No herb garden is complete without at least one variety of mint, and if you have space you may want to consider up to half a dozen different varieties, each of which has a very distinctive flavour. It is very easy to grow but can be rampant smothering anything in it's path, so we highly recommend growing mint in pots.
Myrtle is direct descendent from the Greek herb Myrtos, also known as the herb of love. It was a symbol of peace in the old testament and in Roman and Greek mythology  it was associated with the Greek Aphrodite and the roman Venus. As it was considered sacred to the god of Venus it was usually planted all around her temples. As a consequence it was also considered to be an aphrodisiac and to this…
The majority of oregano varieties are native to the Mediterranean and feature heavily in their cooking, however many parts of the world have their own native varieties including Britain, and all are slightly different. The variety that grows wild in Britain is very aromatic, but not as strong; whereas the commonest variety in the Mediterranean has a very strong scent.
Today Parsley is one of the best known culinary herbs in the West, and requires very little by way of introduction. It is one of the ‘Fines Herbes’ and used as a garnish for nearly any dish. It was however not always so. The Greeks considered it the Herald of Death, and decorated tombs with it, but did not eat it, and it was once believed that only a witch or pregnant woman could grow…
Rosemary is yet another herb that originates from the Mediterranean region. It is a hardy evergreen shrub, and is worth growing for its appearance alone. Add to that its amazing fragrance whenever you walk past the bush, and its huge value in the kitchen, there is no question that this should be at the top of any herb growers list.
Sage is part of the Salvia group of plants. There are over 900 varieties of Salvias, and include annuals, perennials and biennials. The name Salvia is derived from the Latin ‘salveo’ meaning to save or heal, as the sage is considered a great medicinal or healing herb. The common Sage is a classic culinary herb. It is ornamental, aromatic and great for flavouring dishes. As with many of the classic culinary herbs it is native…
Sweet Cecily, also known as garden myrrh is a tall perennial herb that is worth growing both for its sweet Anise scent as it is for its delightfully ornamental growing habit. It is native to Europe and is therefore easy to grow on the British isles. In the Lake District it was once used both to sweeten pies, but also for rubbing on oak panels to both scent and shine the wood, and in Wales…
Tarragon is another essential herb for the culinary herb garden. It is a hardy perennial and therefore easy to maintain once it is established. It is a native of southern Europe, but will thrive in the right position in the British climate. Tarragon has a long history, and was once believed to be a cure for the bites of dragons and serpents. In fact the word dracanculus is Latin for “little dragon”
No herb garden is complete without at least one Thyme. This herb has been used for thousands of years. The Egyptians used herb oil for embalming, the Greeks for scenting bathwater and early Britons consumed Thyme tea to enable them to see fairies! Today it is used in medicinal, culinary and cosmetic applications, and is amongst the best known of herbs. There are over 300 varieties and native species can be found from Greenland to…

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