I try to grow most of what I need for the kitchen and this group of herbs are a little bit special because they are all essential ingredients for South East Asian cooking and some of my favourite foods. Luckily most of these are pretty easy to grow and can fit in well with our Mediterranean garden with only a little extra protection.
Capsicum: Annum, Chinense, Baccatum, or Pubescens
Not a herb of course but Chillis are indispensable in my kitchen, for all kinds of food but particularly East Asian, so I grow a wide variety of hot, medium and mild peppers. Chillis can be used fresh or dried, whole, pureed or powdered and all lend a different taste and quality to a dish. I sow Chillis in heat from November-March, set out undercover in March-April and outdoors in May. They can be harvested (depending on variety and protection) from April right through until the first frosts. Chillis store well whole or powdered once dried or they can be frozen fresh for use during the year. Use in pretty much everything.
Oriental Chives (Garlic Chives)
These delicious allium leaves are a close relative of ordinary chives but the taste is so much better that I no longer bother growing chives. The long flat leaves have pleasantly hot sweet garlic flavour and the flower buds are a delicacy, crisp and delicious. Once you get a clump started these plants are perennial and are in flower July-August. Sow spring or autumn and divide in autumn. I love this stuff so much I’ve got a 40ft row of it. Use The leaves and flower buds are lovely in soups, salads, stir fries or as crudités.
Mint is one of the most versatile herbs we use it in all kinds of dishes; salads, noodles, soups, and puddings and not just East Asian inspired food. I grow a variety called Menthe Douce or Mentha Anglaise in France but we would know it as Peppermint. Mint can be propagated from seed or by division. Mint, on our land is best in spring and autumn, in the hot summer months it can get tough and nasty so I cut it back in late July and it re-generates providing a late crop of fresh leaves late summer through autumn. Use a really versatile herb that can be added to to sweet or savory foods, fresh or dried to enhance teas, cordials, ice-creams, puddings, chutneys, salads and riatas.
Thai basil, also known as Thai purple basil, Asian basil, Anise basil is a magnificent plant; nice and bushy with pointed green leaves and purple stems and flowers. The leaves are delicious providing a strong, hot aniseedish flavour. It is most commonly used in Thai cooking where it is stir fried or added to salads, soups and curries. It is also deep fried and used as a garnish. Thai basil is grown much in the same way as European basil. I start the seeds off undercover in cells, usually March, then plant out when the weather is warm enough, usually April-May.
Use mainly Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, fresh or deep fried as a garnish
I grow coriander also known as cilantro for both seed and the leaf. Coriander is a delicate leafy herb that goes to seed easily so for leaf production it needs to be sown regularly through the year. I sow direct undercover October-February and outdoors March to September. I find it best to sow in half rows direct into a well watered drill with a light covering of sieved soil. To aid germination some gardeners recommend that coriander seeds should be lightly cracked. To do this rub the seeds between two flat stones or put them in a small plastic bag and crush with a smooth heavy object, before sowing. I find the seed does germinate well without the need for cracking. Green Coriander Seeds are one of my favourite spices so once I have finished harvesting leaves I leave the plants to grow on to produce seed and use some green in the kitchen then dry the rest for re-sowing and using in the kitchen.
Tender perennial native to Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, Burma,and Thailand, also known as East-Indian Lemon Grass, Cochin Grass or Malabar Grass. Lemon grass grows in grassy clumps and looks a little like pampas grass. I got started with a clump of Lemon Grass, which was given to me by our lovely Auzzie helpers, Graham & Renee in 2006, and really growing well in the polytunnel. I also grow a clump from seed which is also growing in the tunnel. Once the stalks are large enough they can by snapped off as needed. If the temperatures drops below 4c they will need protection. Last winter the temperature, in the unheated tunnel, was too cold and the clump got frost bite and rotted back. I cut out as much rotten material as I could and waited, fingers crossed. In spring the clump came back to life and is now romping away again but lesson learnt. This winter I will make a special winter jacket for it of sacking stuffed with straw. Use finely chopped or left whole to flavour steamed dishes, soups, stir-fries and it also makes a delicious tea.
Also known as Vietnamese Mint, Cambodian Mint or Laksa Leaf. A tender perennial. Most commonly used in Vietnamese cooking in salads, soups and spring rolls it adds an aromatic heat reminiscent of mint, coriander but much stronger and hotter with a hint of lemon. In Malaysia and Singapore it is called Laska leaf and is essential to the soupy noodle dish it is named after. Propagation can only be done by division. I started with one small plant in spring 2007, which grew madly in the polytunnel. However because this herb cannot be grown from seed I’d bought a plant to start with from a herb specialist but – disaster- the plant carried with it mealy bug in the soil which thrived in the tunnel and devistated not only the Laksa but everything else growing in the tunnel in 2008. I’ve lost the herb in fact I had to burn the whole thing, roots soil and everything to get rid of the bugs and the tunnel is still not back into proper use. I will have to start over with this herb once I can find another source for the plant.
Kaffir lime leaves and juice are an essential ingredient in Thai curries, Asian soups and some stir fry dishes. The leaves are very aromatic and are used fresh whole or shredded. The limes make a lovely pickle and the juice is a strong souring agent. I have a small tree growing in a pot, which my nieces bought me, and this does need a little bit of special care see growing citrus fruit in pots.
Originally posted on Mas du Diable 31/7/2008 it is here updated and republished.
Seeds and Starts
I am hoping to expand on what I grow and try galangal, ginger, nigella, curry leaves, sacred basil, which I think is Ocimum tenuiflorum (Sanctum) and Holy Basil is Ocimum Basilicum (Horapha). So if anyone has any seeds or starts for any of these I’d love to hear from you.