Merry Christmas from the Ōtaki Mail
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You can transform a plain old summer salad, nutritious but boring, by flinging in a handful of fresh herbs, changing mouthfuls of dullness into zingy morsels of uplifting flavour.
Herb seeds germinate quickly now that our soil has warmed up, and just one packet of herb seed costs less than that supermarket-bought plant wilting on your windowsill — so forget hydroponics and get sowing.
Annual herbs to sow now include all types of basil, coriander, dill, green and bronze fennel, curly and Italian flat-leaf parsley and stevia.
Favourite summer herb must be basil, a true summer lover. There are endless options — purple, green, ruffled, miniature and giant. Basil is an unusual plant in that it comes in a variety of flavours, from spicy ‘Thai’ to ‘Cinnamon’ and ‘Clove Scented.’ A favourite for pots is the amazingly citrusy ‘Mrs Burns Lemon,’ although ‘Greek Mini,’ a true bonsai basil, is cute in containers.
Coriander is one of my favourite salad herbs, although it seems people either love or loath it. Always sow coriander direct. If you plant out punnets, be gentle. Any rough handling and your young plants will bolt straight to seed. Coriander also waves the white flag in very hot or dry (in summer, sow in semi-shade). If it does bolt, leave a plant in to scatter seed for the following season.
Mint is great in a green summer salad (as well as making buckets of mint sauce). It can run rampant in moist soil, so plant in a pot if you’re worried about it’s wandering habits.
Nasturtiums add a real zing to salads — you can eat the peppery leaves when young and their colourful edible flowers. You can have them as a trailing or compact plant and they’re dead easy from seed. Organic orchardists say that sowing nasturtiums around fruit trees also helps deter pests.
Rocket really lives up to its name in summer (shooting straight to seed in hot,dry weather) but is wonderful as a salad with chards of salty pecorino cheese.
From seed, it sprouts in a matter of days and is ready to pick a fortnight or so later. You can use as a cut-and-come again salad herb by picking a few leaves from each plant as you need them.
Italian or flat-leaf parsley has a much nuttier taste than its curly cousin, plus it’s less likely to end up stuck between your teeth. Try the variety ‘Gigante’ from Kings Seeds — its noticeably larger leaves have a sweet flavour. To harvest, pull the outer stalks off at ground level.