Herbal highs: It's time to get potting dill and parsley to garnish summer dishes

 

Courgettes in the garden have been coming on rather fast and I've been looking for new ways to use them. One of the most successful was a pasta dish, quick and easy to make: fry an onion and a couple of garlic cloves (both finely chopped) in butter till they are soft. Add six small courgettes, finely sliced, and cook for about five minutes. Add about 150ml of crème fraîche and let the mixture heat through. Pull the pan off the heat and mix in a bunch of finely chopped dill. If the sauce seems too thick, add some warm chicken stock. Then tip in whatever pasta you've cooked, stir it about and serve it up with lots of freshly grated Parmesan.

It was the dill that gave this sauce its kick. I've always thought of it as a fish herb, the must-have ingredient in a classic gravadlax, but I'm glad to have found another use for it. It has the same kind of slightly aniseed taste as fennel. Both have fine, feathery foliage and big, flat heads of yellow flowers in summer. Fennel, though, is perennial. Dill needs to be sown fresh every year.

Little and often is the best way to sow seed. You can start off dill any time between May and August, and if you are lucky, you'll be cutting your first crop within eight weeks. Young plants won't transplant, so sow direct into a large tub or in short drills in the ground. Water the earth or compost first, so the seed goes into damp ground. It'll succeed in semi-shade and, like many Mediterranean herbs, doesn't need rich ground. It grows in a rather floppy manner and in a pot, this can be irritating. Prop up plants while they are still small with twigs rounds the edge of the pot, or a ready-made half-dome support.

Dill was once grown commercially in the east of England, a vital ingredient in the gripe-water given to colicy babies. It's still reckoned to be good for the digestion, but it's not a herb that improves with cooking. You need to add it to dishes fresh and at the last minute. Eventually it will get fed up with producing leaves and will try to shoot up to flower. You can slow down the inevitable end by cutting out the flower stems, but eventually the plant will turn purplish and die. If you allow a few flower stems to develop, you'll have a free source of seed for your next sowing.

Parsley is another herb that can be sown during August or in early September. It's probably the most widely used of what I think of as 'British' herbs: mint, parsley and sage. Parsley is a biennial, and needs more than one growing season to complete its life cycle. That's why now is a good time to sow. I grow parsley in black plastic pots, 28cm/11in across. They stand just outside the back door so there is no excuse not to use them. I use our own compost to fill most of the pot and top off with sterile multi-purpose stuff to make a seed bed that won't sprout too many weeds while the parsley slowly grinds itself into action. It is a slow mover. Dill will germinate within two to four weeks. Parsley takes at least six.

Parsley growing in a herb patch. Grown from seed in August, it will take six weeks to germinate Parsley growing in a herb patch. Grown from seed in August, it will take six weeks to germinate (Alamy)
Water the compost before you sow, scattering the seed as thinly as possible. Top off with a thin layer of more compost and press the top down. I use the base of a similar-sized pot to do this. Cover the pot with netting against blackbirds and squirrels. Then wait, watering if the compost seems to be drying out.

Professional cooks swear that, in terms of taste, flat-leaved parsley is better than the curly-leaved kind. For cooking, I'm equally happy with either, but for looks the curly kind wins easily. Crops in pots catch your eye more than crops in the ground, so if the pot is in the spotlight, grow the curly-leaved 'Lisette' (Thompson & Morgan, £1.99). I sowed a potful of seed on 13 September last year > and am still picking from that crop, but next month, I'll start off another batch. Parsley is perfectly hardy, will stand outside all winter and does not need full sun. It's a hungrier herb than dill and so, occasionally, you should give it some liquid fertiliser when you are watering.

I can't remember ever using sweet cicely when I have been cooking, but if you choose herbs as much for their looks as their usefulness, this is a good one to have. Earlier this year it was in fantastic form on the bank, growing among white and purple honesty in shade. It comes into flower early, looking like a refined cow parsley, though not so stringy, the flat white heads of flower carried close to the foliage which is bright-green and beautifully cut, like a fern's.

Both the foliage and the seeds taste of aniseed, the flavour much more intense in the seed, which is green when fresh, ripening to black. Nothing could be easier to grow. Buy a plant and tuck it away in a cool, shady place. Herbs are mostly sun lovers, so it is useful to know which ones can cope with shade. Cut the stems down in July to bring on a fresh crop of leaves.

You can raise sweet cicely from seed (look for Myrrhis odorata in a flower catalogue if you can't find it listed under herbs) but you need to sow in September or October, as the seeds won't germinate unless they've been through a few months of cold weather. The seeds are quite big, so you can sow one to a small pot and leave the pots outside or in a cold frame for the winter. In spring, you can transplant young seedlings quite easily to their final growing spot. Mature plants are much more difficult to move as they have long, carrot-like tap roots.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn