Herbs For The Self Sufficient Garden

Basil (Sweet Basil)

In Britain this herb (Ocimum basilicum) from the tropical areas of Africa and Asia, is treated as a half-hardy annual. Seed may be sown in boxes in gentle heat during late March or in April for plants to set out in the garden in early June. Alternatively, sow seeds in very shallow seed drills in the open garden during early to mid May. Seedlings raised under glass are moved to where the plants. Are to grow. The sowing in the open garden should be made where the plants are to grow. Thin these seedlings to 10 in. apart. If the seeds are broadcast thinly and covered with fine soil the seedlings may be thinned to leave a small clump of plants. The plants attain a height of about a ft. Flowers are creamy white. This is not an easy herb to dry and is therefore generally used fresh only. Pick the triangular shaped leaves as and when wanted between July and October.

The herb is used for flavouring soups and any recipes in which tomatoes are used. It is a flavouring for use when boiling vegetables or fish and especially when boiling shell fish. Sweet Basil may be one of the herbs chopped finely for fines herbes in omelettes.

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolius)

This hardy annual varies in height from ft Sow at any time between April and June, in shallow drills where the plants are to grow. Thin seedlings to 6 in. apart. The soil should be rich and a shady position is better than the open, sunny site liked best by most garden herbs. It is the finely cut foliage which is used. Chervil is seldom dried. The flavour keeps better if the foliage is placed in a deep freezer. The French use this herb often and it should always be included in a French blend of fines herbes. The aroma is strongly aniseed and chervil must be used sparingly.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

This is a very useful flavouring herb. The most usually grown chives are low plants which form close clumps with mauve-purple flower heads in June. Chives are often recommended as a good edging plant for the herb and kitchen garden. Less usually grown are the taller, violet-flowered Great Chives. There is also Chinese Chives with white flowers on is-in. stems, much grown for salad use in eastern Asia. Whereas the foliage of the better-known purple-flowered chives resembles onions in aroma and flavour, that of Chinese Chives has an onion-garlic aroma. Chives may be raised from seeds sown rather thickly, 4 in. deep. They may also be propagated by splitting up clumps and replanting off-sets. Allow at least 1 ft. Between clumps. Cut foliage for use at any time between early May and October. Where clumps of chives are cut regularly in late spring and early summer no flowers will form. The small bulbs may be used to replace onions in soups, stews and salads but such uses are rare and usually only if the gardener has excess plants when he digs up the clumps to replant them when they grow overlarge. Chop chive leaves finely for the mild onion flavour much favoured in cream cheese, cream soups, in omelettes scrambled eggs and in salads. This is one of the few herbs which may be grown successfully in roots on a patio or in a window box.

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)

This hardy annual reaches a height of 4-2 ft. and has umbels of white, slightly mauve-tinted florets in high summer. Sow seeds thinly, 4 in. deep where the plants are to grow. Early May is a good time to sow for flowers in August. Thin seedlings to 4 in. apart. The foliage and unripe seeds have an unpleasant aroma. Only ripe seeds have the typical, pleasant aroma and flavour for which this herb is renowned. When the first seeds are ripe but before any fall, cut the flower stems and hang them in a sunny position over a tray into which the ripe seeds may fall. In Britain coriander is best known as a flavouring in liqueurs and confectionery. It may also be used to flavour curries and sausages.

Dill (Anethum graveolens)

This hardy annual reaches a height of 1 ½ -2 ft. and has grey-green stems, feathery leaves and typical umbels of the Umbelliferae family. The florets are greenish-yellow. Sow thinly 4 in. deep in April or May, where the plants are to grow. Thin the seedlings to 3 in. apart. Harvest the seeds in the manner described for Caraway and Coriander. The leaves may be used to flavour soups and sauces or be cooked with cabbage and cauliflower. In parts of northern continental Europe the foliage is used to flavour new potatoes and green peas in the way the British housewife uses mint. The dried seeds may be used in a seed cake. They are also popular AS a flavouring for pickled cucumber and for flavouring vinegars for the pickling of other vegetables.

Fennel (Foensculum vulgare)

This is the wild or green fennel of the British countryside. There is a bronze or red form often chosen for herb garden planting. This herb is a perennial reaching a height of from 4-6 ft. The fern-like leaves are attractive foils to shorter, more colourful herb garden plants. Fennel may be raised from seeds sown in April or May where the plants are to grow. Thin the seedlings to 1 ft. apart and grow as a clump of several plants. When clumps get over-large, dig them up in the autumn, split them with a spade and replant offsets. The florets on the large umbels are yellow. Dry the seeds as suggested for Caraway and Coriander. The fresh leaves may be cooked with fish. Mackerel especially is said to have a better flavour if it is boiled with fennel. Leaves may also be chopped very finely and mixed into a white sauce for boiled fish. The dried seeds come in handy in winter to flavour fish and soups. Some consider fennel to have a liquorice aroma and flavour; other liken the aroma and flavour to a blend of aniseed and parsley. For Florence Fennel-see Fifty Vegetables and Salads.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

This herb is often seen in herb gardens open to the public where the plants are usually allowed to flower. Although generally considered as a vegetable garlic must on no account be treated as one in the kitchen. Like many herbs it is very highly flavoured and a heavy hand with it spoils any meal. Cloves (segments of garlic bulbs) must be used very cautiously. Usually, unless a gargantuan meal is being prepared one clove only is needed for flavouring meat balls, rissoles and sausages. A saveloy should always contain garlic. For a salad it is sufficient simply to squeeze juice from a clove of garlic as one rubs it around the inside of the bowl before placing the mixed salad ingredients into it. Garlic vinegar is made by putting 2 oz. of finely chopped garlic into a quart of cold, boiled vinegar. Leave for two weeks, strain the garlic vinegar off the garlic remains and bottle.


There are several marjorams all belonging to the genus Origanum. For the herb garden common, pot, English or wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare) and French marjoram (Origanum onites) are usually chosen because they are hardy plants. Wild marjoram has a form with yellowish foliage. French marjoram has a form with greenish-gold leaves. Common marjoram is a perennial, found in many parts of Britain, particularly on the chalk downs. Plants reach a height of 1-2 ft. The flowers are pale purple, French marjoram is a 1 ft. tall perennial, with pink-mauve flowers. Both marjorams may be raised from seed sown very thinly at a depth of no more than 4 in. in the herb garden in April. Because the seeds are so small and the seedlings may be strangled by the quicker growing chickweed it is safer to raise marjoram in boxes of seed compost. House the boxes in a cold frame or beneath a cloche for quicker germination. Here again sow thinly and cover with very little compost sprinkled over them. Plant seedlings in the herb garden at 6 in. or so apart. Propagation is from established plants by division of the root-stocks in spring or in autumn.

Cut marjoram foliage just before the flowers open in July and hang to dry in a sunny place. When quite dry rub between the hands and store in dry jars in a very dry place indoors.

Marjoram, whether fresh or dried may be included in a home-made herb mixture for stuffing poultry or veal. This herb may also be used sparingly to flavour omelettes and salads.

Some herb enthusiasts consider the flavour of both common and French marjoram as coarse in comparison with the flavour of sweet or knotted marjoram (also referred to at times as Oregano Marjoram). This is a rather tender plant and is treated as a half-hardy annual in Britain. Sow under glass in boxes or in peat in pots during late March or in April. Box-grown seedlings need pricking out into other boxes or into pots so that the plants have adequate room for steady, good growth. Set plants out in the herb garden, 6 in. apart in early June. Cut the flowering stems just before the flowers open and dry quickly in a sunny place.

Parsley (Petrosehnum crispum)

This is a very well-known garden herb and is probably the most widely grown, apart from mint. There are several sorts of parsley. Plain-leaved Italian parsley is called French parsley by some. This sort is not popular in Britain where moss-curled kinds are preferred. These vary mainly in the length of stem and in the attractive curliness of the leaf. Length of stem is more important to the shop keeper who may wish to retain a bunch in a jar of water for sale to customers over a period. Much of the ‘parsley’ now used by butchers and fishmongers to decorate window displays is no longer the fresh herb but a plastic substitute.

In the garden where it grows for use rather than as a plant to be seen by visitors, parsley is treated as an annual. This herb will thrive in semi-shade, but will do equally well as an edging plant to the herb garden provided the plants receive adequate waterings in hot summer weather. The first sowing may be made in gentle heat in a greenhouse in February for plants to move outdoors in April. Sow seeds thinly, about in. deep. That germination of parsley seed can be very slow is well known among gardeners. An old dodge was to sow the seeds on a layer of peat, presumably the extra water-retention quality of peat kept the parsley seeds very moist and this encouraged quicker germination. Now with soil less, peat-based seed compost on the market, adding peat to a compost mixture is unnecessary. Pouring ‘boiling’ water over containers or seed drills after parsley is sown is another gardener’s way of hastening seed germination. It is doubtful whether the water is at boiling point by the time the kettle reaches the garden and the very hot water does not appear to damage parsley seeds.

A sowing may be made in the garden in late March and for parsley in winter sow again in July. This last sowing should, where possible, be given cloche protection throughout the winter. There will then be young foliage for use now and then, although winter growth is miserably slow. Plants from both March and July sowings will make seed heads in late spring and by that time another sowing should have been made for a continuous supply.

Because germination can be so slow it pays to sow a few radish seeds in the parsley seed drills. The quick-germinating radishes mark the row and enable the gardener to hoe and hand weed it without disturbing the slowly germinating parsley.

Early thinning of parsley seedlings is most important, leaving strong young plants at 6 in. apart. Never strip a plant of all its leaves. Just cut or pick off a leaf here and there at any one gathering. Where parsley is in regular demand the cook does not want to trudge up to the herb garden if that is at some distance from the kitchen. She wants parsley to hand and this accommodating herb may be grown near the kitchen door in large pots or plastic pails and bowls as well as in a window box.

Parsley for drying should be gathered in late July or August. It is likely to lose its green colour during drying. As with all herbs the foliage must be quite dry when it is picked for drying and a greater heat is required than with herbs such as sage and thyme. Instead of hanging the leaves in full sun it is advisable to spread them out in a fire-proof tray above a cooker. Alternatively parsley foliage can be blanched in boiling water for five minutes; then cold water is poured over it and it is dried in a fairly cool oven for 20 minutes, by which time the leaves should feel crisp. Rub dried parsley between the fingers and bottle it at once. If it is left exposed it quickly re-absorbs moisture from the atmosphere.

Small quantities of chopped, fresh parsley or a little dried parsley may be added to soups and omelettes or to a home-made stuffing mixture. It may also be used to garnish meat and fish dishes. But in Britain it is used primarily to flavour parsley sauce.

Parsley Sauce (sufficient for four persons)Parsley Sauce

  • 2 oz. of butter;
  • 2 oz. of cornflour (approximately three heaped tablespoons);
  • salt and pepper;
  • 4 pint milk;
  • chopped or dried parsley to taste.

(It is up to the cook to experiment with the ingredients so that a very thin, a reasonably thin or a thicker sauce results according to personal requirements.)

  1. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat gently so that the butter does not brown.
  2. Remove from the heat and stir in the cornflour.
  3. Then gradually blend in the milk by stirring well.
  4. Return to the stove and bring to the boil slowly without great heat.
  5. As soon as the mixture starts to bubble, stir it several times, take it off the stove and continue to stir. The mixture will cohere.
  6. Now sprinkle on well-chopped or dried parsley to taste. Serve while still hot.


There are two kinds of savory, summer savory (Satureja hortensis) and winter savory (S. montana). The Romans made a savory sauce rather as we now make mint sauce. This herb is well known by name but is now rather neglected. Summer savory is an annual and is sown in a shallow seed drill in April, where the plants are to grow. Thin plants to 1 ft. apart. Pick for use from July onwards. Winter savory is a perennial sub-shrub and is usually propagated by taking cuttings in spring or by root division. It may also be raised from seeds sown in April, preferably in a tray or pot in a greenhouse. Move seedlings to the herb garden when they show good growth. Both summer and winter savory are low growers and may be planted near the front of a herb border. For dried savory cut foliage in July before flowers show. This annual cut keeps winter savory well-trimmed. If older shrubs tend to make too much growth and to exceed their allotted space cut back all stems in spring to 4 in. long. Savory dries easily if the foliage is hung or spread out in full sun. The colour also stays well. Rub the dried herb between the hands and store in a dry place. Savory which is permitted to flower is attractive with its white and slightly pink, tiny blooms. When in flower the plants attract bees.

Savory has a pleasant spicy aroma and flavour which enhances a home-made stuffing mixture; it also improves the flavour of sausage meat. It may be added to sauerkraut and a sprig may be put in the pot when cabbage or peas are being boiled. In Britain savory is sometimes recommended as a flavouring for broad beans. Here again, use only a sprig or two during cooking. Sorrel Here again there are two sorts of sorrel for a herb garden. The broad-leaved 1 ½ -2-ft. High sorrel is a cultivated form of the native wild sorrel (Rumex acetosa). This form is sometimes called ‘French sorrel’ which complicates things somewhat for the gardener who knows the true French sorrel (R. scutatus) as a smaller, trailing plant. Both are closely related to docks and when seeding cultivated broad-leaved garden sorrel closely resembles a rather short dock. Use the foliage sparingly in salads or in soups.

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