All you chop-chowing carnivores out there shouldn’t miss out on having some lush greenery growing close to the braai area. It is not only for the plants’ attractive appearance, which will beautify these traditionally very masculine and functional areas, but also the ability of their sprigs, leaves, and flowers to add flavour to a braai, turning it into a gourmet affair.
You need aromatic rosemary plants, so that the twigs can be used as spears for making sosaties (kebabs), and rosemary for prunings to be thrown on the flames to create a cloud of fragrant smoke that adds atmosphere to the braai area. You need the meat-tenderising acidity of lemon juice to dribble over a ribbetjie to make it tender and tasty. For a potjie, you need the aromatic leaves of small trees like bay leaf, curry tree or cooking lime. You need parsley, garlic, and chives to mix with butter for garlic bread, and you also need herbal plants with strong insect-repelling properties to keep the mozzies away. And at the end of a good braai, you need one or two fresh mint leaves to chew, to ease the heartburn of overindulgence.
You can either create a landscaped ‘braai garden’ by planting all the following suggestions together in a well-composted bed; or choose to grow some larger specimens in individual containers, and the smaller cooking herbs in mixed containers or window boxes that can be artfully displayed on a paved patio with a built-in braai.
Bay Leaf (Laurus Nobilis)
This is an aromatic little tree or large shrub with glossy green leaves that are used to flavour stews, potjies and virtually any meaty dish. The pale, yellow-green flowers are followed by small, black berries. It is the leaves that are useful, and the good news is that this is a very tough, evergreen plant for full sun.
Lemon Tree (Citrus x Limon)
Citrus trees love subtropical climates but will grow well in colder climes if protected against frost. The most important factors in growing a healthy lemon tree are full sun, fertile soil that drains very well, and frequent watering and feeding. There are a number of good varieties to choose from. ‘Eureka’ is a thornless lemon tree with smooth-skinned fruit that is produced almost all year long once the tree is well established. ‘Meyeri’ is a smaller tree that is more hardy and suitable for container growing. It produces very juicy, sweeter, smooth-skinned fruit that is useful for making cocktails. Rough skin lemon produces fleshy and very aromatic fruit with a thick, rough skin, and is a favourite amongst chefs.
Cooking Lime (Citrus Hystrix)
This is a beautiful but slow-growing small tree for full sun, and is very suitable for growing in a pot. The fresh-tasting leaves with an unusual double-lobed shape are used in Asian and Thai curries, and for flavouring marinades for chicken and pork. The many, highly fragrant, white blossoms and little citrus fruits are an added bonus. The leaves can also be bruised and added to a citrus-scented potpourri for a pleasant aroma on a warm summer’s night outdoors.
Life is simply beautiful when accompanied by the rounded form of Lavandula x intermedia var ‘Margaret Roberts’, with its grey-green branching stems bearing masses of fragrant, light blue to violet-coloured flowers on tall spikes that appear all year long. Lavender flowers are normally used in baking or in salads, but can also be included in a rub mixture to flavour steak. As lavender is also known as a de-stress herb, it makes sense to plant it in numbers around a braai, where folks tend to linger. Brushing against it emits a lovely aroma that calms down even the most anxious person. Lavenders prefer well- draining soil and a sunny position.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis)
‘Tuscan Blue’ is an upright-growing variety that produces straight stems that can be stripped and used as skewers for kebabs with meat and vegetables. The flavour of rosemary from the sticks infuses subtly into the meat and veggies. Rosemary sprigs can also be laid over meat like lamb and chicken while it is braaied, or added to the fire where the heat will release the lovely aroma. Also plant the variety called ‘Ginger’, which has a distinctive ginger taste and smell. The sprigs can be used to brew a refreshing cup of tea after a long night of braaiing.
Clever Herb Combos
Plant following herbs to create delicious dips, marinades and spreads. You can either plant groups of them in the foreground of your braai garden, or combine them in lovely mixed containers.
This is an annual that needs a sunny position and well-draining, compost-enriched soil. The very aromatic leaves are torn up or chopped for use in pestos, salad dressings, marinades and in tomato-based salads. You can also plant a mix of other very pretty sweet basil varieties like lemon basil, purple basil or ‘Purple Ruffles’.
This is a tough and very pretty garden plant of which there are many hybrids available for hot, full-sun positions. When cooking with thyme, remember that it has a strong flavour that will still be potent after hours of slow cooking in a potjie.
Sage leaves have a strong, slightly bitter taste and should be used sparingly. Sage adds a lovely flavour to pork cuts, especially in the form of a herbal butter containing finely chopped sage leaves. All sages demand well-drained, sandy soil, a hot and sunny spot, and do not want to be overwatered.
Parsley is probably the most popular annual herb, and it can be used in basically any edible dish, or as a garnish on top of it. If you plant only one type of herb, it has to be parsley! Chopped up with fresh garlic and mixed into butter, it is the perfect filling for a crispy French loaf covered tightly in tinfoil and slowly heated over the hot coals. Parsley, just like sweet basil, is a healthy and aromatic annual herb that should be planted regularly in your garden or containers so that you always have a healthy supply.
These are easy to grow and soon form thick clumps with lots of flavoursome leaf blades to harvest. Chopped up chives can be added to garlic butter for garlic bread, thrown into mixed salads, or snipped into cottage cheese-based dips. The more leaves you harvest, the more will be produced. The plants prefer full sun, but will also be willing to grow in light shade.
Insects like mosquitos seem to home in as soon as you decide to have a braai. To help protect yourself and your guests, plant up a few pots with the following mix of insect-repelling plants. They are pretty and colourful and their leaves can safely be crushed and rubbed over your skin.
Mozzie Buster (Pelargonium Citrosum ‘Van Leenii’)
This is a bushy, scented geranium that is good for repelling mosquitoes in confined areas. It is an excellent plant for patios, and also makes an attractive border plant in the garden. Plant it in a sunny position.
Citronella (Pelargonium Scabrum)
This is an erect shrub with rough, hairy, three-lobed, lemon-scented leaves. Clusters of white to pink flowers are produced from late winter to summer. Plant it in a sunny position.
Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis)
This is a woody, perennial member of the mint family. The leaves have a mild lemon aroma and can be crushed to rub over skin to ward off insects. This is a fast-growing plant for full sun or light shade.
Catnip (Nepeta Cataria)
This is a spreading perennial herb with grey-green, heart-shaped leaves and dainty flower spikes with either blue or white owers. Cats are crazy about this plant and will be attracted to it, but it will also repel insects. Plant it in full sun.
Marigold (Tagetes spp.)
These bright annuals are well known as plant protectors in a veggie garden, as their strong aroma repels insects. Add a punnet or two when you plant up a mixed container on the patio, or use them as a colourful border in your braai garden. There is also a belief that their rich orange or golden-yellow flower colours are therapeutic, which might well make your braai guests feel more welcome. Their cheerful colours could also stimulate their appetites – and hungry guests are what we all want at our braais! Plant it in full sun.