How to Grow Spices

While spices may seem an overly ambitious addition to the garden, those spices related to ginger, such as cardamom, galangal and turmeric, can be grown in many warmer districts. Other spices can be grown easily in regions with tropical climates. The plants can add great beauty to the garden, while the intensely fresh fragrance and flavour will be a revelation to the cook.  

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Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
Cardamom is a member of the ginger family. It is a rhizomatous perennial that forms a dense clump of stalks with a delightfully warm and spicy fragrance and scented flowers. The dried seedpods are added to sweets, Persian coffee, curry powder, chutneys, pickles and many Asian dishes. The flowers normally only appear in warm to tropical climates. The leaves can also be used – as a wrap in which to steam, bake or barbecue sweet potato, fish, pork and chicken, imparting a wonderful flavour. Cardamom is more cold-resistant than most members of the ginger family and will survive several frosts. After the last frost, cut back winter damaged foliage and a new crop of lush leaves will soon emerge. It can be propagated by rhizomes planted about 5 cm below the soil surface in spring. It should be grown in a generously enriched, moist, well drained soil in a sunny position.

Galangal (Alpinia galanga)
Also known as greater galangal or Siamese ginger, this member of the ginger family is native to South-East Asia. It forms a rhizomatous clump of several stalks, each 2 m long, with long,  sheathing leaves. The rhizome is used for cooking, and its white or pale yellow flesh has a characteristic spicy fragrance with a hint of pine. Lesser galangal, sometimes called resurrection lily (Kaempferia galanga), is a different plant, whose rhizomes are also used as a spice; they have a peppery ginger scent. The plant forms a low-growing clump and flowers at ground level. Galangal grows best in light shade in warm temperate to tropical regions, and prefers a well-composted, moist, freely draining soil. It can be grown from rhizomes – planted about 5 cm deep in the soil in spring – or bought in pots from specialist herb and tropical plant nurseries.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger is a rhizomatous perennial species that originated in tropical Asia. It forms a 90 cm high clump of stalks with alternate sheathing leaves. The flowers, borne in club-like spikes, are yellow tipped with purple. The plump, pale yellow rhizomes, called ‘hands’, are the part used for cooking. Ginger requires warm temperate to subtropical conditions, a sunny position and a rich, moist, well-drained soil. The rhizomes are harvested in late summer to autumn for using fresh. It can be grown from segments of plump rhizomes; in spring, plant the segments, each with two to three buds, about 5 cm below the soil surface. Alternatively, you can purchase pot grown plants from specialist herb and tropical plant nurseries.

Star anise (Illicium verum)
Chinese star anise is an essential ingredient in five spice powder, widely used with duck, chicken and pork in Chinese cooking; in garam masala, a spice mix from Indian cuisine; as well as in the cooking of Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. In Europe it is used in several popular liqueurs and aperitifs, including pastis, absinthe, anisette and, reputedly, Sambuca and Galliano. It shares with the completely unrelated herb anise the substance anethole, which gives it a strong aniseed flavour. The tree is a small evergreen from southern China and Vietnam with attractive ivory, star-shaped flowers.

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