How to grow it: Peppermint is a very vigorous plant that will spread rapidly by it’s roots. I’d recommend you grow it in pots or containers to avoid it taking over your garden. Preferred position is part sun or even shade – and it likes plenty of water.
Propogation is simple – just pull out any piece of root in it’s growing season and replant it.
In the kitchen: Personally I prefer Garden mint for cooking, though in many situations peppermint would make a good substitute.
My favourite use is the fresh leaves as a tea, or added to other herbs for a tea blend. Peppermint is known as a mild stimulant and can be used pretty freely as a pick-me-up or to aid study, late nights on the job etc. Also thought to aid memory & and mental alertness.
Peppermint is also used to repel spiders and ants and you could try a strong infusion (tea) and spray it around your window sills and entry point for ants. The essential oil is commonly used for this purpose too.
How to grow it: Stinging nettle is considered a weed around much of the world and so it’s safe to say it’s very easy to grow in a wide climatic range. In fact the main challenge is to keep it contained as it will spread via underground runners as well as seed. Consider using barriers or growing in pots or containers- particularly if you’re growing for the first time.
I’ve found it will grow in very poor soils with virtually no care, but also responds well to regular watering and fertilising. Best to grow in an out of the way position as the stings can be painful – especially for children or the unsuspecting.
Propogation is by division of underground runners or from tip cuttings.
Will do well in pots and responds well to regular harvesting.
Nutrition: You may well ask – why on earth would you intentionally grow a weed like that?
Stinging nettle is a nutritional powerhouse containing vitamins A,B,C,D,E & K and high levels of Iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese and many other trace elements.
Medicinal uses are too many for this space – I would consider Nettle one of the best general tonic herbs you can take. It’s very high in chlorophyl which is good for your blood & for your body’s ability to cleanse itself. Also thought to be very good for your digestive system.
Bizarrely, the Nettle sting has been traditionally used for pain relief – the sting is thought to be good in attracting circulation to your pain areas, though some will say the pain of the sting just diverts your attention! (I haven’t tried this yet)
Using it in the Kitchen: Obviously you wouldn’t eat Nettles raw, but as soon as you apply heat the stings are neutralised – that means you can add it to any cooked dishes – often soups and long cooked meals like casseroles. I usually throw it in to dishes stems and all & just remove the hard stems prior to serving.
If you want to include Nettle in your diet, consider using the leaves in your herbal teas. They can be added to almost any tea combination and you’ll know you’re supercharging your tea’s nutrients.
Nettle is a brilliant survival food for it’s hardiness and amazing nutrition.
Some other names: Romero, Rosemarine, Mary’s mantle
How to grow it:
Rosemary is an easy to grow perennial shrub to about 1 m, which will grow larger if given the right conditions.
Likes full sun and well drained soil – think mediterranean conditions where it grows naturally in rocky soils.
Great plant to grow in a pot – handles a bit of drought so is easy care for most people.
Propogation is generally by hardwood cuttings, though can also be grown from seed.
Rosemary contains vitamins A, B & C and volatile oils that have many herbal actions. High in calcium, Iron, potassium & magnesium though it’s difficult to consume a great deal of the herb.
Often referred to as the memory herb – thought to improve memory. Just rub a sprig and take a deep breath of the aroma to assist with studying or other concentration activities.
In the kitchen
Rosemary only needs to be used sparingly to impart a fine flavour to cooked foods. Combine with garlic and olive oil to make a baste for roast meats and vegetables, casseroles, sauces and breads. Well worth having a plant near your kitchen.
How to grow it: There’s two main varieties of Plantain – broad leafed & narrow leafed and they’re both very common weeds around the world. I usually have both to give me choices when harvesting.
If you have dandelions growing wild in your garden, there’s a very good chance plantain is growing too – they both like the same conditions and are extremely hardy.
Plantain is perennial and survives the toughest conditions – roadsides, cracks in pavement etc. but does respond very well to a sunny, well drained position – 1 plant may be all that’s needed for a regular supply of leaves.
Propogating is by seed only – which you can collect from the flower spikes as soon as they turn brown. Wouldn’t recommend allowing it to self seed as you’ll have it everywhere and be forever weeding it out.
Good plant for pots and containers
Nutrition: High in vitamins A,C & K, calcium, iron, silica and many other minerals which make it a great addition to your diet.
Medicinally, Plantain can be used as a poultice on open wounds to aid blood clotting & healing. I think it’s most valuable use is as a general tonic for the digestive system where it performs healing & cleansing actions that can work wonders for disease.
Using it in the kitchen: Very young leaves can be used in salads and older leaves in cooked dishes, but I don’t find it particularly palatable.
I prefer to use it in my morning smoothie knowing what a good job it’s doing in maintaining my digestive system, and it can be taken as tea with your other favourite herbs.
The seeds are also edible and nutritious – I sometimes add them to my smoothies too.
Plantain is an awesome survival plant as it’s so hardy and provides us with really high nutrition. You can generally find Plantain without even having a garden – most people know it as a weed and would be happy for you to harvest/remove it.
Parsley is a biennial herb to about 50cm. There are two very common cultivars – Curly leaf & Flat leaf which have very similar properties. The Flat leaf variety may grow a little larger and faster and handle slightly warmer conditions.
Prefers full sun but will handle a little shade, moist, well drained soil. Doesn’t like conditions that are too wet or hot – so maybe a semi-shade position in the heat of summer. Grows really well in pots with regular liquid fertiliser.
Regular harvesting of outside leaves & snipping off the flower buds will keep the plant healthy and abundant.
Propogation is generally by seed, though I prefer to buy seedlings in spring or autumn. In the second year it will readily self seed and you’ll get lots of new plants.
Parsley is high in vitamins A, B, C & K. Also high in calcium, Iron, Potassium & zinc.
Consume plenty of parsley to clean your blood & strengthen your immune system.
In the kitchen
Parsley is used around the world both fresh and cooked and it’s nutrition is well known.
Add to soups, casseroles, stir fries, omelettes for it’s mild celery flavour and to salads or to garnish just about anything. What would life be like without Tabbouleh?
Holy basil is a perennial in warmer areas but is probably better planted as an annual in more temperate climates. The bush can get large (I’ve seen them almost 2m high) and leaves become a less tender if the plant isn’t regularly pruned and flowers removed.
Prefers full sun but will handle a little shade, moist, well drained soil. Doesn’t handle drought or frost well – keep it well watered for best results.
Great plant to grow in a pot – you can move it to shelter it in the cooler months and get a longer harvest.
Propogation is generally by seed, though I prefer to buy seedlings in spring. If you allow a plant to go to seed, you’ll find it popping up all around your garden.
Holy basil contains vitamins A, B & C and volatile oils that have many herbal actions. High in calcium, magnesium, zinc & copper.
Regular consumption of basil is thought to strengthen your immune system.
In the kitchen
Holy basil is not used in cooking widely – it’s a little strong in clove aroma for most dishes.
IT’s greatest use is as a delicious and highly nutritious tea – commonly known as Tulsi.
Thyme is a low growing perennial bush that prefers warm, well drained conditions. If it likes it’s conditions it can spread over quite a large area making it a useful ground cover. Prefers full sun
Grows really well in pots and is great to have near the kitchen if there’s a sunny spot.
Propagation can be by seed or division – cuttings strike readily if kept moist.
In the Kitchen:
Thyme is a strongly flavoured herb so be careful not to overdo it. Mixes well with lots of other herbs – parsley, oregano, basil, rosemary, sage etc. so if you get a patch going, feel free to experiment.
Goes well with all meat and cooked dishes – on it’s own or in combination, even sprinkled over salads for it’s pungent sweet flavour.
I like to mix leaves with butter and garlic and keep it in the fridge for use with vegetables and bread.
Makes a tonic herbal tea to boost your immune system and ward of colds and flu.
Oregano is a creeping perennial herb that’s super easy to grow and makes a great ground cover. It’s ideal conditions are hot, sunny and dry but I’ve found it does well just about anywhere. Unless your climate is cold – then you may have to treat it as a spring planted annual.
Does well in pots with a more prostrate plant like Rosemary or Bay Leaf – no mulching needed if you get Oregano established.
Really easy to propagate – just divide out some rooted cuttings from an established plant, replant, water in for a few days and mostly your oregano will take off without any further help.
In the Kitchen:
Oregano is a great flavouring herb use fresh or dried and in combinations with other herbs.
Common in mediterranean cuisine used with meat, red sauces, vegetables. Dried leaves sprinkled over salads.
How to grow it: Fennel is a very hardy perennial that prefers full sun, but seems to cope in partly shady conditions too.
Plants respond well to good drainage and regular watering, but handle periods of drought well too.
I grow mostly Florence fennel as it produces a bulbous vegetable and a little bit of Bronze fennel for it’s appearance. Both varieties produce good seed and plenty of leaf growth. The flowers preceding seeds attract wasps into the garden which helps keep pest levels down.
If you ever let a Fennel plant self seed, you’ll find it comes up everywhere in the following season – it’s up to you whether that’s good or bad – I just remove the ones I don’t want like a weed. To avoid rampant self seeding – cut the flower heads of early before they set seed.
You can grow fennel in pots, but I’ve found it can get straggly – the plant has a long tap root which doesn’t like being contained.
Nutrition: Great source of vitamins A,B,C & E, protein, calcium, iron, magnesium & manganese. Fennel has too many medicinal uses to list here, but it is a great tonic to your digestive system, promotes calmness and can improve libido.
Using it in the kitchen: Fennel is one of those unique plants in that every part of the plant can be eaten and is used widely. Generally speaking, all parts of the plant have a mild anise flavour.
Firstly the young leaves can be eaten in salads, in egg dishes and as a garnish.
The stems and base can be used as a fresh or cooked vegetable. I like to grow Florence Fennel for it’s thick base which I love to slow roast with garlic and olive oil. Can also be grated into salads, chopped into soups & sliced thinly into stir fries.
The seeds are used in curries and slow cooked meals, and can be chewed to suppress appetite or reduce sugar cravings.
The roots are delicious too as a roasted or steamed vegetable similar to parsnip
Fennel is a great survival plant as it self seeds easily and is hardy to most conditions.
How to grow it: Turmeric is a hardy perennial plant to about 1 metre that is grown for it’s underground rhizomes and used extensively in cooking and in medicine.
It grows well in sun or shade – tuber growth is better in full sun. It does best in humid sub-tropical to tropical climates but could probably be planted every spring in cooler areas. Will not tolerate frost.
Likes a lot of water, but doesn’t grow tubers if it’s too waterlogged. The looser & deeper the dirt, the bigger tubers you’ll grow. Best time to harvest is when the leaves die down for winter, but I’ll ferret for tubers at any time of year. Basically I just let them grow as a patch & harvest what I want, when required.
Propogation is by root division in spring – simply dig up some roots and put them in their new position. In warm areas, you can plant them right up until summer & still get good crops. You’ll regularly see turmeric tubers at markets and organic shops nowadays – just grab a few pieces and put them in the ground in warmer weather.
Will do well in pots for a year or two until it becomes potbound & you have to dig it all up & start again.
High in potassium, calcium, iron & chromium, and vitamins A & C. Many beneficial herbal actions.
Turmeric is thought to be very good for digestive complaints and as an anti-inflammatory. It is also claimed to be helpful with cancer, alzheimers, and arthritis and is being investigated by medical science as we speak.
Using it in the kitchen:
Turmeric is used as a spice in cooking and as a colouring agent. Most of us are accustomed to using it as a powder, but you can also use freshly harvested tubers. Slice them thinly into stir fries, curries & soups or any meat or vegetable dishes. It goes well in the vegetable juicer to add colour and flavour to your favourite juice.
I suspect that turmeric is one of those “super-herbs” that keep us healthy through many actions, and so try and add it to cooking whenever I can.
Stores fairly well in a cool dry spot in the pantry, or can be sliced thinly, dried and reconstituted in water as required (or just added to hot dishes as is).
Turmeric is a great survival food for it’s hardiness, it’s long harvesting time, it’s usefulness in cooking & for it’s health benefits.
Some other names: Balm, Bee Balm, Honey plant, Cure all, Melissa
How to grow it:
Lemon Balm is a perennial herb to about 50cm which is so easy to grow it can become invasive. It does well and has a stronger flavour in full sun, but will produce larger, more tender leaves for a longer period if grown in partial shade. I grow it in several patches with varied sunlight and moisture & find that I have it available all year round.
In the subtropics and tropics (where I live) it does better in Autumn to spring, in cooler climates it might die back & resprout in spring.
Will do well in pots if well watered, mulched & fed – again, preferring a partially shaded position.
The simplest way to propogate is by root division- just grab a handful of roots and all from the middle of your patch, separate the pieces and plant directly into the ground. Keep watered for a couple of days and they’ll strike easily. Will also strike well from cuttings or grown from seed.
Nowadays it’s also very easy to obtain in garden outlets or online.
Lemon balm contains vitamins A, B & C and volatile oils that have many herbal actions. It is well known to be calming and sedative – just try grabbing a handful of leaves and take a deep breath with the aroma! Also thought to ba a natural antioxidant.
Using it in the kitchen:
The leaves by themselves are not particularly palatable – a little bit chewy for my liking. Combined with other greens though, they go very well in salads & sandwiches and attract many comments from guests in my home. The lemon flavour is very striking & pleasant.
Leaves can also be added to hot dishes, but you’ll need to add a good handful or two to have much impact flavour-wise.
Probably Lemon Balm’s best known use is as a calming herbal tea. Simply grab two handfuls of leaves and stems per cup of boiled water. Allow to steep for several minutes. Personally, I like to add a variety of different leaves to the lemon balm too.
Although I’ve written here about lemon balm, I actually prefer Lime Balm for it’s flavour. It’s an identical plant in apearance & uses, but has a refreshing lime flavour instead of lemon. It might be a little harder to obtain in your local area though.
Horseradish is a very hardy rambling perennial to about 40cm. It is used for it young leaves and large roots in cooking and medicine.
Probably best grown in climates with cold winters, horseradish will still grow in warmer clients but the flavour will be milder. Grows well in sun or shade and is very drought tolerant – grows like mad when it’s wet, and goes almost dormant in the dry.
Deep, well drained soils will produce the biggest tubers, but it will grow well in poor soils too. An ideal plant for underneath fruit trees and amongst your vegetable crops. It is thought to repel many pest and diseases and make a great companion plant.
Propogation is by separation of the roots that can be broken up into pieces & then root quite readily. Once you have a plant established, you can pretty much harvest anytime & the it will resprout from the pieces of root left in the ground. Can spread a metre or two underground in just 1 year if left to.
Will also do quite well in pots if they’re large enough for the plant to develop a decent size root system. Regular harvesting would be essential.
A highly nutritious plant – Vitamins A, B, & C, potassium, calcium, iron and sulphur in particular.
Eating horseradish regularly is beneficial to your digestion and circulatory systems and for your blood. Can be taken as an expectorant in sinus conditions.
Using it in the kitchen:
Young horseradish leaves can be used fresh in salads, or cooked into stir fries, soups, curries and casseroles.
The roots are best eaten uncooked but need to be preserved in either mayonnaise or vinegar. My favourite method is to chop the roots roughly & further chop them as finely as I can in the food processor. Then dribble mayonnaise or vinegar while the processor’s still running until the mixture has the consistency of a sauce. My family eats the mixture as a delicious condiment, but it could also be considered a great preventative tonic for colds, flu and other viruses.
Horseradish is a great survival food as it’s so easy to grow and use, and provides flavour in cooking and health benefits.
Ginger is a hardy perennial plant that is grown for it’s underground rhizomes and used in cooking, medicine and as a tea.
In nature, Ginger is an understorey plant, and so I tend to plant it under other trees. In commercial cultivation though, it’s grown usually in full sun and no doubt has higher yields.
The main ingredient needed for ginger is warmth. it will do well planted in spring in both subtropical and tropical areas. In cooler areas, you’ll have a shorter growing season and may suffer from smaller rhizomes – still worth growing if you can.
Although tolerant of drought due to the underground rhizome system, ginger does best in moist, well drained situations where it will produce large crops of swollen rhizomes. Best harvest time is when the foliage dies down for winter, but I just harvest it as needed – the rhizomes are smaller, milder & more tender early in the season, and will be much larger & more pungent later in Autumn & winter.
Propogation is by root division in spring – simply dig up some roots and put them in their new position. In warm areas, you can plant them right up until summer & still get good crops. Just get a piece of root from an organic source, break it up into pieces & plant into position. It strikes very easily.
Will do well in pots for a year or two until it becomes potbound & you have to dig it all up & start again.
High in potassium, manganese, copper & magnesium, and vitmans A & B. Many beneficial herbal actions.
Ginger is thought to be very good for your digestive & circulatory systems and will reduce nausea from morning sickness & motion sickness. Helps ward off colds & flu. Add a few slices to you tea or on it’s own.
Using it in the kitchen:
Ginger is mainly used as a spice in both savoury & sweet dishes.
You can grate, chop, mince or slice it into stirfries, curries, soups usually with some garlic & chilli. I find it has a special synergy with sweet potato & pumpkin – try it in your next pumpkin soup for a flavour treat. Also worth trying grated into your favorite meat marinade.
I try and add it to food as much as possible for it’s health benefits, but beware – it can have a dominating flavour or actually taste quite hot.
Stores fairly well in a dark dry spot in the pantry, or can be sliced thinly, dried and reconstituted in water as required (or just added to hot dishes as is).
Ginger is a great survival food for it’s hardiness, it’s long harvesting time, it’s usefulness in cooking & for it’s health benefits.
Some other names: Horseradish Tree, Moringa, Ben oil tree, Benzolive
How to grow it: Drumstick tree is a leguminous tree to 10 m which originates in Asia but is grown around the world in subtropical/tropical climates.
It is very hardy – particularly to drought and grows in a wide range of soil types. Does far better in full sun.
It is tender to frost, so may need to be planted every year in cooler climates. Except in tropical areas, expect the plant to die down in winter & re shoot in spring.
Will also do OK in pots, but you’ll need to repot it every year or so, trimming the roots, or you can just grow new ones from seed every spring.
Propogation is by seed or limb cutting – just cut a 1-2m limb off when the plant goes dormant in winter & put it upright into the ground. Once the weather warms up the limb will shoot and you’re on your way to another tree.
Nutrition: Advocates of the Drumstick Tree claim that it has 7 times the Vitamin C in oranges, 4 times the calcium in milk, 4 times the Vitamin A in carrots, 2 times the protein in milk, and 3 times the potassium in bananas! I’m not sure how accurate those claims are, but science does confirm this is one of the most nutritious plants on the planet and a potential treatment for many, many human ailments.
Using it in the kitchen:
The raw leaves aren’t especially tasty (nor are they disagreeable), but given their extraordinary nutrition, they could be added to salads & sandwiches with other greens on a regular basis.
They can be added to cooked dishes the same you would any spinach, but remember you’ll probably destroy the vitamin C content – so perhaps adding them at the last minute would be best.
The young seedpods can be cooked like green beans – the flavour’s quite simliar actually, and the dried beans can be cooked into stews and casseroles or fried or roasted like nuts.
If you search the plant on the internet, you’ll find many other uses in many cultures. A truly versatile and hardy plant and surely one of the best survival plants available to us!
Some other names: Knitbone, Boneset, Woundwort, Bruisewort
How to grow it: Comfrey is amongst the easiest & most hardy of all plants I know. Once established, it is virtually “unkillable” and it would be wise to carefully consider where to plant it – as it will always be there!
Like many perennials, comfrey will do best in a deep, well drained, fertile soil, but it has a wide tolerance for all conditions. Will tolerate drought, sunlight, lack of sunlight, will outcompete all weeds and can be continually harvested for most of the year.
It has deep roots which will mine nutrients and moisture from deep in the soil. Other than maybe a bit of seaweed spray, I’ve never directly fertilised my comfrey plants and they always seem to thrive.
The best way to propogate is break off a root, further break it down to 2cm pieces, and plant it sideways in the soil. It seems that any piece of root will strike, so one established plant will make many, many new ones.
Will grow very happily in pots, though it won’t reach anywhere near the size & productivity of the ground grown ones.
The comfrey controversy:Comfrey is a very nutrient dense plant with high levels of vitamin A, B, C & E, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium + many more minerals. It also has constituents that lead to a range of herbal actions.
Medical science however, has determined that the plant includes alkaloids that are dangerous to humans – “proven” through laboratory testing in rats. There is very little evidence to suggest that humans or livestock have actually been poisoned by the herb, but nevertheless, it is now banned for internal (mostly) and/or external use in many countries. It is surely ironic that you can buy a pack of cigarettes from the local corner store which has been proven to kill millions, but you cannot use comfrey no matter how beneficial it might be!
In history, it has a long record of use and there are many, many anecdotal accounts of it’s effectiveness in dealing with many different diseases including chronic ones like cancer, arthritis, asthma and digestive disorders. And that’s only by taking it internally. Externally, it’s been used for dealing with broken bones, bruising and even healing open wounds.
So given that authorities have banned it’s use, I can’t recommend that you use the herb, only that you research it’s potential benefits/drawbacks for yourself.
My own experience using Comfrey externally leads me to value the herb medicinally more than any other in my garden. I’ve used it on a variety of complaints in my family and found it to very effective, if not amazing! Open wounds healing in a fraction of the normal time, rashes disappearing overnight, even pain relief and quick healing of sprained ankles etc.
Other uses: Fortunately, even though comfrey is banned in many countries for use as food or medicine, there a still numerous uses for it in the garden.
Due to it’s deep roots, it mines nutrients from deep in the soil that aren’t available to other plants, and the leaves can be harvested very regularly and used as mulch on the garden. Containing good levels of Nitrogen, potassium & phosphorous + trace elements makes it almost a complete plant fertiliser. It can be soaked in water for a week, and then used as a rich liquid fertiliser. Comfrey is a known compost activator, and can be added regularly to the compost to “speed things up”.
If you’re concerned about taking comfrey internally, try chopping it up and giving it to your chickens – then eat the eggs. In fact all livestock will benefit from it’s regular use.