Gourmet food need not be a luxury or the privilege of upper or middle-class eaters. Exquisite flavours can be enjoyed not only in expensive and fancy restaurants but also in the comfort of your own home. The trick is to have some key ingredients! Herbs and spices have been used for thousands of years to give unique flavours and to add health benefits to our food. Fresh herbs are particularly important to create tasteful, nutritious, and elegant dishes, and give that extra quality of satisfaction that makes food an experience.

Næmingar: Anelia Philbrow
Útbúgving: West Nordic Studies, Governance and Sustainable Management

Where do we get our fresh herbs?
The first answer that probably comes to mind is — the shop. This is especially true for a country like the Faroe Islands, which imports most of the food. Indeed, the fact that we can buy fresh herbs which have come all the way from Denmark or Holland, in only 4 days (from time of packaging to availability in a Faroese food-shop), is maybe in itself considered a luxury, and a sign of efficiency of the modern economy. But this comes at a high cost.

Transporting food long distances, well wrapped in packaging, is highly energy and capital-intensive and detrimental for the environment. For example, the FK shop in the centre of Tórshavn, where many of the local gourmet restaurants buy their fresh herbs, imported 3,010 potted herbs, in 2017, and 1,221 small (triangular) plastic containers with fresh and cut ecological herbs. This is only one of the 4 main supermarkets in a town of 15,000 people.

This reliance on food traveling 1000s of kilometres to reach our plates also makes us dependent on economic, energy and transportation factors beyond our control. And for that matter, weather too. Would it not be better to be more independent and self-sufficient, at least for what we can?!

Why not grow our own herbs?
What herbs can possibly grow in a wind-swept country in the sub-Arctic region like the Faroe Islands?! Strong winds are a common phenomenon in the dark winter months but also in the long-light summer, although not as frequent and severe as in winter. Still, strong winds on a summer’s day may cause quite a damage to your well grown and lush herbs garden outside your house leaving behind battered and useless leaves hanging sadly on their stalks, or with up-rooted herbs. What can you do to ensure a constant supply of fresh herbs, to bring exquisite flavour to your dishes and health benefits to your diet?!

One possibility is wind-herbs — growing your own window herbs garden. It is environmentally friendly, it is a personalized unique experience, it is easily realized, and the herbs are fresher and richer in vitamins and minerals than the ones from the supermarket. It is best to start an indoor herbs garden by planting seeds of your favourite herbs in separate ceramic or glass containers and place them on a sunny windowsill. It takes about 3-6 weeks for the seeds to germinate. If, however, you want to start your garden in the winter, as was the case with my garden, the second-best possibility is to buy herbs already growing in plant pots.

I visited the Skógrøktagarði (the biggest and oldest place in Tórshavn to grow and sell plants) in search of herbs. They had only mint plants with visible life in them, and although they also sell chives, oregano and thyme in spring, the manager explained that they cultivated plants for outdoor use. If a plant was accustomed to grow outside, it would most probably not survive if moved to warmer indoor conditions. Again, I was left with the second-best possibility – to buy already growing (for indoor) herbs imported from Denmark. At least I bought ecological herbs.

I chose parsley, dill, basil, chives, and mint, because they are some of my (and my family’s) favourite herbs, and some that are most commonly used in the Faroes. I prepared glass jars to transfer the herbs into, as glass is not recycled in Toftir, where I live, and I had some in the house for re-use. I placed stones on the bottom of the jars to ensure adequate drainage and then half-filled them with potting soil, (bought in a local supermarket) for indoor growing. Then I transferred the herbs into the glass jars. Basil (as well as rosemary and thyme), prefers soil with more lime, so adding a spoonful of crushed eggshells to the soil is beneficial. Please see below more information about cultivation and nutritional benefits of these herbs.

The ready herbs can be placed on your kitchen windowsill, easily accessible when cooking. I decided to experiment with hanging the herb jars from the curtain rod in my kitchen window. Of course, the two options can be combined, and for the Green Student House, Lindberg’s hús, I suggest a combination of hanging herbs jars, and others placed on fitted (in window) glass shelves, as in the illustration below, kindly provided by Evan Alexander Ademic, an ecologic design architect from Norway. In that way, a vertical herb garden is created, allowing for more herbs to grow. The glass shelves allow light penetration to the next level of wind-herbs.

Appropriate amount of light is essential for growing herbs and helping them produce the oils that give them their distinctive flavours. Most varieties of herbs require 6-8 hours of direct light. Natural suns light for so many hours during the day is not possible in the Faroes, so unless you want to give your wind-herbs a rest during the winter, artificial light is necessary. It is possible to use incandescent lights, fluorescents, and LEDs. Considering the many hours of use, it is most prudent to choose LEDS, as they are most energy efficient. Because they have lower heat signature, they can be placed about 15 cm over the herbs.

How to maintain wind-herbs?
One of the biggest mistakes, which I have also done many times, is over-watering the herbs. They don’t require as much water as a typical houseplant. But most often, when we see leaves turning yellow, we think the plant is drying and it needs water. I have learned though, that turning yellow is a sign of overwatering. A good rule of thumb is to let the soil dry between waterings.

Clipping your wind-herbs regularly will promote further growth, so the more we clip and use, the more we help them grow! Except Dill!

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

Native to the central Mediterranean region, parsley was first discovered growing on Greece’s rocky hillsides.

Parsley grows best in moist, well-drained soil, with full sun. It grows best between 22–30 °C, and usually is grown from seed. Germination is slow, taking four to six weeks. Parsley is slow grower, so initial clippings will not harvest a lot.

Nutritional content:
Parsley is a source of flavonoids and antioxidants, especially luteolin, apigenin and folic acid. It is rich in vitamins A, C, E, K, and a variety of B vitamins including B-5 and B-2. Parsley is also a good source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron.

Health Benefits:
Strengthens the immune system
Acts as natural diuretic and helps to relieve bloating
Improves digestion
Helps fight kidney stones, urinary tract Infections and gallbladder Infections
Has antibacterial and antifungal properties
Helps reduce bad breath
Good source of bone-protecting vitamin K
Helps balance hormones
Helps protect eye and skin health

Common use:
Parsley is widely used as a garnish and especially in Middle Eastern, European, Brazilian, and American cuisine. Cooking it for long periods can cause the flavour to fade, so it is best to add chopped fresh parsley at the very end of cooking. The flavour of the flat-leaf variety is stronger than in the curly-leaf one.

Recipe for chimichurri:

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Also called the “king of herbs” and the “royal herb”. The name “basil” comes from Greek “basilikón phutón”, “royal/kingly plant”.

Although basil grows best outdoors, it can be grown indoors in a pot and, like most herbs, will do best on a sun-facing windowsill. It should be kept away from extremely cold drafts.

Basil can also be propagated from stems of short cuttings suspended for two weeks or so in water until roots develop.

Nutritional content:
Vitamin k, Vitamin a, Vitamin c, Manganese, Copper, Folate, Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, Omega-3 fatty acids

Health benefits:
Helps to clear skin blemishes
Promotes overall good health
Alleviates stress & balances mood
Helps to detoxify the liver
Has powerful anti-inflammatory & anti-bacterial properties
Helps to slow the aging process
Protects against age-related macular degeneration (AMD) & other diseases of the eye
Useful in developing & maintaining bone strength
Helps the body maintain optimal heart rate & blood pressure
Relieves nausea & indigestion

Common use:
Basil is most commonly used fresh in recipes. Best added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavour. It is widely used in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine including pasta dishes, soups, and stews. Basil is the main ingredient in pesto.

Recipe for pesto:

Dill (Anethum graveolens)

Fresh and dried dill leaves (sometimes called “dill weed” to distinguish it from dill seed) are widely used as herbs in Europe and central Asia.

Dill thrives best in much (sun)light and rich, well-drained soil. Cut about one-third of growth off the top to stimulate new growth.

Nutritional content:
It contains a variety of volatile essential oils including eugenol. It is rich in vitamin A and C. Dill is also an excellent source of several minerals such as iron, zinc and potassium.

Health benefits:
Eugenol can be used as both an antiseptic and a local anesthetic.
Vitamin A is important for vision and for healthy mucus membranes.
Vitamin C, which is another antioxidant and supporting the immune system
Iron is important for cognitive function and gastrointestinal health.
Zinc helps to regulate immune function

Potassium plays a role in regulating fluid balance and controlling the heart’s electrical activity.

Common use:
In central and eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Baltic states, Russia, and Finland, dill is a popular culinary herb. Fresh, finely cut dill leaves are used as topping in soups, including a cold yoghurt soup called “tarator” (in Bulgarian) served during hot summer.

Recipe for tarator:

Mint (Mentha)

The most common and popular mints are peppermint (Mentha × piperita), native spearmint (Mentha spicata), Scotch spearmint (Mentha x gracilis), cornmint (Mentha arvensis), and apple mint (Mentha suaveolens).

All mints thrive in cool moist spots in partial shade. In general, mints tolerate a wide range of conditions, and can also be grown in full sun. Mint grows all year round.

Nutritional content:
Mint is rich in antioxidants and contains compounds that make it useful for treating digestive problems.

Health Benefits:
Aids digestion
Treats nausea & headache
Prevents respiratory disorders
Treats asthma
Reduces depression & fatigue
Applied externally, it alleviates itchiness and swelling from insect bites
Prevents memory loss
Helps in efforts to lose weight
Cures allergies & hay fever

Common use:
Mint pairs well with other herbs like parsley and cilantro as well as with fresh fruit like watermelon and strawberries.