Talent Gore Arts Correspondent
The time is long gone when thyme, parsley and snage, and the odd bay leaf were the mainstays of most kitchens. In more recent times, these stalwarts have been joined by a whole range of herbs, many of which can easily be grown in an ordinary garden.
Most of the common herbs are natives of the Mediterranean region, for instance, thyme, sage, rosemary, fennel, bay leaf, wall rocket and marjoram. All of these plants enjoy dry sunny conditions in their native lands and they can grow on same conditions in the garden.
Not only do herbs grow best in full sunshine, and when grown in well-drained soil, but they also develop their best flavour. The essential oils that give them their distinctive flavour are concentrated in the leaves.
The health benefits of spices are infinite, they aid in weight loss, control diabetes, improve brain function, reduce nausea and boost immunity.
They also help in improving heart health, inducing sweating, keeping the skin healthy, regulating the metabolism, and detoxifying the body. Spices protect the body by fighting infection, reducing inflammation and preventing cancer.
Zimbabwe is spending millions of its precious foreign currency on spice imports.
It is a sector which the country can easily harness through the production of a wider variety of spices, which can create jobs, improve farmer livelihoods and generate foreign currency for the country, just like tobacco and other export crops
Spice production is still low and a neglected area of agriculture in Zimbabwe. The few farmers that produce herbs and spices from indigenous plants and exotic plants. Some of the spices grown include ginger, coriander, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, parsley, thyme, sweet basil, black and white pepper and cumin.
Millicent Cassandra Jones who has a spice garden at her home said spices can be wonderful plants inside and out. It is relatively easy to take care of them and they usually don’t grow too much.
“Spice garden is a wonderful addition to any household for health matters and of course to add flavour to our eating,” she said.
“I love herbs and spices, so I just decided to start my own spice garden rather than go to the supermarket on a regular basis to buy spices. That is how I started a spice garden and my daughter who is married has also started her garden at home.
“If you use basil for pasta, or you add a little mint to your lemonade, spice gardens are a great way to add fresh ingredients in a little money in your daily menu.
“Herbs are either perennial or seasonal. Most are perennial, some of which are shrubs and some non-woody plants. The bay leaf is a tree capable of growing to 10m when it is well suited, and a handsome tree it is.”
She said each herb or spice has a different need for it to grow.
“Most spices will grow just fine if they will sit near a lighted window with some shade. But there are spices, such as basil, that will grow and flourish far better if they receive direct sunlight. Other spices, such as coriander, like lower temperatures and shade,” said Jones.
“So if you notice that one of your spices does not seem green enough, you should check to see if it gets too much or not enough sun.”
Jones said herbs can be grown throughout the whole year and they needed to be taken care of.
“This is a good time to plant herbs because the soil is warm for seed-sowing and plants get off to a great start, while they are often grouped together into an herb bed, it is also possible to grow them in an ordinary flower bed, mixed with ornamental shrubs and flowers,” she said.
“Fennel or rosemary are as decorative in their own way as any ornamental plant. Be careful not to put them too close to vigorous plants that might shade them or out-compete them after a year or so.”
The other group of herb plants are those that must be sown annually. These are annuals, or more usually biennials, such as parsley, summer savoury, dill and coriander, that grow one year and flower the next. They must be sown each year, and in some cases more than once each year to extend the supply.
“For example, it’s a good idea to sow parsley in spring and again in mid-summer to extend the season – the second crop will give better leaves in autumn and winter. The same applies to coriander. The second sowing can be made in a greenhouse, if you have one.”
By the way, parsley can also be started indoors for the first sowing, since it too likes warmth for germination; cold weather is often a cause of failure outdoors.
Abdul lsmass Kasim shared the same sentiments with Jones saying they do not need much work but consistency.
“Despite these gardens with glass jars look great, they do not always correspond for a beginning gardener. Most spices need drain and the jars do not give it,” he said.
“You have to make sure that you find pots with holes at the bottom that will allow the water to get out so that the spices do not drown.
“Moreso, you will also need to put quality soil in your pot, for spices, put in good soil at the nursery because such soils capture the moisture inside and if you notice the soil is too dry, try adding more tied, and water it more frequently.”
He said spice gardens needed to be watered regularly for them to grow.
“Well, if you grow spices, you will want to water every two or three days, or when the soil feels dry on top, for spice gardens that are out under the sun, watering early in the morning or in the evening will keep the soil moist longer,” he said.
Abdul added: “Most people do not know that flowers of spices can change the flavour. If you notice a small white flower that buds on basil, you should prune them.”
Because of the great health benefits and the income potential of spices, people should consider starting growing them in their gardens.