The category of ‘savoury’ herbs covers a huge range of flavours. These herbs each have their own, strong, identifiable taste and in many cases stand up to long, slow cooking which releases a flavour that cannot be replicated or mimicked.
The secret of using herbs in cooking is that herbs should add to the overall taste but not dominate. Cooking with herbs is all about subtlety, a striving for that elusive element that elevates a dish from good to great.
It is also about being familiar with the taste of each herb so that you know how to combine it with other herbs and how to use it with the different kinds of meat, fish, vegetable and dairy products.
Celery Apium graveolens (biennial) is an essential ingredient in soups and stews, but it can also be very finely chopped up and added to fresh salad, potato salads, and savoury muffins. The dried leaves can be used as a salt substitute. Grind the leaves into a powder to use as an ingredient of celery salt.
Celery grows in sun or partial shade and needs rich, fertile soil. Pick fresh leaves throughout the year. Outside stems can be picked individually or the whole plant can be harvested when mature. It’s a good companion plant with leeks, spinach, tomato, beans, cabbage, cauliflower and onion.
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis (perennial) has a very distinctive flavour and is well known for its use with chicken and lamb as well as roast potatoes. However it can also be used with beef, rice, and vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, green beans, as well as in vegetable soup and vegetable bakes. Add it sparingly because of its strong flavour.
Rosemary likes a hot, sunny position and soil that drains well, especially soil on the poor side. It is a slow grower but ultimately develops into a large bush that can be trimmed, shaped as topiary or hedged. The traditional ‘McConnell’s Blue‘ is a sprawling bush but there are more upright varieties like ‘Tuscan Blue’ and ‘Heinz’ which has white flowers. There is also a pink flowered variety that is very hardy and grows into a small shrub.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) has a strong taste but this quickly diminishes with cooking so it should be added at the end of cooking or to garnish all red meat, chicken, fish, omelettes, pasta, salads, cheese and white sauces.
Parsley grows in full sun or partial shade and does best in rich soil that is kept moist. Never allow the soil to dry out but also don’t allow the soil to become waterlogged. Parsley is ideal for container growing, but use a well-drained potting soil and a container with proper drainage holes. Fertilize with an organic fertilizer at least once a month, as parsley is a heavy feeder. Yellowing leaves will indicate either a drainage problem (too waterlogged), or a lack of fertilizer.
Pick leaves from the outside of the plant. The tastiest leaves will be produced in the first growing season, which is why parsley is best grown as an annual and replaced every season.
Thyme Thymus vulgare (perennial) and Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus) is one of those herbs that can be used with just about everything. It has a savoury taste which makes it suitable for marinades, for adding to beef, mutton, and poultry dishes and as an ingredient in stuffing for fish and chicken. The finely chopped leaves can be added to salads, omelettes, marrows, and mushrooms.
Thyme grows in most kinds of soil, needs full sun and requires infrequent watering. It grows into a small, bushy shrub that stimulates the growth of neighbouring plants and its aromatic leaves repel aphids. It is hardy and will grow through winter.
Sage Salvia officinalis (perennial) has the most distinctive taste of all savoury herbs and should always be used sparingly. It works well with fatty food because it aids in their digestion. Use sage with pork, in stuffing for chicken, with egg fruit, broccoli, tomato, cheese dishes and baked vegetables.
Sage grows in full sun, in relatively poor well drained soil. It is often killed through over watering. Keep it in a sunny protected position in winter as it doesn’t tolerate the cold well. It flowers in spring and should be trimmed after flowering to retain its shape.
Oregano Origanum vulgare (perennial) is another strong tasting herb that is most associated with Italian cooking, especially tomato dishes or dishes like pasta and pizza that use tomatoes. Oregano also works well with peas, mushroom squash, veal, beef, fish and white sauce.
Oregano grows in full sun; in well drained, composted soil. Its growth habit is that of a groundcover and it has a height of 25cm and spread of about 30cm. It is evergreen and the leaves can be picked all year round. It is a good companion plant with broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, and peppers.
Marjoram Origanum majorana (perennial) has a far more delicate flavour than Origanum vulgare. It goes well with chicken, veal, meatballs, in cream sauces for fish and shellfish, with mushrooms, marrows, beetroot, beans, potatoes, egg dishes, omelettes and fresh salads.
Marjoram grows in full sun and in winter should be kept in a sheltered position as it can be sensitive to frost. It also grows easily in a pot. Being evergreen the leaves can be picked all year round and the flowering heads should be removed to prevent it from getting scraggly. Water every second day and feed monthly. It’s a good companion herb for sage.