Having grown up in a house in suburban Dublin, we always had space to grow fresh herbs. As I grew up, and started cooking, I became very fond of cooking and garnishing with herbs from our garden. My great grandfather was a talented gardener, and it seems his green fingers have been passed down to my grandmother and my mother in turn. It’s yet to be seen whether they have made it as far as my generation! If you can grow herbs in an climate as harsh and unpredictable as Ireland’s, you can grow them pretty much anywhere I reckon!
At home we always had thyme, rosemary, bay, oregano, curly parsley, lemon balm, chives and mint. Nothing too fancy, just whatever was able to thrive in our Irish soil and weather. Thyme is my favourite herb, by far. I definitely overuse it in my cooking (as well as concocting cocktails). It’s so fragrant and such a fantastic taste and it grows all year round. It’s pretty great!
As soon as I moved to Brussels I invested in some organic herb plants from the supermarket and pots and soil to repot them. I think sometimes people don’t realise that when you buy a potted herb from the supermarket, it’s necessary to transfer it to a larger pot for the plant to survive. It’s very straightforward to do, and it means you can keep your herbs for longer.
Above are the herbs I grow on my balcony: basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, parsley and mint. Their health varies quite a bit depending on the season, the temperature and my diligence in remembering to look after them. I’ve never succeeded in keeping a basil plant alive for more than a couple of weeks before, so I’m happy this one is still alive (although this photo was taken a few months ago, it’s looking a bit worse for wear now!). The mint plant looks like it’s gone, but I’m told that it’s just because of the season. It should come back in Spring. I called my grandmother to ask her what to do with it when the leaves all withered with the cold weather and she advised me to prune it back. I trust her advice when it comes to plants so I did what I was told!
Recently I’ve been trying to use herbs in their raw form where possible, because they contain antioxidants and vitamins. So if I’m adding them to a dish, it’s often after I’ve taken what I’m cooking off the heat in the hope of keeping their beneficial properties intact. There are so many things you can do with herbs, as well as adding them to savoury dishes, they can be added to sweet dishes, they can be used to infuse alcohol, or you can simply chop up a herb and mash it up with some butter to make a herby butter to accompany bread and impress dinner guests!
In the future I’d like to grow some herbs from seed, as generally the ones you can buy in supermarkets here are always the same; the most commonly used herbs. However I find that even buying a jar of a dried herb I’ve never used before is a good way of expanding my knowledge of flavours and cooking. It’s simple to Google which food products go with which herb and it can really add a whole other dimension to a dish.