Top 10 Culinary Herbs
Profitable Herbs: An Introductory Guide to Growing the Top Twenty Culinary & Medicinal Herbs on a Market Scale
Below is a draft extract from an eBook I am writing, titled: Profitable Herbs: An Introductory Guide to Growing the Top Twenty Culinary & Medicinal Herbs on a Market Scale
BASIL (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil is the most popular culinary herb. There are many popular varieties to choose from, but you should stick to common sweet basil when you are first starting out. The strong, clove-like flavour of basil is an essential feature of many Italian recipes and its traditional partner is the tomato – spaghetti sauce, pizzas, tomato sauce and tomato salad all call for basil.
Basil is an extremely tender plant, and should not be put outdoors until all danger of frost is past. Start the seeds indoors in a transplant plug tray. The 200 plug tray works great for herbs.
The seeds should germinate in 7-10 days. Mist the soil every day until sprouts appear. When the new seedlings are about 3 inches high, transplant to a larger pot and fertilise with a liquid seaweed or fish fertiliser, watering as needed.
By keeping a cover on your growing beds, the tender basil plants will adapt to the cooler outdoors. When flower buds start to form, pinch out the buds to encourage bushy aromatic foliage. Start a second batch of basil seeds every two or three weeks to provide fresh plants during the selling season. Basil will be your best selling herb, so you’ll need lots of it.
CHIVES (Allium schoenoprasum)
This standard chive is better for the market grower than the more exotic varieties such as garlic chives. A mild-mannered member of the onion family – its grass-like stems can be cut from March to October. A herb with many uses – add finely-chopped chives to potato salad, stuffed eggs, soups, salads, omelettes, cream cheese and sauces. Obviously a herb everyone should grow!
Chives do better in clumps, so you’ll want to start the seeds in a cluster of several seeds. Mist the seeds every day until they germinate, which will be about a week.
Now you can start watering the plants, being careful to water only the base of the plants. A morning watering is best for almost all herb plants. Two weeks after sprouts appear, fertilise with liquid seaweed or fish fertiliser. Chives are quite hardy, so you can safely set them out in the growing bed in cooler weather.
Never leave the flower-heads to open if you want a regular supply of leaves.
CORIANDER (Coriandrum sativum)
The leafy parts of this annual herb are known as cilantro, while the seeds are called coriander. Coriander is a popular culinary herb that also has medicinal properties, as it is widely used to maintain digestive health. It’s a popular herb at the farmers market.
Cilantro prefers moist soil and a cool growing climate – too hot and it will bolt. Put two seeds in each plug, lightly misting until the plants sprout. A weekly boost of liquid seaweed or fish fertiliser will help the plants reach “ready-to-sell” stage sooner.
MARJORAM (Marjorana hortensis)
Sweet marjoram is a herb with a delicate flavour similar to oregano. Of the dozens of varieties available, the sweet variety is the most popular for culinary use, including the edible flowers. Calming and soothing, it’s also used in aromatherapy.
Put two or three seeds in each plug, then mist until they sprout. Thin to the best plant, and give it a boost of liquid fertiliser. Pinch out the tops after the plant has grown a bit to encourage bushing out.
Oregano is almost as important as tomatoes in Italian cooking. This popular herb offers an unforgettable taste and aroma. A hardy perennial from the marjoram family, oregano is also used as a garnish for stews, gravies and soups.
The best oregano variety for culinary use is Greek oregano. Many growers have had success offering an “Italian Herb” combo of oregano, rosemary and sage. Price the combo at 10 percent less that the price of three individual pots, and you’ll sell lots of them!
The hardy mint family, including applemint, chocolate mint, orange mint, spearmint (garden mint) and peppermint, are vigorous plants, and tolerate shady spots and cold weather well. Because of its vigor, it can be harvested as soon as it gets six inches high, by pinching off the tops as the plant grows. The mints are a favorite flavouring for teas, jellies, sweets and sauces. Bowles mint is the variety most highly recommended for mint sauce, and applemint (round-leafed mint) combines fragrance with a true minty flavour. Chocolate mint is a popular seller at farmers markets, with it’s unusual colouration. The large commercial growers harvest peppermint and spearmint for their oil. One member of the mint family, pennyroyal, is used in sachets to repel moths and added to dog beds to discourage fleas.
Sprigs of mint are added to the water when new potatoes and peas are boiled, but it’s most popular use is as the basic ingredient in mint sauce or mint jelly with roast lamb!
Parsley is so well known that it is often considered more a vegetable than a herb. The ancient Greeks wove it into victory crowns for the athletic games, and fed it to racehorses to make them run faster.
Today, parsley is widely used as a decorative herb, in bouquet garni, and in soups, stews, sauces and stuffing. The leaves are known as a breath sweetener and rich in vitamins and minerals. The flat-leaf varieties are more nutritious than the curly types, and sell out faster at the market.
Germination is slow – it may take up to a couple of months.
The garnish par excellence: an ingredient in fines herbes and a bouquet garni. White sauce with chopped parsley is popular, but for something different try parsley fried until crisp and served with fish.
ROSEMARY (Rosemarinus officinalis)
The Grete Herball of 1526 suggested that rosemary was a good cure “for weyknesse of ye brain”.
This evergreen plant is native to the Mediterranean region, where it can reach a height of six feet and live as long as twenty years. Rosemary is one of the most popular culinary herbs, used to flavour soups, stews and meats.
It is also used as an insect repellant, and as an ingredient in herbal mouthwash. It can be difficult to grow from seed, but can be propagated from stem cuttings of new growth in the spring.
SAGE (Salvia officinalis)
Garden sage is a hardy perennial that’s a member of the mint family. There are several varieties available, but the most commonly grown is S. officinalis, with purple flowers. Sage is an important culinary herb, widely used in stuffings, soups, gravies, meats (such as veal or pork), eggs and sausage, however its main role is to accompany onions in the traditional stuffing for duck and goose. Sage jelly has a uniquely delicious flavour. Sage is also medicinal: it was ‘said by the English herbalist Gerard in 1597 to be “good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory”, a sentiment echoed by Culpeper (“excellent … to help the memory”). An old English proverb states that “He that would live for aye/Must eat sage in May”.
TARRAGON (Artemesia dracunculus)
Hippocrates, the “father of medicine”, was prescribing tarragon for a variety of ailments over two thousand years ago. In the Middle Ages, pilgrims put sprigs of tarragon in their shoes for increased endurance on their journey.
Today, this hardy perennial is one of the most popular culinary herbs and has been described as the ‘king of herbs.’ It enhances the flavours of other herbs and gives a unique flavour to egg, fish and chicken dishes, salads and sauces. Of all the herb vinegars, none is better known than tarragon vinegar. Tarragon is also an essential ingredient in tartar sauce and sauce Bernaise.
The tarragon sold as a culinary herb is French tarragon, which must be grown from cuttings or purchased plants. Buy a few plants, and propagate your own tarragon from stem cuttings of new growth in the spring.
THYME (Thymus vulgaris)
Another member of the mint family, thyme has dozens of variations in shape, texture and flavour. Common thyme is the most widely used culinary variety, and is sometimes also called Garden thyme, English thyme or French thyme. Lemon thyme (an excellent ingredient for custard) is a popular seller at the Saturday market.
Because thyme keeps it’s aroma well when dried, it is an excellent winter herb for flavouring bouquet garni, soups and stews. Thyme is often used as a ground cover in orchards to attract bees for pollination.
Thyme is the traditional partner for parsley in the stuffing of poultry.