Growing unusual herbs and spices

Hannah Jolliffe / 02 February 2017 ( 07 June 2021 )

There is a surprising variety of exotic herbs and spices that can be grown at home. Find out how to grow lemongrass, fenugreek and more.



You may think certain herbs and spices are too exotic to grow yourself, but many will thrive in your home and garden. From lemongrass and Thai basil to turmeric and fenugreek, growing a few unusual varieties will add interest to your garden – and your plate!

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Lemongrass

How to grow lemongrass

It's very simple to grow your own lemongrass from the sticks you buy in shops. Scrape away the dry outer layers at the base of the stalk to expose the yellow flesh. Plant into some gritty compost, about an inch deep, and it should root within a month. It likes warm climates, so grow it in pots, starting in spring/summer. 

Move on to a bigger pot as it grows, and bring inside when the weather gets colder.

How to use lemongrass in cooking

Lemongrass is a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine, such as chicken noodle pho and lemongrass and chilli chicken. But its fragrant, lemony zing works just as well in mocktails and desserts such as crème brûlée with lemongrass, making this a versatile little stick well worth growing.

Thai basil

How to grow Thai basil

Thai or ‘sweet’ basil seeds are easy to find and if you’ve grown normal basil from seed the process is very similar. Sow indoors between February and June in small pots or trays of seed compost. Keep watered in a sunny pot and germination should take place within two weeks. 

Transfer into larger pots when plants reach a few centimetres, being careful not to overwater to prevent ‘damping off’. Once the risk of frost has passed, plant out in the ground or the greenhouse. Pinch out the top tip when side shoots appear to encourage the plant to bush out.

How to use Thai basil in cooking

Its sweet, aniseed flavour makes a great garnish on Thai curries and stir fries. It gives the salad in this sea bass in sweet chilli sauce recipe a real kick, too.

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Turmeric

How to grow turmeric

Fresh turmeric may be tricky to find, but it’s very easy to grow! Search for it in Asian supermarkets – it looks like ginger, but is bright orange inside. Try to find a piece with bumpy nodes, then leave it in a warm place until these have sprouted. Once it sprouts, plant it in compost, making sure the water can drain easily as it hates being waterlogged.

How to use turmeric in cooking

Once your plant grows it will become a pleasant house plant, with green leaves and white flowers. 

Its roots are the edible part, so gently remove a small clump of the plant with roots intact to harvest it. Fresh turmeric can be dried and ground into powder, but it also adds a flavour and colour boost to smoothies, marinades and curries.

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Fenugreek

How to grow fenugreek

Also known as ‘methi’, fenugreek can be grown in beds or pots, but it doesn’t like being transplanted, so start it off where you intend to grow it. Fenugreek enjoys warmer climates, so choose a sunny spot, spacing seeds a few inches apart and keeping watered. Fenugreek grows quickly – it should germinate within a few days, and leaves will be ready to pick within six weeks.

How to use fenugreek in cooking

The leaves and tender stems can be used to add flavour to curries, and the seeds can be dried and stored in an airtight container. You’ll find seeds in many traditional Indian recipes – we love the fragrant flavour they add to this hyderabadi biryani.

Mustard

How to grow mustard

Another spice that’s easy to grow from seed. Plant them in a shallow tray and pot on when they’ve grown two sets of leaves. Once in pots, grow in a sunny indoor spot and water regularly.

How to use mustard in cooking

Harvest young leaves for a subtle mustardy kick in your salads. You can also remove the long seed pods and dry them out to use as seeds in Indian recipes like this sambar, or grind them up for a homemade mustard.

Sorrel

How to grow sorrel

Sorrel is a great spring herb. It's a perennial herb that can be grown from seed or bought and planted in a sunny or partially shaded spot, and can be grown in containers or in the ground.

How to use sorrel in cooking

Sorrel has arrow shaped green leaves that you can use in salads, but it works really well in a sauce with fish too, or try it wilted with a poached egg or in a soup. You can cook it like spinach, in fact it’s also known as spinach dock and it’s quite sour tasting, in fact its name comes from the French for sour.

Lemon verbena

How to grow lemon verbena

The lemony smell lemon verbena exudes is just fantastic so it’s a winner in the garden for amazing scent. Lemon verbena is a tender perennial which can survive winter in warmer parts of the country but might need to be grown as an annual in the north. Plant in late spring and keep it pruned.

Using lemon verbena in cooking

Lemon verbena will add lemon flavour to everything from fish and chicken dishes to cakes and dressings. You can dunk it in boiling water too as a herbal tea, or even use it in dessert, such as lemon verbena posset.

Myrtle

How to grow myrtle

Myrtle is an evergreen shrub and produces lovely small white flowers, so looks great in your garden too. Plant it in a sunny position in rich, well drained soil, and keep it watered until it is established.

Using myrtle in cooking

Use myrtle in cooking instead of a bay leaf.

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.