In recent years, all these gloomy stories of intensively farmed pigs and chickens have got me thinking - what about herb plants in supermarkets?
Their lives, while less precious, are pretty miserable. Take a pot of basil, sold for £1.10. It’s raised for its looks, not flavour – just like pigs for cheap bacon.
They squash the seedlings into pots. Basil needs hot sun, so is often grown under lights. Back home, we hack it to shreds then shove the dying remains on the windowsill.
To confirm my crackpot theory, I called on John Webster, boss of herb nursery Herbal Haven.
“It’s the same old story,” he says, with a sigh. “The philosophy pushed by supermarkets is to buy it, use it, chuck it – then buy another. They only sell the most popular herbs, and never stock the interesting ones.’
On his farm, Webster grows proper herbs – tough plants with bold flavours. The list is endless: Chocolate Mint, Cinnamon Basil, Tangerine Sage, Summer Savoury or Vietnamese Coriander, to name but a few.
For the perfect urban herb garden, he suggests creating two zones. The first is your sunniest spot, such as a balcony or window ledge. This is for growing robust herbs such as thyme, oregano, rosemary and sage. “Don’t overwater,” he warns, as they thrive in poor, dry soil.
The second, shadier zone, is for your delicate herbs such as sorrel, parsley, mint and chervil. “Don’t let them dry out”, he warns, as they like a damp soil.
Here are his other top herb suggestions:
It’s hard to buy. So grow the Buckler-leaved variety. Sow direct into the soil, pot or container. The tangy, lemony leaves will pep up salads, sandwiches and omelettes, or make a simple sauce for oily mackerel. “Keep on top of it. Pick the leaves when young as it gets bitter,” says Webster.
Another ace herb to sow now. Pop four seeds in a pot to grow a good clump. Be careful not to overwater. Dill is ace with fish, salads, or sprinkled over steamed vegetables. Eat the flowering tips later in summer.
Popular in France, chervil has an intriguing flavour with a hint of aniseed. It hates growing in pots. So sow if you have a garden, in dapply shade, and keep moist.
Basil adores sun, and is best off on your windowsill. Try Lime, Cinnamon or Purple Basil varieties. To harvest, pick off at the growing tips to keep it bushy. Tear, not chop, the leaves to stop bruising.
Webster is a big fan of Chocolate Mint: “Use it in your own ice cream, just chuck it in the final mix.” Other varieties include Moroccan Mint for mint tea, and spicy Ginger Mint. It’s an in invasive plant, so restrict in pots in semi-shade.