A taste of Thailand can be yours if you grow a few common herbs that are used in the cuisine of that country. The names might sound exotic when you hear them in their native language, but you’ll probably recognize basil, coriander, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, shallot and lime as herbs that you might already be growing if you’re an avid chef. From horapha (sweet basil) to bai makrut (Kaffir lime), you can expand your culinary skills by growing these herbs and using them in dishes you might find in Thailand or your local Thai restaurant.
Growing Thai Herbs
Grow sweet basil (horapha), anise-scented basil and lemon basil from seed. These related herbs do well in containers—fill a large pot with a drainage hole with standard potting soil and then broadcast the small seeds over the surface. Sprinkle about 1/4 inch more potting soil over the seeds and then water well, until water comes out the drainage hole. Keep in a sunny spot and thin plants to stand 3 or 4 inches apart when they are about 2 inches tall.
Grow root crops such as Galangal ginger, garlic, shallots and turmeric in rich, deep garden soil. Prepare your planting area in late winter or early spring by digging compost and other organic materials such as leaf mold, wood chips and grass clippings into the soil in a sunny area, making sure to loosen the soil at least 1 foot deep. Use about one part organic matter to four parts soil. Plant all of these root crops in holes about 3 inches deep and space them at least 6 inches apart. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.
Plant the small, but very hot bird chili (phrik khi nu) and finger size phrik chi fa chili plants as summer annuals in your vegetable garden or in containers at least 12 inches in diameter and 12 inches deep. Prepare a planting area by combining one part compost with four parts soil in a sunny area. Set plants into the ground after your final frost about 8 inches apart. Keep plants well watered but allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings.
Plant lemongrass (takhrai) in a large container with standard potting soil if you would like to keep it alive year-round. You can keep your pot outdoors in the summer and then move it to a warmer location before your first fall frost. Purchase plump, fresh stalks with roots. Cut the leafy tops from the roots and place the roots in a jar of water in a sunny spot for three to four weeks. After you see signs of new root growth, plant your lemongrass in your container, burying it up to where the leaves emerge. Keep in the sun and water it on a regular basis, keeping the soil moist but not soggy. Lemongrass is an essential ingredient in tom yum soup.
Plant a young Kaffir lime tree (bai makrut) in a large container with a drainage hole using standard potting soil. Keep it in full sun from spring until fall and then move it indoors before your first fall frost. Fertilize with a plant food designed for citrus trees three times a year, at evenly spaced intervals from early spring until midsummer. Kaffir lime tree leaves are used in many Thai soups.
Purchase a starter mint plant at your nursery or start a cutting in water because mint is usually not propagated from seed. Transplant to a larger container with drainage holes and treat much like basil plants. Keep it in a sunny spot and water well until water drains from the holes.