Décor & Gardening

Healthy herbs

Healthy herbs

Come winter time we all love some comfort food. Why not plant your very own herbs and indulge in some home cooking? Think delicious slow cooking, simmering soups and stews.

Make your own bouquet garni. Not sure what it is? No worries. The traditional way of flavouring winter soups, stews and hearty pasta sauces is with a bouquet garni.

A bouquet garni generally consists of three or more herb sprigs tied together with some string (or use a stainless steel strainer) and is added at the beginning of cooking. The flavour of the herbs slowly infuses into the sauce and just before serving, the bouquet garni is removed.

The classic bouquet garni version is a sprig of thyme and parsley, and a bay leaf. You can also add some rosemary.

Or you can just create your own by adding two or three herbs together.

Use one strongly flavoured herb and two milder herbs. The milder herbs help the flavours to mingle.

Strong or robust flavoured herbs include garlic, oregano, rosemary, sage, sorrel, tarragon and thyme. The flavours either become more subtle or more intense.

Mild flavoured herbs include bay leaf, chervil, marjoram and parsley. These are classified as mild because they combine well with most other herbs and their flavours often become milder in cooking. They can also be used in larger quantities, and with more variation than robust herbs.

Here are some healthy herbs to use in stews:


Thyme is a hardy winter herb, excellent for home first-aid. The variety of different thymes (11 at least) makes it an interesting herb to grow.
In the garden:
Thyme is a good companion plant with cabbage in winter, and fruiting vegetables in summer. Its aromatic foliage acts as a pest repellent, especially ants, and bees love its flowers.
Common, lemon and silver thyme are best for cooking, especially when added to slow-cooked meat and poultry dishes, or roasted root vegetables. Chopped lemon thyme enhances salad dressings, stuffing, marinades and herbal butters, as well as egg and cheese dishes.
Thyme has antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it effective in helping to relieve colds, chest infections and coughs, fever, flu and laryngitis. A facial steam aids decongestion.


Chives grow throughout winter and the leaves have a mild onion flavour. When snipped off at the base they quickly resprout, and in spring they produce purple flowers. Grow them as a perennial in full sun and fertile soil.
In the garden:
Chives are good companions for broad beans, beetroot, carrots, spinach and lettuce, because their onion-scented leaves are disliked by pests.
Snip the leaves into egg and cheese dishes, add to sandwich fillings and use as a garnish.
Being members of the allium family, they help to counter infections of the nose, throat and chest, although they are not as effective as garlic. Nevertheless, they are rich in vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and iron. Adding one or two tablespoons a day to the diet takes very little effort.


Parsley is one of the most useful health-promoting herbs that grows in winter. It is a good source of vitamins (especially C) and minerals. It’s super easy to grow, pick and use on a daily basis. Plant it in rich, fertile soil in full sun to partial shade and fertilise every two weeks with a liquid feed because it devours nutrients.
In the garden:
Parsley is a good companion plant to grow in rows between broad beans, broccoli, celery, kale, lettuce and spinach. It acts as a tonic to nearby plants and many gardeners believe it improves the taste of the veggies as well.
Flat-leaved Italian parsley is the tastiest and can be cooked for longer, whereas moss-curled parsley should be added just before the end of cooking. Add to meat, fish and poultry dishes, as a garnish for vegetables, or use as an ingredient in salads, sauces, stuffing and dressings.
A tablespoon of chopped parsley a day keeps the doctor away. Besides its nutritional value, it is a tonic that clears toxins, strengthens the respiratory system, relieves indigestion and strengthens hair, nails and skin.


Coriander’s bright green feathery leaves look like Italian parsley and it has similar growth, with a height of 50cm and spread of 30cm. Preferring cooler growing conditions, it does best in autumn and spring, tending to bolt into flower in midsummer.
In the garden:
It likes full sun, light rich soil and regular watering, growing well with potatoes and anise, but not with fennel.
Pick just before using because the soft leaves wilt quickly. They also lose their aroma when dried or frozen. The leaves have a pungent aroma, but don’t let that put you off. Once you’ve acquired a taste for its flavour, a culinary world opens up.
The seeds act as a mild sedative and digestive tonic. Put half to one teaspoon of seeds in a cup of boiling water and steep for 10-15 minutes. Drink before meals. Chewing the seeds freshens the breath, especially after eating garlic.

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If Prick isn’t the sassiest little garden book on the shelves right now, we don’t know what is. This stylish, beautifully illustrated book by Gynelle Leon is about cacti and succulents – and about choosing, styling and caring for them. Even those who aren’t fans of these hardy plants will find something to adore here … what’s not to love about a heart-shaped Hoya kerrii or the lovely Senecio rowleyanus – also known as string of pearls, necklace plant and rosary vine? So many reasons to buy it, not least because every home should have a book called Prick! Octopus Publishing, R300.

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