Some of the herbs we use are the only culinary member of their families, so I now deal with these in alphabetical order.

It so happens, however, that the first in the list is also the top of the list for its herb value. This is bay, Laurus nobilis.

showing off my freshly grown bay leaves

1) Bay

First a word of caution: This is the only true laurel although the name is applied to some members of the prunus genus.

The other so-called laurels are not wholesome and should not be used in cooking.

Almost all savory dishes are improved by the addition of bay. Usually one leaf or a pinch of dried and powdered leaf is sufficient.

Bay is an essential ingredient of a bouquet garni. It is also used in potpourri. Bay trees are seldom cheap because they take so long to mature.

However, the bay can be propagated by taking cuttings of three to four inch long shoots of half-ripened stems from the end of summer to early autumn.

Strike them like most others, in sandy soil under a cloche in a shady place outdoors. Shoots may also be layered. Put the layers in place in the autumn.

Bays love to be grown in sunshine and protected from cold winds.

2) Borage

Borage, Borago officinalis, is a delightful plant some two to three feet tall and beginning to flower at an early stage.

borage ready to be picked

It has an attractive summer-haze appearance as it begins to age. Sprigs, including flower stems, are used in claret and other wine cups and fruit drinks of all kinds.

Young leaves can be used in salads cooked like spinach, or dipped in batter as fritters. The lovely blue flowers may be candied for cake decorations.

Gather these just before they open so that they keep their color. The plant is much visited by bees.

It is a hardy annual that will grow in ordinary soils. Sow seed in spring for summer flowering or in autumn for spring.

Once grown, plants usually seed themselves.

3) Horseradish

With horseradish, Cochlearia armoracia, the root only is used and the outer part is the strongest flavored.

planting horseradish

The grated root is used in sauces for smoked fish, beef and salad dressings.

The plant is a hardy perennial with large leaves and it grows some two feet tall.

It is best grown in a piece of land apart from other plants because it can be so invasive. For a regular supply replant pieces of root 18 ins. apart each winter.

Make root cuttings by dividing a root into two or three-inch lengths. Dibble these into the soil so that they lie about four inches under the surface.

4) Juniper Berries

Since I first gathered my own juniper berries, Juniperus communis, while on holiday in France and brought them back to use in my cooking this herb has become more and more important to me.

The berries—botanically really cones—can be added, first pounded, to marinades and to stews.

Their flavor is not dominating. Five or six berries are usually sufficient for the average dish.

an up-close shot of juniper berries

The plant, a shrub which belongs to the pinaceae, grows low and spreading or tall and erect according to its environment and the condition of the soil.

This species has given rise to many garden varieties.

5) Nasturtium

The leaves of nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus, have a sharp, cress-like flavor and the flower buds are less strongly flavored.

Both can be mixed in salads. They are also good in sandwiches.

The fat young seeds are crisper and stronger than the leaves. They can be chopped and used in many ways.

nasturtium

They are particularly good used in a sauce tartar and as a substitute for horseradish. They can also be pickled in vinegar, like shallots, when they are known as false capers.

The plant will grow in almost any soil. The poorer it is, the more flowers you can expect—a point to bear in mind if you are raising the plants to eat. The seeds should be sown, singly, in late spring.