Culinary herbs

Herbs have been an essential ingredient in culinary dishes for many centuries, but it wasn’t until the late 1960’s that herbs and cooking really came into the fore. Traditional species such as Parsley, Rosemary, Chives, Sage and Thyme have been a mainstay in British cooking since this time.

It is the emergence of the TV chef, the great variety of food styles available, and the great emergence in ethnic foods that has catapulted varieties such as Coriander and Basil to the top of the best sellers list. All of these varieties are grown in Britain either under protection (glasshouses or polytunnels) or in open fields, and are available 52 weeks of the year in retail outlets countrywide as fresh, frozen or dried products.

Pot herbs are an important addition to the culinary herb portfolio and have established a successful market of their own. Imported herbs out of the British season are brought in from many areas of the world and the strict legislative standards set by the retailers have ensured a top quality product.

The culinary herb sector is one of major importance to the food market as a whole and sub-sectors include – culinary for the multiples, market produce, processed (washed / chopped), frozen and blended (pesto’s / pastes). Each of these sectors relies heavily on the quality and safety of its products, and the BHTA is there to help maintain these standards.

How to look after culinary pot herbs

Pot herbs are grown as a ‘cut as you need’ fresher alternative to cut herbs; suited to growing in well lit, protected conditions on the windowsill or work-top. Occasionally we find that people are too kind to their pot herbs and are unsuccessful due to over watering. Think of the hot dry Mediterranean conditions that many herbs are associated with. Take the pot herb out of its sleeve and place on a saucer. In general, treat it as if it were a houseplant and water sparingly but often when the compost is dry to the touch.

During the cool winter months, you’ll probably find it needs very little watering.

Over time as the herb grows, feed occasionally with an appropriate plant food such as Babybio. If the herb becomes overly pot bound, transfer it into a slightly larger size pot with fresh compost. The exceptions are;

Basil
Let the plant tell you when it needs watering, as it will start to wilt. Stressing the plants will increase the production of essential oils, improving the flavour. Watering the plant will dilute its flavour, so if you can, water at least a day before you use it. To stop the plants getting too leggy, pinch back the stems to just above new side shoots.

Mint
Mint grows best in moist conditions. Keep the compost just moist to the touch.

Coriander
Coriander is the most difficult pot herb to look after! Water little but often, if required, when the surface of the compost is dry to the touch. As Coriander is a natural rosette forming plant, it tends to collapse when taken out of its sleeve.

How to look after cut herbs

Simply place the cut herbs in their bag in the salad drawer of the refrigerator. Alternatively, for most stalky herbs like thyme and parsley, treat like a cut flower. Cut 2cm off the bottom of the stalks and place in a cup of water in the refrigerator.

Basil is the exception! Do not refrigerate, as the chill will quickly turn the leaves black. Simply store in its bag in a cool dark place, or cut 2cm off the stems and place in a cup of water positioned out of direct sunlight.

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