Culinary Herb Borders

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Herbs are some of the oldest cultivated plants, and include annuals, biennials, herbaceous perennials and evergreen shrubs. Some herbs are grown for their leaves, which are used to flavour a wide range of dishes, while others have seeds that introduce rich, spicy flavours to food and drinks. Occasionally, roots and stems are used to create flavourings and sauces. Herbs are also used to garnish food.

Preparing herb borders
Herbs like well-drained but moisture-retentive soil, which is neither too acid nor alkaline, and a sunny, wind-sheltered position in the garden. Leafy herbs grow best in fertile soil, whereas herbs cultivated for their seeds do well in poor soil. Here, herb growing is reserved for small beds and corner borders, perhaps near kitchen doors or adjacent to a patio. Dig the soil about 30cm (12in) deep in autumn, remove all perennial weeds and add well-decomposed garden compost or manure. Allow the soil to settle and either sow seeds in spring or set young plants in place at the same time of year.

Herbs to grow for their leaves

- Allium schoenoprasum (chives): Hardy perennial, with onion-flavoured, grass-like and tubular, green leaves that are ideal for adding to salads and to flavour foods. Plants grow 15-25001 (6-ioin) high; space them 23-30cm (9-12in) apart.

- Boragoofficinalis (borage): Hardy annual with somewhat oval, green leaves covered with silvery hairs; add young leaves to salads and fruit cups, where they introduce a cucumber-like flavour. Plants grow 45-90cm high; space them 23-30cm apart.

- Melissa officinalis (balm): Herbaceous perennial with pale green, hairy, heart-shaped and nettle-like leaves that when bruised reveal a refreshing lemon-like bouquet. Plants grow 6ocm-1.2m (2-4ft) high; space them 38-45cm (15-18in) apart.

- Menthaspicata (spearmint): Spreading, herbaceous perennial with upright stems bearing leaves that reveal a spearmint-like aroma and widely used to flavour foods and drinks. Plants grow 30-60cm (1-2ft) high; they are wide-spreading and invasive.

- Rutagraveolens (rue): Evergreen shrub with deeply-divided blue-green leaves; young leaves are chopped finely and added to salads. Plants grow about 60-75cm high and spread to 45cm.

-Salvia officinalis (sage): Shrubby, with wrinkled, aromatic, grey-green and slightly bitter-tasting leaves that introduce added flavour to many foods. Plants grow 45-60cm high, with a similar spread.

- Thymus vulgaris (thyme): Creeping, evergreen shrub with aromatic dark green leaves employed in stuffings, in soups and with fish, casseroles and other cooked foods. Plants grow 10-20cm (4-8in) high; space young plants 23-30cm (9-12in) apart.

Herbs to grow for their seeds
- Anethumgraveolens (dill): Hardy annual with feathery, thread-like, anise-flavoured leaves. Seeds, with their strong anise flavour, are added to vinegar. Plants grow 60-90cm (2 - 3ft) high; thin seedlings to 23-30cm (9-12in) apart.

- Carumcarvi (caraway): Biennial with umbrella-like heads of small, green flowers. The seeds are used to flavour buns, cakes and bread. Plants grow 75cm (21/2ft) high; space them 30cm (12in) apart.

- Coriandrum sativum (coriander): Hardy annual with fern-like leaves and pink-mauve flowers. Seeds are added to curries and stews; the leaves are used to flavour soups and meat dishes. Plants grow 23-75cm (9-30in) high; thin seedlings to 15cm (6in) apart.

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Author: John Schofield
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