Best exotic herbs and spices to grow in Kenya

There is a growing demand for herbs and spices in domestic and export markets.  In the Kenyan market, they fetch higher profits for the farmers than conventional vegetables, grains and pulses farming. This makes it attractive to smallholder farmers in peri-urban, urban and rural areas. To farm efficiently and profitably, invest in proper farm structures like greenhouses, cold rooms and chemical stores.  Seek for food safety certification and install hand washing units and foot baths in your farm. 

This post outlines 12 herbs and spices grown in various parts of Kenya. In brief, we focus on the plants’ features, uses and nutritional, medicinal, culinary or health-related benefits. Apart from commercially growing them for sale, you can use them at home diets for their various benefits.

Rosemary

Rosemary

Also known as “Dew of the sea of the Old Man.” Rosemary is an evergreen herb from the Mediterranean region. It has a pine-like aroma with a sweet, bitter fresh flavour.  Its leaves are silvery with needle-like structure. Its flowers are pink, purple, white or blue. 

Rosemary and its products are common in retail stores.  It has a wide variety of uses in making salads, soups, sauces, stews, tea and meat roasting delicacies. You can use it as fresh leaves, essential oils, liquid extracts or grounded powder. 

Rosemary herb is rich in antioxidants that boost the immune system and improve blood circulation. It enhances memory, alertness and concentration. Rosemary has iron, potassium and Vitamins A and C.

Mint

Mint

You can grow the strong aromatic plant for antioxidants. Use the herb while fresh or in dried form. It is used in preparing dishes and infused in products. It’s a common spice in culinary dishes and widely applied in aromatherapy. Mint oil, one of its major product is an additive in chewing gums, toothpaste, candies and beauty products. 

Besides growing it for commercial purposes, use it at home for following health benefits; it is rich in rosmarinic acid that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics. This makes mint a natural treatment for allergic symptoms.  Add mint oil in ointments and lotions to cool skin affected by rash and insect bites. Mint contains menthol the nice aromatic natural decongestant with a cooling effect. Use mint in treating the common cold and helps in curing a sore throat. It offers a fresh breath, hence its use in oral health. Besides, mint contains Vitamins A and C, iron, calcium and proteins. 

Chia

Grown for its leaves and seeds. The South West American native is an annual herb belonging to the Salvia family of plants. It grows 1 to -1.5 meters high and produces blue flowers that spike up to 10 cm long. It produces pin sizes, brown shiny seeds. It’s well adaptive to different agro-ecological settings and does well in minimal rainfall. Given its medicinal, adaptability and nutritional benefits, it has become a key commercial crop grown globally beyond South America.

Use chia leaves in preparing tonic herbal tea. You can prepare this using either fresh or dried leaves dipped in hot water.  Sweeten the tea with honey and lemon juice for taste. People consider Chia leaves tea a blood cleanser and can treat fevers, respiratory problems, mouth ulcers, diabetes and diarrhoea. You can also gargle it to treat sore throat.  

Add chia seeds in your drinks such as water, yoghurt, or smoothies.  You can also sprinkle them in cereals, eat directly, cook or add to baked goods like bread and oatmeal.  Chia seeds have gelatinous texture when mixed with water making them an ideal egg replacer in vegan baking. Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, antioxidants, iron, calcium and phosphorus.

Chive

Chives belong to the onion genus. They are bulbous plants with long hollow edible stems. Use sliced chive stems in a range of uses including soups, sauces, salads, potato dishes, Mexican cuisine among other dishes. You can dry and grind Un-bloomed flower buds to make the chive spice powder.

Chives have many benefits to human health as they help in sleep, muscle movement and curbing depression. Chives are rich in magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and Vitamins A and C.

Thyme 

Native in the Mediterranean region, thyme is a perennial herb that sprouts into many small branches. It produces pink flowers. Use thyme as a food flavour or a medicinal herb.  

Use thyme as a cough remedy. Thyme contains thymol which is an active anti-fungal compound. It is also rich in lutein, Zeaxanthin and thymonin antioxidants which are natural health and immune boosters. Besides, thyme is a natural deodorant. It is rich in calcium and Vitamin C, A and B6. Thyme contains high concentrates of carotenoids crucial in vision health. 

Sage 

Its scientific name “Salvia officinalis” is derived from a Latin name which means “to save”.  The herb belongs to the mint family and closely related to the rosemary herb. It’s a perennial plant that grows up to 2 feet high. It has small green-grey veined leaves. Commonly used as fresh leaves, grounded powder or rubbed. Fresh leaves are the most preferred since they are highly flavoured and fragrant for the best recipes. Cook chopped leaves with cheese mushrooms and making herbal teas and cooking eggs. 

Use Sage in boosting cognitive function and managing blood sugar, weight and diarrhoea. Its antiseptic and antibacterial qualities make it widely used in promoting oral health. Given its anti-inflammatory qualities, sage is widely used in skincare as well. you can also use Sage in easing menopause symptoms. Sage is rich in fibre, vitamins A, B, C, E and K. It also has calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, thiamine, and copper.

French Tarragon 

The perennial herb belongs to the sunflowers family. Also known as the king of herbs among French. It is native to Central Asia; it appears as fresh green grass in colour with silver frosting. It’s highly aromatic, making it an ideal ornamental plant. Its leaves, the only edible part of the plant, has a  sweet, light, and liquorice-like taste that leaves one’s tip of the tongue a little numb. 

Commonly marketed as fresh sprigs or in dried form in grocery stores. French use it in cooking various dishes including eggs, chicken, and fish dishes. It also widely used in condiments, sauces and butter seasoning. Can also be used in making tarragon tea. 

Tarragon is rich in methyl eugenol and astragole making it an effective antiseptic in numbing toothaches and applied in oral health.  The king of herbs is also rich in Vitamin C, A and B-complex. 

Mellisa

Commonly known as lemon balm and is a perennial herb from the mint family.  It is widely used in foods, beverages and as an extracted oil. Mellisa is consumed as a tea, supplements or extract. You can also apply it to the skin in balms and lotion.

use it in treating stomach upset and vomiting given its digestive features. It’s also a sedative, antioxidant antimicrobial and diuretic making it good in managing menstrual cramps, toothaches, sores and insect bites.  Its leaves have other properties like carminative, tonic, analgesic and antispasmodic. 

Dill 

The plant is a member of the parsley family and it grows into long slender stems that divide into very thin delicate feathery green leaves.  Its edible parts are fresh leaves that as fresh herbs, or dried form. You can also buy dill as dried leaves commonly referred to as “dill weed “or seeds.

The culinary spice is widely used in food seasoning and green salads. Industrially, it is a fragrance ingredient in soaps and cosmetics. Interestingly, it was used in the middle ages to fend off witchcraft. 

It is a source of proteins, carbohydrates, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, sodium and potassium. It is used to ease the passage of bowel movements and relieve constipation. 

Moringa 

Moringa

Also known as the miracle tree. All its parts; leaves, bark, flowers, fruit, seeds, and roots are edible. Its various species and strains are drought resistant and thrive well in various agro-ecological zones including semiarid, tropical and subtropical areas. Moringa is one plant that can grow anywhere in Kenya. For commercial production, you can grow it on a large scale in open fields, under irrigation and greenhouses. 

You can market Moringa products; leaves, tea, capsules, powder and dried form. The plant is highly rich in Vitamins A and C, calcium, niacin and iron nutrients. Moringa has various disease-fighting properties claims and hence its popularity. 

Parsley 

Parsley is native to the Mediterranean region.  Today, the culinary herb cultivars are widely grown and marketed as herb or a dried herb because of its digestion and detoxification health and nutrition value.  Use the fresh leaves in salads and dressings. Sprinkle the dried parsley spice is in soup and pasta. 

As a raw material, parsley seed is used to extract oil used in fragrance in soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes. You can also use the herb in treating dark patches on the face, cracked or chapped skin, bruises, insect bites, and to stimulate hair growth. Parsley is rich in various antioxidants like beta carotene compound that protects eye health, the plant is highly rich in Vitamins A, B, C and K.

Basil

Basil is native in the tropical regions of central Africa and Southeast Asia. It is an annual herb that grows to around 20 inches in maturity. Its leaves are highly aromatic, oval and grow to 4 inches. It has tough square stems and has white flowers that produce small black seeds. 

Use its freshly chopped leaves or crumbled dried leaves in sauce and Italian recipes. Its flavour dissipates with strong heating hence it is best added before serving. Basil Leaves are rich in anti-oxidants and has many medicinal properties. 

Basil flowers attract a lot of bees, which help in pollination of other farm crops. You can grow the plant on vegetable plot edges as a biological pest control plant given its insect repellent. It contains iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, potassium and Vitamins A, C and K.

Conclusion 

This post has presented 12 exotic herbs and spices you can grow for domestic use or sale in local and export markets. The plants represented include moringa, mint, thyme, basil, parsley, dill, Mellisa and French tarragon among others. The post has looked at plant features, uses health and nutrition values.

Samuel K

Samuel Kibicho is passionate about profitable and safe agriculture as a tool for wealth creation and food security. He is the founder of Agcenture and consults in market systems development (MSD), program management and result measurement, monitoring and evaluation for sustainable agriculture & rural development projects.

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3 Responses

  1. February 28, 2020

    […] can do well in semi-arid regions benefitting millions of agro-pastoralists.  Others like the exotic herbs and African leafy vegetables are highly profitable in a short time and can be grown organically in […]

  2. April 12, 2020

    […] Exotic herbs and spices like dill, parsley, thyme and rosemary. […]

  3. April 15, 2020

    […] kitchen garden is a rich source of nutritious foods.  You can grow many crops including herbs and spices like chives for essential vitamins and proteins.  You can diversity into micro greens, sprouts […]

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