Yes it is still summer; and yes it is plenty warm enough to enjoy a fresh, cool salad.
Herbs for summer salads need to be freshly picked to be at their tastiest. So make the most of those growing in your allotment, garden, or window box.
Growing your own herbs for summer salads is very satisfying. However, if you really have no space, at this time of year it is also easy to find fresh herbs for sale locally.
Salads regularly contain leafy plants such as the many lettuce varieties, red oak leaf and cos lettuce for example. But have you thought of trying some of leafy herbs – or herb leaves – as an addition to your mixed salad leaf bowl?
So which herbs for summer salads are easy to grow?
I thought of a few favourites.
These are all easy to grow in your own garden, and, generally speaking, to buy at farmers markets, green grocers and good supermarkets.
There are the obvious herbs such as Salad Rocket, Eruca sativa, which is now a frequent, indeed, common, addition with its peppery leaves. Salad rocket should not be confused with Sweet rocket, Hesperis matronalis, which is grown for its sweetly scented flowers.
Sorrel Rumex acetosa is another fairly familiar herb to many. The raw young leaves add a lemony tang to salads, just as the more mature leaves add flavour to soups and casseroles.
Other Culinary Herbs for Summer Salads
What about the herbs growing in your garden that you may not have thought were edible in the first place? Or at least, although you knew of them as culinary herbs to be added as seasoning to stir fries and stews you wouldn’t think to add them to your salad.
In other gardening blogs in Plews Potting Shed, and in Plews monthly eNewsletter I have suggested edible flowers for you to try and the aromatic leaves of various plants to try as a tisane, or herb tea.
Some of these same herb plants are also good eaten raw in a salad.
One of the things to remember is that if you’re used to the somewhat bland soporific lettuce, adding too many herbs can give your taste buds a bit of a shock! Initially try just a few of one herb, then gradually add different herbs to blend the flavours together.
Also remember that if you add salad dressing that can affect the taste of the herb. I would suggest trying herbs for summer salads without dressing for a first bite or two, and then add salad dressing slowly to taste.
Personally I like to add less complex seasonings when herbs form a major part of a salad. The aromatic leaves themselves add much to the taste experience.
We’ll look at three more familiar herbs for summer salads first. These you will easily find available in shops and markets. All three are annual herbs, so if you’re growing them, would need to be sown from seed each spring.
The leaves of Coriander, Coriandrum sativum, also known as cilantro and Chinese parsley, will be familiar as a component of many a stir fry. I will cheerfully pick and munch on a few coriander leaves as I walk past this tall, feathery annual. However, I do appreciate that some people find the taste a bit ‘soapy’; if you’re one of those people then probably not adding it to your summer salad is the better idea! For the rest of us, the slightly sweet, faintly parsley like flavour is a gentle addition to salads.
Parsley itself (Petrosilum crispum) can be a surprisingly strong flavour when eaten raw. The younger leaves are less flavoursome, but I find a spray of leaves, chopped small and mixed in well to the other ingredients lift a salad without overpowering it. Sowing some parsley seeds in August should give you a crop to use overwinter as it is tolerant of lower temperatures. Warm winter salads with fresh parsley, roast chicken and some pak choi sound rather tasty!
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) the essential element in pesto, is another easily grown and easily purchased herb that lends itself to being eaten raw in salads. As you might expect, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar over basil leaves makes a delicious combination.
The Sage Family – Salvia
Evergreen herbs also provide us with salad leaves, and one in particular you may not have thought of adding to your salads. The sage family – Salvia – comprises herbaceous perennials, tender perennials, deciduous shrubs and evergreen shrubs. Salvias also offer us an interesting change of taste, away fromthe more obvious leafy, herby experience. Salvia officinalis, the common, soft green leaved shrub we know well as a culinary herb to add to casseroles has a very strong scent and flavour which could easily be overpowering in a salad comprising of edible leaves.
However, Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans, Salvia splendens) is a stunning garden plant with bright red (edible!) flowers and pineapple scented and tasting foliage. Really. Honest. The soft texture of the leaves may not appeal to everyone in a salad, so chop them small to begin with; but the flavour will confuse and confound those people who have not come across it before – and if there’s a salad dressing they may assume that’s the source of the flavour. You will probably need to grow this one, as it’s unlikely that you’ll find leaves in standard supermarkets; although you may find some in out of the way stores and farmers markets. Pineapple sage grows happily in a pot; which means you can shelter it from frost over winter, as it can be a bit tender.
Another sage whose leaves are a welcome addition to salads, pimms, elderflower lemonade and life generally is Blackcurrant sage, Salvia microphylla. I admit that blackcurrant sage is a favourite semi evergreen shrub that I like to add to planting plans and garden designs as well as to salads. Its carmine pink flowers bloom from late April through to the end of November, more enthusiastically if you dead-head, but it will flower for a long time even if you don’t. And both leaves and flowers are edible, in salads, cool drinks, tisanes, herb teas and more.
Now you have a few ideas for herbs for summer salads, suggestions that I certainly enjoy eating – and growing in my garden.