Vegetables can be grown in the home garden, on the ground or in pots. Even a flower pot can be a home for either vegetables or spices, ‘biologically’ free of agro-chemicals. The produce is natural, clean, fresh and money-saving.
Why not try growing spices, which are a must in Sri Lankan cuisine in your garden? These add taste, aroma, flavour and pungency to our food and in ancient times were valued as gold.
Spices have nutritional and medicinal properties. Some carry a tag for their anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain relieving) effects, hypocholesterolameic effect (lowering blood cholesterol), antihypertensive (lowering elevated blood pressure) and anti-mitotic effects (cancer prevention).
Classic examples are; Inguru (ginger - a carminative), Koththamalli (coriander - a brew for treatment of colds and fever), Sududuru (cumin – to combat indigestion) and Uluhal (fenugreek – antihelmintic). Spices such as turmeric (Kaha), chillies (Miris), Lime (Dehi) are rich in antioxidant properties and beneficial to our wellbeing. Chilli have been shown to possess a salutary effect in blood clotting, preventing infarction.
Moreover, some spices have subtle flavours that tantalise the palate and stimulate the appetite.
Varieties to choose from...
The leafy varieties
There are many spicy plants you can choose from for your garden, for instance, Karapincha (curry leaf or Murraya koenigii), Rampe, Sera (Lemongrass) and Allspice (clove-cinnamon mix) leaf improve the flavour of curries.
Karapincha leaf is a standard ingredient in all curries. Saplings of this plant are commonly found under a mother tree and can be easily grown with little or no attention. Rampe, Sera, Allspice leaf are added when cooking meat curry for the flavour and aroma. Rampe and Sera can be grown in a pot or on the ground. Allspice saplings, though available in the occasional nursery or two are hard to come by. But its leaf in meat curry adds the flavour of both cinnamon and clove.
Cloves are a tree that grows with a large canopy of foliage, hence cannot be recommended for small and medium sized home gardens. A cinnamon plant can be grown in a home garden, but this may not provide the most suitable environment for its wellbeing. Hence, an amicable substitute for cloves and cinnamon is an allspice plant grown in a sunny spot of the garden.
The rhizomous varieties
Ginger (Zingiber officianale) and turmeric (Curcuma domestica) provide rhizomes for cooking. Ginger becomes an ingredient of meat curry, soup and pickles. It has carminative (anti-flatulence) properties when taken as a medicine. The pigment of turmeric (curcumin) valued for its yellow-orange colour can be used to garnish pale foods, apart from being a potent dietary antioxidant.
Turmeric paste or powder must be used rationally. Both ginger and turmeric can be propagated with a rhizome and the plant requires no nursing. These do well as pot plants and thrive in red soils, somewhat loose and porous. Both ginger and turmeric require little watering.
The fruiting or pod bearing varieties
Chilli, Capsicum and Pepper are spicy plants grown for the pod. Green chilli is a culinary requirement in any Sri Lankan household. Green chilli is easily propagated from seeds of dried pods. Seeds are strewn in a pot or ground, layered with soil and kept moist. Soon saplings will appear and begin to grow to mature plants.
Chilli and capsicums require a fertile growing medium which can be provided with compost. The dried red chilli is best avoided by those with peptic ulcer. Somewhat less ripe chilli has less pungency and as an ingredient in salads is likely to be protective against ischemic events. Green chilli is rich in Vitamin-C, Vitamin-A precursor β-carotene and iron.
Some prefer pepper (Piper nigrum) to chilli. Black pepper is the whole seed dried with the seed coat on and white pepper is obtained by removing the seed coat from the fully ripe fruit and sun drying the clean seed. Pepper can be propagated with cuttings. The creeper can be sent up tree trunks such as that of a mango tree or parapet walls without causing damage.
The bulbous varieties
It is fun to grow small onions (spring onions). To plant the onion bulbs, one has to prepare a raised bed with soil free of pebbles and the earth smoothed out. Onion bulbs can now be buried upright by pushing down into the soft soil. The bed is kept lightly moist by sprinkling water preferably in the morning hours. When fully grown the plants can be uprooted, washed, cleaned and served fresh with other salad ingredients. Apart from the flavour, onions are believed to possess medicinal properties.
The citrus fruits
Juice of Dehi (lime, Citrus aurantifolia) and lemon (Citrus limonia) are used for their sour taste (acidic flavour) in salad, sambol, gravy and curry. Lime juice or lemon juice drowns the fishy smell in fish preparations. Nutritionally, juices of lime family fruits are rich sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C or ascorbic acid aids in maintaining healthy gums, averting gum disease quite common in our population. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant and aids in the absorption of iron, a mineral compulsorily required for blood formation.
Citrus plants grow well in sunny, dry spots in the home garden. One of my favourite limes is the Philippino lime, the Kalamanzi. Kalamanzi had been introduced in Sri Lanka recently and thrives in all climatic zones. This lime can be propagated with its seed, obtained in abundance when squeezing the juice off ripe fruit and can be grown in pots or on the ground. The sapling matures in a couple of years and bears fruit throughout the year.
Unlike lime, lemon can be propagated easily with cuttings.