The magic of herbs – all vegan.

Consider growing your own herbs that you can add to your already amazing vegan dish. Growing your own fruit and vegies is all the rage these days. If you’re keen to join the trend, but a bit apprehensive about your gardening skills, have no fear, herbs are a good way to get started. Herbs play a rich role in our lives. They’re precious, not only for cooking, medicine and cosmetics but also for making our gardens look and feel absolutely beautiful. Growing your own food is therapeutic. Consider also that herbs give back to the environment and provide food for many tiny inhabitants that one would not ‘normally’ consider.

Herbs do more than simply add flavour and colour to your favourite dishes, their healing and restorative powers are pretty impressive.  The healing power of herbs is grossly underestimated: “We are what we eat “. Without a  doubt  fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts contain a range of vitamins, minerals and cancer-fighting properties, yet the nutrient content and medicinal properties of herbs are often overlooked.  According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary, ‘a herb is any plant where the leaves, seeds or flowers are used for medicine, flavour or scent.’ There are thousands we never see in supermarkets but could buy as plants in a garden centre or grow from seed to use at home.

To ease digestion:

Often it is only when herbs are heated that their full aroma is released – that’s what makes your mouth water. This aids the release of saliva, which prepares your stomach for food. It’s the enzymes in saliva that trigger the digestive process, helping the body to break down fats and starches. If this doesn’t happen before food reaches the stomach, then it isn’t processed properly and digestive problems such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, wind and irritable bowel may result.

What to use: Thyme, rosemary, oregano, mint.

Herbs with anti-cancer properties:

Many herbs contain flavonoids; nutrients widely available in fruits and vegetables that help prevent cancer and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.  Flavonoids help vitamin C work more efficiently as an antioxidant, mopping up the free radicals that cause cancer.

What to use: Onions, rosemary, sage, thyme, chamomile, dandelion, ginkgo, green tea, milk thistle.

To help prevent tumours:

Some herbs contain phytochemicals called terpenoids which are potent antioxidants,  inhibit the growth of tumours.

What to use: Caraway, spearmint, dill, coriander, lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme, lemongrass, chamomile, basil, rosemary, mint, cardamom, celery seed, fennel and peppermint.

As natural antiseptics:

There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that some herbs have antiseptic qualities.

What to use: Thyme, sage, rosemary and bay leaves.

To boost the immune system:

Herbs high in flavonoids also have mild anti-inflammatory properties. Garlic is known to be good for the immune system and to stimulate cells which attack invading organisms. Echinacea is another known herb to have immune boosting qualities. It stimulates the immune system promoting the activity of lymphocytes – types of cells which circulate in the body ready to eliminate foreign ‘invaders’ such as viruses.

What to use: Onions, rosemary, sage, thyme, chamomile, dandelion, ginkgo, green tea and milk thistle.

To promote heart health:

Garlic protects against heart attacks and strokes because it helps lower bad cholesterol. Substances called catechins have also been shown to have cholesterol-reducing properties.

What to use: garlic, green tea.

Reduce cholesterol:

Some herbs contain anthocyanins – the pigments responsible for the red, pink, purple, and blue shades of some fruit and flowers. Anthocyanins also help reduce the formation of harmful cholesterol, so they provide some protection.

What to use: rosehip tea.

Herbs which heal:

Many herbs have healing qualities.  Consider having aloe vera on  your  kitchen windowsill if you’re prone to burning  yourself  when cooking.  Just break off a leaf and rub the glutinous gel on the burn to help prevent blistering.  Make  your own teas with one teaspoon of dried or two teaspoons of fresh herbs per cup of freshly boiled water.

What to use: Chamomile for insomnia; dill or peppermint for indigestion; elderflower for relief from a cold; lemon balm for tension and headaches; rosemary to improve concentration and bad breath.

Take care:

It is important to note though that some herbs should not be used if you are pregnant, trying to conceive or if you suffer from certain medical complaints or if you are on ‘chemically’ formulated meds (which you will find that you can eliminate when switching to veganism). Excessive use of some herbs (such as rosemary, sage, sorrel and thyme) may be harmful to health.  If you’re not sure, consult a professional medical herbalist for more information. To find a qualified medical herbalist,  call your   ‘National Institute of Medical Herbalists’. Consider combining herbs with vegan foods only for optimum health.

Growing your own herbs:

Lavender and rosemary, for example, make the prettiest shrubs and bays or myrtles are superb for structure. Thymes self-weave aromatic carpets and among non-woody herbs, colours, textures, habits and fragrances come in amazing variety.

If you enjoy cooking, you’re probably well stocked with dried herbs and spices. And for dishes where fresh herbs are essential, there’s always the supermarket.  But it’s distressing to see people paying for tiny pots of chives or sprigs of sage when they’re so cheap and easy to grow at home.

If you hold the tiniest outdoor space – even a balcony – it makes sense to grow a few simple varieties. And if you own a garden with a sunny corner, herbs are almost essential and most are really easy to grow.

Most popular herbs originate from the Mediterranean and love sun. They’re happy potted, or planted in the ground, and produce leafy shoots through the growing season.

Shrubs such as rosemary, bay and lavender can be regularly clipped or allowed to grow freely.

Invasive non-woody herbs – mint, tansy and lemon balm –  are best confined to isolated beds or grown in containers.

Space Savers :

You may only have space for a few pots but you’d be surprised at how little room they need. Sage, thyme and rosemary, for example, could share a half tub, if kept small by regular clipping.  And you could grow parsley, chives and oregano together, in a second pot.

But if there’s enough room, why not plant up a bed or develop a little herb garden?  Besides supplying your kitchen, you’d create an enchanting feature, full of year-round fragrance, colour and interest.

A dedicated herb garden works best if you also include non-culinary plants for extra colour or accent. Bearded iris, for example, bring a summer flash.  An old shrub rose, if there’s space, adds fragrance – as well as petals for a pot pourri – and sweet peas look and smell gorgeous, close to lavenders.  Consider including  old fashioned clove pinks, too, and would sow seeds of such fragrant or nectar-rich annuals as mignonette, night scented stock, larkspur and pot marigolds. Plants like these belong in a herb garden, despite having limited culinary use.

For summer, scented leaf geraniums, lemon verbena and dark-leaved basil or aromatic Plectranthus could also be parked among the permanent plants, perhaps in shapely ceramic or terracotta pots.

Growing parsley:

One of the best herbs to begin with is parsley. You can buy parsley in punnets or small pots, but it is also extremely easy (and cheap) to grow from seed.

If you have a reasonable soil that holds moisture, just make a shallow furrow in damp soil, and sprinkle in some seeds. Alternatively, fill a punnet with potting mix and sow a few parsley seeds, then transplant when the seedlings are large enough to handle.

Parsley shoots in three to four weeks, so you won’t need to wait long to see results. Hand-weed. Watch out for hungry slugs and snails but don’t hurt them.  Also, keep the soil moist by watering gently with a watering can with a large rose, or use a gentle setting on the hose nozzle so as not to disturb the new seedlings.

Although parsley is a herb, it can also be used decoratively in the garden. It makes an attractive border plant, perfect for edging a sunny part of the ornamental garden or even the vegie patch.

When well-grown, parsley lasts for many months.  During that time you can pick lashings of it to add to salads, soups,  mashed potato – just about anyone of your stunning vegan dishes.  A wonderful  mix with rocket and basil to make pesto.

Both basil and rocket are also highly rewarding herbs to grow through summer. Both readily grow from seed and do well in a container or in the garden.  Wild rocket will cheerily self-sow around the garden when you  allow the plants to flower and set seed.

Growing mint:

Parsley and basil eventually flower, seed and die down, but mint is there for the long haul. Common mint spreads through the garden via underground stems, and for this reason it is usually recommended to grow it in a pot.

Mint prefers a moist patch of soil, so its spread is usually curtailed when the plant runs out of moisture. Mint also does quite well in light shade and tends to shrivel in full sun. Once you’ve conquered ordinary mint, branch out into some of the more interesting scented mints such as lemon, ginger and applemint.

10 herbs to get you started:

Naturally you will want to choose herbs that you enjoy eating, but meanwhile here are 10 popular herbs to get you started. Rosemary forms a permanent shrub, while bay is a small tree. Both can be grown in pots.

Parsley (full sun, grow as an annual)

Basil (full sun, grow as an annual over summer)

Mint (part shade, perennial)

Thyme (sun, perennial)

Lemon balm (sun, perennial)

Chives (sun, perennial)

Rocket (sun, annual)

Rosemary (sun, shrub)

Bay (sun to part shade, small tree)

Sage (sun, perennial)

Please do not use chemicals or ‘pest’ control on any food that you grow. Let nature take care of herself. Consider ‘companion’ planting and look for the right spot with the perfect conditions  where each plant will  happily thrive.