Asian Herbs and Spices

Who doesn’t love a curry? A delicious laksa or perhaps a sambal?  These classic dishes use typically Asian herbs and spices to create their flavours, and many of these can be grown at home in the garden to really add freshness and authenticity to your flavour grow your own Asian Garden Flavour Adventure.

Chilli is an essential ingredient in many dishes.  There is an enormous range in their heat, fruitiness, and pungency, depending on the variety of chilli, and whether they are picked green or ripe, which can be yellow, red, or purple, again depending on the cultivar.  Chillies are measured with the scoville scale, with the hottest chilli ranked at over 2 million. Habanero and Cayenne are the hottest of the commonly available types, but other, like Jalapeno, Paprika and red pepper (or capsicums) are much milder.

Chillies are easy to grow in any frost free position, and love an open sunny position with well-drained soil and regular feeding to really grow their best.  Their abundant fruits can be stored in zip lock bags in the freeze, dried out and in airtight containers, or made into pastes and then frozen as ready to use flavour bombs!

Coriander is an annual herb of which all parts are edible.  The roots are very important in Thai cuisine, and an essential ingredient in many pastes.  Just make sure you really wash them carefully so you don’t get dirt in your dishes as well.  The seeds, leaves and flowers are also all edible, and each have their own unique flavour.  It’s often referred to as Chinese parsley or Cilantro too.

Coriander grows best from seeds sown direct in situ.  If you’re going to buy them already growing in pots, be very careful not to disturb the roots when they replanted and water in gently with some seaweed solution.   When they flower, it also attracts beneficial insects such as hoverflies, lacewings and parasitic wasps, so although the flavour and texture of the foliage might not be to your taste any more, the good guy critters LOVE it!

Curry Leaf Plant (Murraya koenigii) is an essential ingredient in Malaysian, Indian, Sri Lankan and Island food.  It’s as important to these cuisines as bay leaves are to the French! They can be used raw in pesto, fried, dried, frozen and crumbled.  The plants themselves belong to the same family as citrus, and have small fruits that are also edible, although the seeds are not.

Curry leaf like a frost free spot, and can be partially deciduous if they get too cold.  They like well drained, enriched soil, and regular pruning (or picking) will keep them think and bushy; if you let them grow, they can be around 4m tall, making harvest a little tricky!

Galangal (Alpinia galanga) is a member of the ginger family, and like ginger, it’s the roots that are used in cooking.  It has a fresh, slightly lemony flavour and can be used peeled, grated or chopped into dishes.  Large quantities should be dug in winter when the leaves yellow or brown, but the odd piece can be dug cleanly from the main plant using a spade.

Galangal grows best in a partially protected place, and will grow to about 1.2m, making it a great plant for screening fences in warm temperate, sub-tropical and tropical areas.  The white flower spikes are an added ornamental bonus against the lush, mid-green foliage.

Garlic is a member of the onion family and is an essential flavour to so many cuisines.  The plant is sown from individual gloves in late autumn and winter into well dug soil.  Six months later in summer it can be harvested.  A less hassle and user friendly version of garlic can be achieved by growing garlic chives.  The foliage of these can simply be snipped off and used instead.  Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) is another option with very tasty leaves and pretty purple flowers, which are also edible.  All three like a sunny, well drained position.

Lemon Grass leaves are used in teas, cosmetics and even as mulches, but it’s the swollen base of these that’s used in cooking. The plant grows to about 1m and likes a rich, moist soil, well feed with nitrogen, and tend to die back in winter, at which point you can cut back the foliage and easily prune out some of the stems.  You can freeze these stems for use at any time in the soups, stews and curries.

Lime Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) is an unusually ugly fruit; its green and warty looking!  But appearances are not everything, and this particular plant has fragrant leaves which add a wonderful aroma to any laksa, soup and curry, giving it a citrus zing.  It needs a full sun position, with lots of regular water and fertiliser to keep the foliage fresh and delicious.  Perfect for adding authenticity to Cambodian, Vietnamese, Thai, Laos and Indonesian dished,

Thai Basil is an annual plant that is used regularly in rice paper rolls, salads and as a garnish for all sorts of Asian dishes.  Grow it in a bright spot and give it plenty and food and water to promote foliage.  Remove flowers by pinch pruning regularly.  Happy in pots or in the ground, anywhere frost free.

Vietnamese Mint is a hot and spicy ground cover that is also sometimes called ‘hot mint’.  It can take over, so unless you mind it as a groundcover everywhere, perhaps keep it confined to a pot.  It loves regularly watering, and can even grow happily with its roots partially submerged in a pond.