Herbs to grow in Singapore & how to grow them
The simple answer is to grow them!
The thought of growing plants or herbs for self-acclaimed “non-green fingers” could be very daunting. However, it actually is not as difficult as it seems because many of Singapore’s locally grown herbs grow wild like weeds (the less you care about them, the more they grow!). Growing herbs in your homes allows you to harvest-on-demand – how much fresher can it be?
Another reason why growing your own herbs makes perfect sense is because we typically only need our herbs in small quantities. Therefore, purchasing herbs from the stores either cause you to buy more than you really need, or you end up paying an arm and a leg for a handful of the herb.
Speaking about kitchen essentials, a seasoned homemaker or chef would tell you that the top Herb to have in your growing pile would be……drum roll … Pandan Leaves!! (Learn more about how to grow Pandan here!)
Pandan leaves which are native to the South East Asia region are a household goddess for its countless uses around the home. From culinary and baking purposes to warding off house pests, the fragrant scent of pandan leaves can help to tackle all of these needs.
It is the pleasantly light fragrance scented in the leaves of pandan that allows it to be complementary to a vast variety of flavour profiles. Described as providing a floral-nutty-vanilla-like fragrance, South-East Asian cuisines frequently use the leaves of pandan to impart this unique flavour to both sweet and savoury foods. It is particularly used in the making of Malay and Indonesian desserts (known as kuihs); and to remove the gamey smells of meats in a stew or when used to wrap pieces of marinated meats for roasting.
A method familiar to many local bakers is to also blend pandan leaves with water (or any other liquid medium) to extract the flavour of pandan to make pandan extract or juice. This bright green “gold”is then mixed into cake batters, icings, syrups to make delectable treats!
2) Chilly Plant
Next, on the essential list would be a chilli plant! Despite living in the heat of the tropics, we Singaporeans love our spicy versions of every kind of our favourite dishes, or simply fresh homemade chilli sauce with whatever we are eating. Therefore, how can we not grow a chilli plant amongst our herb pile? Chillies come in various varieties and colours – some to provide spiciness, some to provide the bright contrasting red to our foods, and other a bit of both. Chillies are one of the best grows to have at home because it fruits relatively quickly and continues to fruit after harvesting. The time to grow from seed to fruit ranges at about 2 to 4 months. Simply burying some good chilli seeds in a pot of well drained soil (at least 6cm deep) could kick start your never ending supply of chillies!
3) spring onions (cong, 葱)
Next up on the list of essential herbs, we have green spring onions (cong, 葱)! These are amongst the easiest to grow herbs one can grow in a tropical climate like ours. You do not need special seeds nor pre-cultured seedlings to grow green spring onion. Simply plop a few shallots into the ground or into a pot of soil (at least 8cm deep) and watch them grow green shoots in the next couple of days. Harvest as an when you need to flavour your oil or when you need to garnish your dish to impress folks. The spring onion plant will continue to grow despite being cut along its green shoots.
4) curry leaves
The fourth kitchen herb essential is curry leaves! Oh the many uses of curry leaves will simply blow your mind. Meat curries, Vegetarian curries, Cereal prawn, Kam heong (甘香) dishes i.e. Kam heong lala, Kam heong pan-fried prawns, Spicy dips and chutneys are just some to name. You could also bake an aromatic loaf of bread by adding chopped curry leaves. The distinct nutty and aromatic flavor of curry leaves will infuse within the loaf of bread, which can then be eaten complimentarily with many of our South-east Asian dishes. Even lots of Chinese New Year snacks are made with fried curry leaves. The consumption of curry leaves are also highly sought after for folks who want nice thick black hair. The high levels of antioxidant in curry leaves moisturise the scalp, and also remove dead hair follicles. Besides that, curry leaves are extremely beneficial for the hair since they are high in beta-carotene & protein content, which are key in preventing the thinning of hair as well as hair loss. Growing curry leaf plants from seed could take a while, so if you could get a young plant from the nursery or from a local grower, that could really expedite your harvest of home grown curry leaves.
Last but not least to sum up the top 5 essential kitchen herbs to grow would be coriander. As compared to the aforementioned herbs, coriander would probably be the toughest to grow, but the taste of home grown coriander is definitely well worth the additional effort. Coriander too comes in various varieties – the common local variety that you get as a garnish overtop most dishes in Singapore, Sawtooth coriander which is commonly found in Thai dishes like Tom Yum Goong (Sawtooth coriander is the leave that gives an authentic Tom Yum Goong its checkmark), as well as Vietnamese coriander (which is actually commonly known in Singapore as Laksa leaves). These coriander varieties all provide a different flavour profile to boost the oomph and fresh flavours in your dishes. Therefore, the adventurous hearted could consider growing all three of them!
Growing these kitchen essential herbs will really brighten up your whole cooking experience, and trust me you will crave store bought herbs anymore. I wish you all the very best in creating your herb corner at home!