Easy to grow, ideal for adding flavour to cooking and great for health, medical herbalist Gabriella Clarke shares her pick of the bunch.
Fresh herbs at your fingertips are among the best things about growing your own. Plant them in a pot on your windowsill or patio, or in a special corner of the garden. As well as adding flavour to salads and freshly cooked dishes, they can help ward off common ailments and boost your health.
Why not try a few of these:
MINT: to help ease indigestion and bloating
Menthol, the active ingredient in mint, stimulates the production of bile as well as relaxing the stomach muscles, both of which help to improve digestion.
This striking plant with distinctive white veined leaves grows best in well-drained soil in a sunny position.
THYME: to boost immunity and soothe a sore throat
Rich in the oil thymol, thyme has powerful antiseptic, antibiotic and anti fungal properties. It is good for summer coughs, throat and chest infections.
With its colourful, fragrant foliage, thyme likes a sunny spot and a well-drained, slightly stony soil. It is best to start off with plants, which you can also grow in pots filled with compost.
SAGE: to cool down hot flushes and night sweats
Traditionally associated with longevity, sage is rich in plant oestrogens. Made into an infusion, it may help to combat hot flushes and night sweats and can also be used as a gargle and mouthwash for sore throats. Rubbing fresh sage leaves onto insect bites and stings can also help to bring relief.
Start with plants, which will need a light pruning in the summer after flowering to encourage a bushy growth. The leaves should be harvested just before the plant starts to flower
LAVENDER: for pain relief and insomnia
Lavender contains chemical compounds that are thought to help relieve pain and reduce irritability. It can be used to soothe burns, bites and stings as well as to ease insomnia. A few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillowcase can help to bring sweet dreams.
Start with plants, which can be grown in pots filled with gritty compost or in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. If growing in pots allow the compost to almost dry out between watering and keep on the dry side in winter. Lavender should be harvested in summer just as the petals start to open
VALERIAN: for stress and sleeplessness
Sometimes described as nature’s tranquiliser, valerian contains valerenic acid and substances known as iridoids, which are thought to help calm the nerves and promote sleep.
This pretty plant, which produces large clusters of vanilla-scented white or pink flowers in the summer, thrives in a moist or well-watered soil in a sunny or partially shaded position. You can start off with seeds or plants. Once established, you should cut back stems as the flowers fade to prevent plants from self-seeding.
LEMON BALM: for relaxation
Oils, such as citral and citronella, give lemon balm it’s anti-spasmodic properties, which can have a calming effect on the central nervous system.
Grow Lemon Balm
Instantly recognisable by its fragrant leaves, lemon balm thrives in any well-drained soil in a sunny spot. You can start off with seeds or plants. Regularly trimming the shoots will keep plants bushy and produce the tastiest leaves. They can be used dried or fresh to make an infusion.