Herbs A - E

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 Updated 14/05/2017

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A page listing information and growing advice on a selection of herbs starting with the letters a to e.

The other herbs are listed on F - O and P - Z. If you are looking to buy herb seeds in the UK, check out our shop.

Angelica

Latin name: Angelica archangelica.

Family: Umbelliferae.

Growing pattern: Biennial.

History: In past times the seeds and roots of Angelica used to be burned as a sort of incense to perfume the house. Traditionally the herb takes its name from the story that an angel came to earth when plague was rampant and told people to hold a piece of Angelica root in their mouths to ward off the pestilence.

How to grow: Sow the seeds in August in the place where you want the Angelica to flower. Thin the seedlings to 15cm apart. If you do not allow the flower heads to form Angelica will grow for a number of years. If you allow the seed head to develop and drop the plant will self seed quite easily.

Soil condition/position: Angelica likes rich, light soil in partial shade.

Appearance: This highly aromatic plant grows up to 2 meters high. It has creamy white flowers massed into one almost round umbel. Its many leaflets are arranged in groups of three and its stems are hollow.

Uses: The root of Angelica can be used for making tea and the stems are the parts which are candied for cake decoration. The leaves can be added to cooking rhubarb, gooseberries, redcurrants and plums to help sweeten these often sour fruits. A syrup made from the stems and leaves can be stored and diluted to use as a drink and tea made from the dried leaves is said to be good for soothing the nerves, tension, colds coughs and rheumatism. It should not be taken by those suffering from diabetes. Angelica also has a cosmetic use. Fill a muslin bag with Angelica leaves and dangle it in your bath. It is most relaxing.

Anise

Latin name: Pimpinella anisum.

Family: Umbelliferae.

Growing pattern: Annual.

History: This herb is native to Egypt and is mentioned in ancient Egyptian records. The Romans used it in medicine and also in a cake which was possibly the forerunner of the wedding cake.

How to grow: Anise can only be grown by seed. Sow the seeds when the soil begins to warm in the desired flowering position. Transplant the seedlings when very small and eventually thin them to 15 centimeters apart. Anise has very long tap roots and therefore is not suitable for container growing unless in a very deep pots.

Soil condition/position: Grow Anise in light, well drained soil.

Appearance: Anise grows to a height of 60 centimetres and has a flavour similar to that of liquorice.

Uses: Anise has been used for many years to disguise the unpleasant taste of medicine. Gather the seed heads in early autumn. Use the leaves throughout the growing season to add to green salads. The leaves and seeds taste good with shellfish. The dried seeds can be used in cakes, biscuits, bread and apple pie. A refreshing tea can be made from the dried leaves and this is supposed to be an aid to digestion as is chewing the seeds to cure hiccoughs. Cosmetically a good face pack can be made from ground seeds. This will fade freckles. The seeds are also useful for pot-pourri.

Basil

Latin name: Ocimum basillicum.

Family: Labiate.

History: Originally from India. Keats wrote a poem about it "Isabella and the pot of Basil".

How to grow: Propagation from seed grown in the greenhouse or very warm sheltered place outdoors. Put 2-3 seeds per pot and harden off for planting out in the summer. Plant out 20cm apart and keep well watered but beware of over-watering as the plant can develop damping off disease.

Soil condition/position: Plant out in a sunny, sheltered position in light, rich soil. When the plants are established you can pinch out the centres (use the leaves in the kitchen) to encourage bushy growth.

Appearance: Basil has large shiny leaves and white flowers. There are quite a few different varieties of Basil: Lemon, Lime, Lettuce Leaved, Genovese to mention a few.

Uses: Add Basil to butter sauces for fish dishes and use in tomato, egg and mushroom dishes. Basil has a very strong flavour which increases with cooking.

If you have a question about basil, have a look at our reader's question page on Basil.

Bay

Latin name: Laurus nobilis

Family: Lauraceae.

Growing pattern: Perennial evergreen tree.

History: Bay was the laurel used in the wreaths with which the ancient Romans and Greeks crowned their athletes and heroes.

How to grow: You would have to buy a small tree. Once established cuttings can be taken from side shoots in late summer. The leaves can be picket throughout the year.Soil condition/position: The Bay likes a sunny place. If the winters are known to be hard the tree should be pot grown and brought in. For container growing it can be kept clipped right back to a suitable size.

Appearance: The tree can grow to 40 feet. Its leaves are shiny and dark green, the flowers light yellow and the fruit purple.

Uses: Bay leaves are a component of bouquet garni. Use the leaves in soups and marinade mixes. Add to dry rice to impart its spicy flavour and to meat and vegetable dishes.

Borage

Latin name: Borago officinalis.

Family: Boraginaceae.

History: Borage originated in Southern Europe. It was used as a tonic and was believed to exhilarate the mind.

Growing pattern: Annual.

How to grow: Grown from seed. Broadcast or sow in drills from March to July. Borage is ready to use after 8 weeks. Cut it back regularly. The plants do not transplant well. When planting out place seedlings 60cm apart. Borage seeds well and will come up year after year.

Soil condition/position: Borage likes a light, poor soil of chalk or sand. It prefers a well-drained, sunny position. Borage is not suitable for container growing as it has a very long tap root.

Appearance: Height 60cm. A hairy leaved plant with vivid blue star-shaped flowers.

Uses: The flowers can be put in beverages like Pimms Number One. Use the tender leaves for salads - they have a delicate cucumber taste. Chop the young leaves and flowers and add them to green salads. Also add the leaves to pea or bean soup. Put the flowers and leaves into wine or fruit cup, leave for one hour then strain. Borage leaves make nice hot or cold tea when served with lemon and sugar. Candy the flowers for cakes and ice-cream or use them in ice bowls. The dried flowers are an ideal ingredient for pot pourri.

Caraway

Latin name: Carum carvi.

Family: Umbelliferae.

Growing pattern: Annual.

History: Caraway has long been used to flavour Kummel liqueur and the seeds have been used in the baking of rye bread.

How to grow: Sow the seeds in April or late Autumn in the flowering position. Thin the seedlings to 20cm apart. Protect young plants with mulch during a severe winter.

Soil condition/position: Caraway can be grown in a container in a sunny position. it does not transplant well and will reach its full height in the second year. Remove the seed-heads when they have turned brown but before they burst. Complete drying indoors.

Appearance: Caraway grows to 60cm and has feathery leaves and crescent shaped seeds preceded by small white flowers which usually appear in the second year.

Uses: The seeds of Caraway have a piquant flavour and are used in baking for cakes, biscuits and bread. The roots are good boiled and the leaves can be used to flavour soups and stews. Caraway is especially good when used with pork, liver, cabbage or cauliflower.

Catnip

Latin name: Nepeta cataria.

Family: Labiatae.

Growing pattern: Perennial.

History: Traditionally well-known for the appeal of its essential oils to cats. These oils were also used in perfume making.

How to grow: Can be grown from seed but the most usual way is from cuttings which root very easily and from root division in March.

Soil condition/position: Catnip likes a rich soil in a sunny position. It will grow well in rockeries.

Appearance: Silver-grey foliage Catnip will grow to 90cm.

Uses: Cats love it so it can be used to attract them away from other parts of the garden.

If you have a question about catnip, have a look at our reader's question page on Catnip.

Chamomile Dyers

Latin name: Anthemis tinctoria.

Family: Compositae.

Growing pattern: Perennial.

History: Used as a yellow dye.

How to grow: Grow from seed.

Soil condition/position: Light, well-drained soil in a sunny position.

Appearance: White flower with yellow centre grows to a height of about 60cm.

Uses: This chamomile is used by dyers to create a yellow dye.

Chamomile (Lawn)

Latin name: Chamaemelum nobile.

Family: Compositae.

Growing pattern: Perennial.

History: Popular since early Egyptian times. A strewing herb used historically in Arabia for its essential oils.

How to grow: Grow from seed. Start in seed boxes and plant the seedlings out 4 inches apart. When they start to grow cut them back to 15cm to encourage growth. As a lawn chamomile seldom needs cutting and is beautifully fragrant.

Soil condition/position: Plant in fertile, well-drained, light soil 45cm apart for ordinary plants and 15cm apart if you are making a lawn. Needs watering well in dry periods.

Appearance: Delicate, low growing, ferny leaved plant.

Uses: Used for many years to make scented lawns. The essential oils will revive cut flowers.

If you have a question about Chamomile and Chamomile Lawns, have a look at our reader's question page on Chamomile Lawns.

Chamomile Matricaria (Annual)

Latin name: Matricaria recutita.

Family: Compositae.

Growing pattern: Perennial.

History: This Chamomile has been used for healing and cosmetic purposes for many years.

How to grow: Sow the seeds or increase by root division in the spring. Keep the seeds well watered until the seedlings develop and when large enough thin them to 15cm apart

Soil condition/position: The flowers are ready for picking eight weeks after sowing. Pick and dry them quickly when the petals begin to turn back. Chamomile likes a sunny position and can be grown in a container. if the flowers are left it will re-seed.

Appearance: Chamomile grows to 60cm and has small daisy-like flowers and a lovely scent.

Uses: Chamomile tea has always been regarded as a restorative. A healing substance called Azulen is extracted from the fresh flowers. An infusion made from the flowers has long been used a a rinse to enhance fair hair and can also be used as a mouthwash, eyebath and face-wash. Chamomile has also been used as an inhalant for colds. The dried flowers can also be used in pot-pourri.

Chervil

Latin name: Anthriscus cerefolium.

Family: Umbelliferae.

Growing pattern: Annual.

History: A herb traditionally used in Lent and thought to have blood cleansing properties. it was also used as a skin cleanser.

How to grow: Sow chervil seeds from February to August. The seeds will germinate quickly. Thin the seedlings to 15cm apart. this herb can be grown under cloches for an early spring crop and will happily grow in a container.

Soil condition/position: Chervil likes a well drained soil in partial shade. It can be used when it reaches 10cm in height.

Appearance: Chervil has fern like leaves and looks a little like French parsley. It has clusters of small white flowers and a spicy flavour.

Uses: Chervil makes a good addition to salads. It has a more delicate flavour than parsley and can be used to make a lovely soup. Add it to butter sauces to go with vegetables and mix it with other herbs to go with egg and cheese dishes. Use it to garnish pork or veal chops and steak. Chopped chervil can be sprinkled over cooked carrots and peas.

N.B. Chervil is one of the herbs traditionally used in the French "Fines Herbes" mix.

Chives

Latin name: Allium schoenoprasum.

Family: Lilaceae.

Growing pattern: Annual.

History: One type of chive was originally cultivated in China and was probably used throughout Asia.

How to grow: Chives are grown from seed. It needs to be re-sown every 2-3 years as the flavour tends to diminish. Sow in shallow drills at the beginning of March. Thin the seedlings to 30cm apart. Chives can be grown in a container. In spring or autumn the clumps can be divided and the flowers should always be cut off to maintain flavour for as long as possible.

Soil condition/position: Moist, rich soil. Can be put in pots during the autumn and be brought indoors to provide a winter supply.

Appearance: Chives grow to 30cm in height and have thin grass like leaves which grow from clumps of tiny bulbs. The flowers are small, round and pale mauve in colour.

Uses: Chives are good in omelettes, scrambled eggs and in all sorts of salads. They can be chopped up very finely and sprinkled over cooked new potatoes.

If you have a question about chives, have a look at our reader's question page on Chives.

Clary Sage

Latin name: Salvia sclarea.

Family: Labiatae.

Growing pattern: Hardy biennial.

How to grow: Clary can be grown from seed.

Appearance: A pretty plant with long lasting flowers.

Uses: The leaves are used for flavouring soup.

Comfrey

Latin name: Symphytum officinale.

Family: Boraginacae.

Growing pattern: Perennial.

History: For many centuries Comfrey has been regarded as a healing herb. Also known as "Knit Bone" it has been used for mending broken bones and for open wounds, cuts and bruises.

How to grow: Sow Comfrey seeds early in spring in the flowering position. Thin the seedlings to 30-40cm.

Soil condition/position: Comfrey thrives in damp soil but will grow almost anywhere. It will reseed itself. It is not suitable for container growing. The young leaves should be picked throughout the season. Dig up the roots in the autumn.

Appearance: This plant is tall and wide spreading. It has big, coarse leaves and its flowers which are blue or creamy white grow in spikes and bloom all summer. Comfrey reaches a height of 60-90cm.

Uses: Comfrey is a very good composting plant and makes a good mulch to put around other herbs. It can also be made into a liquid fertilizer. All parts of the plant have healing properties. The leaves can be made into an ointment or poultice and used for rheumatic pain and bruises.

If you have a question about Comfrey, have a look at our reader's question page on Comfrey.

Coriander

Latin name: Coriandrum sativum.

Family: Umbelliferae.

Growing pattern: Annual.

History: An ancient spice used for meat preservation. It has historically been used as a flavouring for food and to disguise the taste of unpleasant medicine.

How to grow: Coriander can be grown from seed. Sow the seeds in early spring where the plants are required. Thin the seedlings to 30cm apart.

Soil condition/position: Coriander likes a rich soil in full sun and it needs a long growing season to make sure that the seeds will ripen. In late summer the seeds turn a light greyish brown the plants can be cut down. Leave the seed heads in a dry airy place for 2-3 days. Shake off the seeds and store in a screw-top jar.

Appearance: Tough stemmed upright plant with ferny leaves. Small white or pink flowers appear in mid-summer and are followed by round, brown seed capsules.

Uses: Coriander seeds are used in pickles and in curries. They are used to add flavour to cream cheese, biscuits and cakes and are an ingredient of curry powder. Sometimes they are used in gingerbread.

Cumin

Latin name: Cuminum cyminum.

Family: Umbelliferae.

Growing pattern Annual.

How to grow: Cumin can be grown from seed. Sow the seeds outside when the soil is warm. Allow the seedlings to develop quite close together as this will give support to the heavy seed heads. Cut the seedheads when they turn brown and finish drying them indoors.

Soil condition/position: Sow the seeds in rich soil in a warm, sheltered place.

Appearance: Cumin is a tall slender plant with thin dark green leaves and pink or white tiny flowers. it can grow up to 60cm tall.

Uses: The seeds of cumin are used for flavouring especially meat casseroles and lentil soup. Use the whole seed when cooking cabbage or kidney beans. Mix whole seeds into mashed potatoes, bread, biscuits, cakes, pickles and chutneys.

Dill

Latin name: Anethum graveolens.

Family: Umbelliferae.

Growing pattern: Annual.

History: The word Dill comes from the Saxon word "Dilla" which means soothe. It has long been taken as an aid to digestion and as a tranquillizer.

How to grow: Sow dill seeds for April to June in a fine tilth. Thin seedlings to 30cm apart. When the flowerheads turn brown the seeds are ripe. Cut the whole plant down and dry the seedheads indoors. Shake the seeds from the seed heads and store in airtight containers.

Soil condition/position: Dill prefers a good garden soil in a sunny position. Harvest the seed heads when brown and then cut the whole plant down.

Appearance: Dill will grow to 90cm. It has feathery blue/green leaves and deep yellow flowers.

Uses: The young flowerheads can be added to salads but be sure to allow some to go to seed. the leaves make an excellent sauce for fish and can be added to salads especially cucumber. Dill leaves chopped finely are and interesting addition to cottage cheese or cream cheese. Dill seeds can be used whole in lamb stew, herb butters, bean soups and pickled cucumbers (Dill Pickles). Traditionally dill seed tea is said to promote sleep and when chewed they can sweeten the breath.

Dill Fernleaf: A shorter variety growing to 45 cm with dark green leaves.

Elder Herb

Latin name: Sambucus nigra.

Family: Caprifoliaceae.

Growing pattern: Tree.

History: The Elder has long been highly regarded by herbalists because of its many uses.

How to grow: The elder would take a long time to grow from seed. the quickest method is to take cuttings from leafless shoots. having said this if you have an elder in the garden they tend to seed in the most unlikely places.

Soil condition/position: Elder likes a sunny, moist place but will thrive in any good garden soil.

Appearance: Elder is a tree which has big whorls of creamy white pungent flowers, followed by dark black blue berries.

Uses: The blossom and berries make very good wine and non-alcoholic Elderflower Sparkle can be made from the blossom. A whole elderflower can be made into a fragrant fritter and the flowers can be put into apple tarts and as a substitute for currants in other puddings. A syrup made from elderberries relieves coughing and hot elderflower tea makes a soothing nightcap. An infusion of elderflowers is very good as a softener and cleanser for the skin. A compress made from the infusion is said to be good for wrinkles, sunburn and freckles.

Eyebright

Latin name: Euphrasia officinalis.

Family: Scrophulariaceae.

Growing pattern: Biennial.

History: Has been used for many hundreds of years to treat eye problems.

How to grow: Eyebright is a European wild flower and does not grow readily in garden conditions. It is also difficult to obtain seeds. Blooms in late summer and is essentially a wild flower. Eyebright is parasitic and relies on the companion planting of grasses to prosper.

Soil condition/position: Eyebright likes grassy patches not well-tilled soil.

Appearance: Grows to a maximum of 20cm if conditions are right but usually to about 15 cm. The leaves look a bit like tiny nettles and the flowers are white streaked with yellow and violet.

Uses: Tea can be made from the whole plant fresh or dried and taken as a tonic or remedy for hay-fever. An infusion of the leaves can be used to bathe tired, sore eyes.




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