GARDENING Five herbs for life

Outdoor Living

Lovage is wonderful in soups and stews, so why not plant some?
?Lovage is wonderful in soups and stews, so why not plant some?

Five herbs for life

Hans Wieland

If you ask people for a definition of a herb, you probably get as many answers. The reason for this is that herbs are so versatile. My own definition reflects this somewhat:  “A plant with leaves, seeds, flowers and roots used for flavouring food, medicine, perfume and magic.”
For me, herbs belong to the ‘transformer’ category of plants – they can change any dish into an extraordinary food experience. May is one of the best times to buy herb plants, as the weather gets a bit warmer and you can plant them out straight away.

Where to grow?
Contrary to the popular opinion that all herbs need a sunny site, many thrive in moist, semi-shaded conditions. Plants that produce lush, green leaves (eg parsley, chives, lovage, sorrel and mint) will do well in partial shade. If you are growing them in the garden, you just need to remember to keep them well watered in the first few weeks after planting, especially if the weather is dry. They will establish very quickly and thrive. In no time they will need very little care apart from a tiny bit of weeding. You will have herbs for life!
If you are growing in containers, your herbs will need a little more attention. When the weather is very dry they will need regular watering. Placing a tray under the pot will help to retain water.

Five for life
My first choice is lovage, a very valuable culinary plant, and its absence from many gardens is somewhat perplexing. Lovage is not for a small herb bed: It is a perennial, and in its mature stage often grows up to six-foot high. It will spread and making a clump measuring three to four feet across. It will grow on any soil, but prefers a deep, moist one and can be in partial shade. So find a good spot, maybe in the corner of your garden and let it settle in. In my opinion, lovage is the best soup herb ever and also very good in stews. The flavour is similar to celery, another great plant for soups.
My second choice is horseradish, another big perennial that deserves a prominent spot in your garden. As you are going for the roots, a deep, rich and fertile soil is best to produce good straight roots. Horseradish sauce or cream is delicious with beef, but it also is great grated in salads. The best is mixing it with fresh quark or cottage cheese.
My third choice is sweet cicely, another vigorous growing perennial and one of the first herbs to show in the spring. Again, it is easy to grow and establish and it also looks well in a herbaceous border. It tastes a bit like anise and can be used as a natural sweetener.
Herb number four is salad burnet, a very attractive looking plant with small paired leaves. It is excellent in salads as the name suggests, and tastes mildly of cucumber. It often survives in mild winters.
Last not least, and a new one to me, is Vietnamese coriander. At present, in year two, I still have it in a pot and use it very regularly in cooking. It’s much easier to keep than looking after Coriander in the polytunnel, which often bolts and has to be sown again.
I would like to hear from you readers about your five for life. There could be a prize on the way to you! For information about courses on growing and using herbs and herb plants, head to

Hans Wieland is training manager at The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim, which offers courses, training and information on organic growing and cooking, and runs an Eco Shop and an online gardening store. For more information, visit
Gardening questions or comments? Contact Hans at