Cooking up a storm, with your own, homegrown herbs is bound to impress the girls. That’s why we called in South Africa’s foremost herb expert and owner of Pretoria’s Bouquet Garni Nursery, Di-Di Hoffman to help you get that basil blooming.

Basil

Eat it
Basil is best in pesto – smear it on a sandwich or stir it into some warm tagliatelle.

Grow it
The soil needs to be moist, so make sure you give the ground a good soak the day before you plan to plant your seeds. Seedlings need roughly six to eight hours of sunlight a day – a windowsill or outside spot, sheltered from any cold wind, is ideal. When watering, be sure to do so at the base of the plant: if the stems and leaves are showered they may become heavy and flattened. (Indoor basil will grow all year round, but dig up your outdoor plants and bring them inside before the frosty winter weather.)

Hint
When harvesting, be sure to pick a few leaves off each plant instead of picking all the leaves off one plant.

Sage

Eat it
With some roasted pork chops. (It can also be used in tea or as a natural astringent to treat oily skin – just add some leaves to some white wine vinegar and water.)

Grow it
Sage is durable, so all you need is some good quality soil and a sunny place for it to grow. It takes some time for sage to sprout, but once this happens, it’ll grow quickly – they generally take four or five weeks to root.

Hint
Buy a sage plant from the nursery. This allows you to reap the rewards of a mature plant immediately.

Chives

Eat it
Chop it over scrambled eggs or use the flowers (they are edible) to add colour to a salad.

Grow it
Chives are the smallest member of the onion family, so seeds should first be planted in smaller pots, where they are kept warm and moist, until the seedlings are ready to be planted outside. If the chives die during winter, don’t worry, as they are sure to revive in spring.

Hint
If your plant survives for three to four years, well done green fingers, but make sure you divide your plant into smaller bunches, and then replant it. Dig the plant up gently then separating the clump of bulbs and replant into fertile soil, separately.

Oregano

Eat it
Dried leaves are best scattered over a classic Greek salad with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice

Grow it
If you start with seeds, it’s probably better to plant them indoors in seedling pots. Make you just sprinkle the seeds over the soil – there is no need to cover them – and make sure you give them a good misting of water and they should germinate within a week. Start harvesting your oregano once the plant has at least 12 leaves. A 12 leaf year old is mature enough to handle this kind of treatment.

Hint
Incorporating oregano into your diet also helps combat respiratory problems, hypertension, arthritis, flu and keeps your skin moisturised.

Thyme

Eat it
Sprinkle thyme sprigs over roasted root veggies like potatoes, beetroots and carrots.

Grow it
Seedlings may take up to a year to grow, so rather get a mature plant. Thyme prospers in light, well-drained soil which should not be too rich in nutrients – too many nutrients and the thyme will lose its shape and texture. It is a Mediterranean herb and so it needs to be planted in an area with lots of sunshine. The plant shouldn’t need much water: unless the season has been uncharacteristically dry. After three or four years, the thyme will start to become woody and produce fewer leaves. At this stage, the plant needs to be separated for replanting.
Hint: Harvesting can be done all year round, but be sure not to over do it in winter as the plant stops growing through this season.

Rosemary

Plug some rosemary sprigs and flowers into fresh foccacia. (Never baked your own loaf?

Grow it
Rosemary seeds are notoriously difficult to germinate, rather use a cutting – you’ll also be sure about what type of plant you are getting. If you’re using a pot, it is recommended that you replant the herb in new soil once a year (ideally in Spring), as the soil degenerates as a result of watering.
Hint:Thyme can be frozen, or even better – dried out. It’s easily used as a dry herb in tomato based sources, or with a roast chicken – plus it’ll make your kitchen smell delicious.

Get more green

Herb man Di-Di Hoffman, owner of Pretoria’s Bouquet Garni Nursery, points out the basics of starting your own patch of shrubbery.

• Drainage is vital to the healthy growth of most herbs, ensure good soil is used and a decent pot and you’ll get the drainage you’re after.

• Sunlight is food for your herbs, ensure they get enough of it

• When dealing with fragile herbs, it’s best not to plant them in the ground, as this makes moving them to protect them from bad weather virtually impossible.

• Regular watering is required for most herbs, but always at the base of the plant, the roots are what absorb the moisture, not the leaves.

• The soil that you plan to plant the herbs in should be weed-free.

• Some herbs’ flavour can be compromised by the use of fertiliser, so check with your nursery before planting.

• Unless it the flowers you’re after, pinch off any flower buds that form, this will result in the plant growing bushier and retaining more flavours.

• The best time to harvest herbs is in the morning, after the dew has evaporated. The suns warm rays dry up the oils that add flavour and aroma, later in the day.