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Is it cheaper to grow your own herbs?

Felicity Hannah

If you like to cook with fresh herbs, you could be paying as much as 80p for a short-lived bunch of basil leaves. That’s not cheap for a common ingredient.

But while growing your own vegetables takes a lot of space, herbs can be raised in a much smaller area – even a window box is big enough – making growing your own viable option for millions of Britons.

I’ve recently moved home and now have an actual garden, rather than the tiny patio our old house had.

My first thoughts were that I could grow veg, but I’ve since changed my mind. The types of veg you can grow as a novice are simply too cheap to be worth the effort.

For example, potatoes and carrots might be simple to grow, but they are also dirt cheap. In my local supermarket, carrots are about 8p each. If I am going to make time in my schedule to do gardening, I need to see a better return.

High-priced herbs

So I’ve been thinking about the most expensive fresh foods I like to eat. Fresh herbs are top of the list – they’re far more expensive than their dried alternatives but also far tastier.

Check out these prices from my nearest supermarket:

Fresh product
Bunched coriander
Bunched flat leaf parsley
Lemon thyme
Fresh mint
Thai lemon grass

Even if 80p for a fresh bunch of basil won’t bust your budget, there’s still likely to be a lot of waste.

A packet of freshly cut herbs bought for a certain dish will soon wilt if not all of it is used and be reduced to dark green sludge at the bottom of your fridge in no time.

Growing herbs would allow me to only pick what I need, meaning less waste and less cost.

How to go about it

There’s some excellent and authoritative advice on growing herbs available for free online. I’ve found the BBC’s guide to growing herbs particularly useful, especially for telling me which herbs are easiest to grow in the sun and the shade.

There are also some brilliant tips on keeping your herbs alive and thriving on the Which? website. Even better, it tells you which herbs go with which foods – so I can experiment a bit more with my home-grown seasonings.

Saving on salad

I’m not just hoping to save a few quid on fresh herbs. One of the most expensive fresh foods I buy regularly is salad. In pre-packaged bags this costs £1.50 a time, and we could easily eat our way through four of these a week.

So that’s £6 a week on leaves I could potentially grow myself. So I’m going to make the most of my new space and grow some of the more expensive salads – like rocket and Lollo Rosso.

I’m also planting chives, oregano and rosemary in a tub in the sunniest side of my garden, with a salad window box containing rocket and parsley on my shadier kitchen window sill.

How much space do you need?

As I’ve researched growing herbs, I’ve realised that this is something I could have tried previously, even with my lack of space.

Some people are growing their favourite herbs in window boxes, in tubs on balconies and even in simple pots on their kitchen window sills.

If you’re living on a really tight budget then you’re probably buying economy brands at the supermarket.

Some of those can be delicious – but sometimes they lack the flavour of the more expensive brands. If you have a garden or window box crammed with delicious, home-grown herbs, you could spice them up without paying anything more.

Easier organics

You’ll pay a small fortune for organic food, and organic herbs are even pricier. There are a few specialist retailers of organic herbs within the UK and they are even more expensive than the freshly-cut non-organic varieties sold in the major supermarkets.

And that’s if you can find them – you’re more likely to be reduced to buying organic dried herbs online.

So if eating organic is important to you then growing your own makes real sense. You can be entirely confident that what you’re eating hasn’t been doused in pesticides, because you’ll be the one lovingly picking the slugs off by hand instead.

Cheaper and better for the environment, why haven’t I been doing this for years?