Replicating the intoxicating aromas and flavours we experience in restaurants can be as simple as obtaining high quality spices, and there’s no better way than growing spices at home this spring!
The spice trade has a rich history. In the early days, spices did more than simply improve the flavour of food — they served in the vital function of food preservation. Early sea traders carried spices from the exotic east and introduced them to western civilisation where they soon became more valuable than gold. In the 21st century, spices such as saffron can still, gram for gram, command prices that rival some of our most precious metals.
Growing Ginger (Zingiber offi cinale)
Ginger (Zingiber offi cinale) is one of the world’s most familiar spices. Its strong flavour and aroma makes it an essential ingredient in a range of Asian dishes and is associated with sweets like desserts, cakes, biscuits and drinks throughout the western world. The part we use is the underground rhizome of the plant. Give ginger an open, full sun position and plenty of room as it will spread and multiply quickly. Harvest during its winter dormancy period and always store some rhizomes for re-planting in spring. Crushed or minced ginger can be frozen in ice cube trays for later use. In frost-prone areas, grow ginger in pots and move to a sheltered position during cold periods.
Growing Cardamom (Elletarria cardamomom)
Two close relatives of ginger are cardamom and turmeric. Cardamom (Elletarria cardamomom) is a large, clumping plant up to 2 metres in height, so make sure you give it space. Native to Sri-Lanka, the fragrance of its foliage will permeate rice dishes and is also great wrapped around fish or meat on the barbecue. Its highly fragrant seed pods are also used in cooking. Grow it in a semi-shaded corner of the garden where it will fill up an unused space with ease.
Growing Turmeric (Curcuma domestica)
Turmeric (Curcuma domestica) is the spice that gives a curry its distinctive, mustard-yellow colouring. The subtle flavour of turmeric is used to enhance curries (Spicy Vegetarian Potato Curry), soups, stews, vegetable and rice dishes. Like ginger, turmeric is a clumping plant that produces rhizomes that are best harvested during winter when the plant is completely dormant. Unlike ginger, it prefers to be planted in light shade where the brilliant, lemon-cream flowers can be enjoyed throughout the summer months. Turmeric can be used either fresh or ground and will store many months if dried. Turmeric is one of the most ornamental species of spices when in flower and there are now many different coloured flowering forms available.
Galangal or greater galangal (Alpinia galanga) is an important ingredient in many Thai dishes. It is a close relative of both cardamom and ginger but is easier to grow in cooler regions. Great for growing in pots, its butterfly-shaped, apricot flowers make it a handsome ornamental plant. Again, it is the thick rhizome that brings a warming flavour to curries.
Growing Chilli peppers (Capsicum spp.)
Chilli peppers (Capsicum spp.) are always on the list for those wanting to put some ‘fire’ into their cooking and these days. Chilli peppers (Capsicum spp.) there is a huge variety to choose from. The ‘temperature’ of chillies is graded on a scale of one to ten (1 being the mildest and 10 being the hottest). If you’re unsure of your tolerance, try something like Serrano, which rates 3, and work your way up from there. For those daredevil fire eaters in the kitchen, the Habenaro is one of the hottest forms and easily rates 10. This is not to be confused with the Jalapeño which many food chains add to takeaway meals and rates about 6. All chillies enjoy full sun and well drained soil. When fruiting, continual harvest will encourage further fruit production throughout the warm season. If space is limited or you want to keep them out of reach of children, chillies can be easily grown in pots.
Curry leaves, (Murraya koenigii) are highly fashionable at the moment. This native of Sri-Lanka is a large shrub or small tree to 3 metres. It can be frost tender in some districts so protection may be needed in winter. The leaves carry a delightful flavour that brings any curry to life. When added to boiling rice it will impart a soft flavour and perfume. Its small berries can be used in chutneys and spicy relishes. Curry leaves freeze well and can be stored in the freezer for many months. Curry leaves can be used in their dried form, but their flavour is best when used fresh.
Growing Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
In warmer areas, try your hand at growing cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum). This beautiful small tree will grow up to 4 metres and the leaves exude the most intoxicating fragrance when crushed. Cinnamon has an alluring, almost hypnotic fragrance that cannot be matched by any other spice. Its mysterious qualities have been utilized for centuries in food, medicine and perfumes. Adopted by the western world about 200 years ago, it has become synonymous with sweet dishes throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. Small stems will impart their distinctive flavour when used to stir beverages such as tea and coffee. Cinnamon likes a semi-shaded spot with deep, rich, welldrained soil.
Possibly the most expensive spice in the world is saffron (Crocus sativus). This delightful spice can bring dimension to a variety of dishes and remains one of the world’s most expensive spices. Although difficult to grow in warmer districts, this small bulb thrives in cool climates. It produces purple or mauve flowers at the end of winter or early spring. The spice actually comes from the tiny, bright orange stamens of these flowers, which need to be meticulously harvested by hand. Planted into pots they make a delightful floral display!
Growing Lemon grass (Cymbopogan citratus)
Lemon grass (Cymbopogan citratus) is a grass-like plant that grows to a height of 1.5 metres and has a number of uses. Traditionally, it is the swollen base of the stem that is used in curries and stir fries. The mid section can be blended with olive oil in the blender to make a subtle lemon grass paste or marinade for fish or chicken dishes. The green, strappy leaves are perfect for steeping in boiling water for a refreshing lemon grass tea. This easy-to-grow plant will accommodate any place in the garden and its soft blue-green, weeping foliage can be effective in a landscape. It is useful for combatting erosion problems near watercourses. Lemon grass is best used fresh and can be harvested at any time of the year. Used alone or combined with one another, these spices can bring magic to your favourite dishes. Grow spices at home this spring and discover first hand, some of those mysterious flavours and fragrances that were once only familiar to food connoisseurs.Part 2: Growing Asian Herbs RECIPE: Green Pawpaw Salad Noel Burdette is a highly respected Local horticulturist and plantsman in Se Qld and is well known for his love of naturalistic and softer style gardens . Apart from having his own Private garden consultancy service , Noel can be regularly heard on 1116 4bc talking gardening each Saturday morning and is a contributor to many local garden magazines such as Subtropical gardening , About the Garden and Queensland Smart Farmer (Rural Press) . He is also a regular presenter on the locally produced television programme Blooming in Brisbane” which airs each week on Digital 31. Noel holds a flag highly for healthy backyard ecologies and is often heard at many garden events, clubs and Societies throughout south East Queensland. On request, Noel also offers a private garden consultation and design service. Whenever Noel has the opportunity, he can be found eagerly tending to his own garden “Wildside” which is highly focused on healthy ecology and plant diversity. Visit Noel’s blog http://noel-burdette.com.