Hooters Hall

Posts Tagged ‘herbs’

Popular Parsley

Continuing with the culinary herb theme this week it’s all about Parsley Petroselinum crispum, apparently the most widely cultivated herb in Europe. I wasn’t particularly keen on Parsley until I grew some of the flat leaved variety and tried making some parsley pesto. Made with fresh parsley picked straight from the garden parsley pesto with pasta is spring on a plate. So fresh and green tasting you feel healthier just looking at it.

The flat leaf varieties are stronger in flavour than the curly parsleys and I stick to growing flat leaf parsleys. The curly varieties are quite neat and attractive plants though, and make good edging plants or a nice addition to the patio if grown in a container.

The Hamburg Parsley var. tuberosum is grown for its edible roots rather than the leaves, which are inferior compared to other cultivars. It’s most popular in Germany as the name suggests.

In the UK Parsley is grown as a hardy biennial reaching 30-40cm in height. Parsley can be easily grown from seed sown spring to late summer. For best germination results soak seeds overnight in warm water before planting. Germination can take 3-6 weeks so you need to be patient.

A rich, well drained, neutral to alkaline soil in sun or partial shade suits parsley best. For best results, when growing in the garden, add some well rotted manure to your chosen site the previous autumn. To harvest Parsley year round prepare two sites. For a summer harvest a western or eastern border will give best results because the plant needs moisture and a little shade. For a winter harvest pick a more sheltered spot with plenty of sun.

If the leaves of your parsley become yellow cut back to promote new growth and feed with a liquid fertiliser e.g. seaweed or comfrey. Remove any flower heads if you want to keep harvesting the leaves. Although parsley is a biennial in the second year it can be difficult to stop it running top seed so planting a new crop each year means you’ll always have some year old plants to harvest.

Parsley leaves can be used fresh, frozen, puried, juiced or dried. If you are harvesting roots from Hamburg Parsley lift them in late autumn of the first year or Spring of the second year. Roots can be stored in peat or sand if not used straight away.

If you fancy trying parsley pesto here’s a recipe      http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/parsleypestowithpota_11633

Here’s a picture of some young flat leaf parsley and the root of Hamburg Parsley

Neither witch nor devil, thunder nor lightening, will hurt a man in the place where a bay tree is

So said Nicholas Culpeper, the English botanist and herbalist, in his book The Complete Herbal published in 1653. He wasn’t the only one to have a high opinion of the bay tree. The Romans used the bay wreath as a mark of excellence for poets and athletes. the Latin name for the Bay tree is laurus nobilis meaning praise, famous/renowned. The Greeks were also fans of the Bay tree believing it sacred to Apollo the Greek god of prophecy, poetry and healing. Although I’m keen for our polytunnel to remain witch and devil free without any lightening strikes I grow bay for its culinary uses. Bay leaves are mainly used to add flavour in cooking used in bouquet garni as well as alone to add flavour to soups , stews and a wide variety of Mediterranean cooking.

There are only two species of evergreen shrubs or small trees in the Lauraceae genus. Laurus nobilis (sweet bay) is hardier than Laurus azorica and therefore by far the most popular choice. There are a number of varieties of Laurus nobilis with slightly different characteristics. Laurus nobilis f. angustifolia (Willow leaf bay) is a narrow leaved variety and Laurus nobilis ‘Aurea’ AGM (Golden Bay) has golden leaves and small, pale, yellow waxy flowers.

Bay trees prefer a well drained soil in sun or partial shade. They can be grown from seed but for faster results try semi-ripe cuttings or removal of suckers in summer. Alternatively you can also try layering in autumn. You can collect leaves in summer and dry them whole or as branches. Dried leaves will keep their flavour for about a year.

Bay trees make good container plants and can be pruned into interesting topiary. The classic container bay is a large standard ( straight bare trunk with lollipop of leaves on top). To produce a standard bay tree you need a young plant in a container with a striaght growing stem. As the tree begins to grow, remove the lower side shoots below where you want the ball of leaves to begin. Allow the tree to grow up to 20cm higher than desired then clip back the growing tip. The remaining side shoots should be cut to about 3 leaves. When the side shoots have grown a further 4 or 5 leaves trim them back again to 2 or 3 leaves. Keep this up until you have a leafy ball shape. Once you’ve established the ball shape it will just need a quick prune in late spring and late summer to maintain the shape.

I’ve been growing some bay trees from cuttings in the polytunnel and they seem to be doing quite well. I’m planning to experiment with creating some standard trees and maybe some other topiary shapes. I’ll also be using some of the bay in my herb garden planters. To make sure I’ve got plenty of bay to take cuttings from I’m going to plant one in the ground polytunnel  and let it grow quite big.

If you are growing bay trees outside or in containers that can’t be brought inside in winter you will need to protect your bays from frost, especially when young (under 2 years). To protect your bay tree cover in straw or bracken alternatively use horticultural fleece. In severe winters the leaves may turn brown but new growth may then shoot from the base in spring. To encourage new growth cut the plant nearly down to the base.

Here’s some botanical illustrations of the bay tree


Thyme: For courage and fairies

Another week of snow and ice has once again hampered activities here at Hooters Hall so sticking with the theme of culinary herbs I’ve been reading up on Thyme. In the middle ages Thyme was given to knights to bring courage it was also used to make an oil which would enable you to see fairies although you had to use thyme gathered from the side of a hill frequented by fairies. More commonly thyme is used in bouquet garni and herbs de Provence as well as on its own to flavour a wide variety of meat and vegetable dishes.

Most thymes prefer neutral to alkaline soils and thrive in stony or rocky situations making an attractive rockery plant. Thymes dislike wet winters and will benefit from a gravel mulch to protect the foliage from contact with wet soil. Light trimming after flowering will encourage bushiness. With variegated cultivars any green, non variegated shoots should be removed to maintain the variegation.

Although it is possible to grow thyme from seed to maintain the  true plant propagation by softwood or semi-ripe cuttings in summer or division in spring is more sucessful. Thymus vulgaris is common thyme generally used in cooking but there are a number of other thymes with a citrus scent which add a bit of extra interest to recipes. Thymus x citriodorus, lemon thyme, as the name suggests has a lemon scent which goes well with fish and stuffings for poultry. Thymus ‘Fragrantissimus’, Orange Scented Thyme, has the scent of spicy orange and combines well with stir fry especially duck dishes.

If you’re growing thyme more for ornamental than culinary characteristics try one of the variegated thymes such as Thymus vulgaris ‘Silver Posie’ which has a very attractive grey/ silver variegation. Combining ornamental looks with great culinary attributes Thymus citriodorus ‘Silver Queen’ AGM has a strong lemon scent together and large leaves with silver variegation.

Most people think of thyme as being fairly low growing. Although no thyme is going to be towering over your other plants there are some choices in height.

Low growing creeping thymes include Thymus Coccineus group, Thymus Doerfleri, Thymus ‘Doone Valley’, Thymus Herba-barona, Thymus pseudolanuginosus and all Thymus serpyllum.

 The upright thymes can be  divided into those that grow up to 30cm and those that grow over 30cm.

 Thymes that grow up to 30cm include Thymus caespititius, Thymus cilicicus Bois & Bail, Thymus Jekka and Thymus pulegioides ‘Bertram Anderson.’

Thymes growing over 30cm include Thymus camphoratus, Thymus citriodorus, Thymus ‘Fragrantissimus’, Thymus ‘Porlock’, Thymus vulgaris.

Thyme does well in containers. Use a free draining soil that is low in nutrients, richer soils will impair the flavour. Thyme is a drought loving plant so the container should be kept fairly dry only watering when absolutely necessary.  As well as it’s culinary and ornamental uses thyme is an excellent bee plant. Although the flowers are small they contain a lot of nectar so will keep the bees happily buzzing.

Here’s a picture of a variegated lemon thyme. I’ve been growing this in the polytunnel, we haven’t tried it in the kitchen yet but it looks very pretty.