This is a guest post from Sylvie of Gourmande in the Kitchen. Welcome, Sylvie!
The fresh grassiness of a sprinkle of chopped chives over soup, the robust earthy flavor of fresh thyme leaves on roasted vegetables, and the heady aroma of just-picked mint in your tea are just a few of the reasons it’s easy to fall in love with cooking with fresh herbs.
Fresh herbs offer us good looks, great flavor, and intoxicating scents. Luckily, these rewards aren’t limited to those of us with a garden; just a few pots indoors can supply you with a variety of flavor-enhancing culinary herbs all year long.
Cultivating an extensive herb garden is wonderful if you have a yard, but many people don’t have access to an outdoor space. Fortunately, it’s not hard to grow the same herbs indoors, even in a small space.
If you’re a novice gardener or don’t have much of a green thumb, growing an indoor culinary herb garden is an easy place to start. Most herbs are sun worshipers, so all you need to get started is a nice, sunny place in your house for them to call home.
ALL photos by Sylvie.
Commonly used herbs
Each herb has a different aroma and taste. Choose ones you use the most often in your cooking.
Rosemary is an evergreen herb that is generally found in warm climates, but that will do well inside in containers in colder areas. It has a strong aroma and flavor and is generally used in Mediterranean cuisine.
Basil is a member of the mint family. The most popular kind of basil used in Italian cooking is sweet basil, but another widely-known type is Thai basil.
Chives are a member of the onion family. They grow in clumps like grass, producing hollow, thin leaves. Another popular variety is garlic chives. Both varieties have a mild flavor that is great with eggs or on top of baked potatoes.
Oregano is another Mediterranean herb with a strong flavor; it’s a favorite in Greek and Mexican cuisine. Another herb with a similar flavor profile is Marjoram.
Thyme has woody stems with small intensely aromatic green leaves. It is a classic addition to French cuisine and pairs well with numerous vegetables, meats and egg dishes.
Parsley comes in two main varieties: curled leaf and Italian. The Italian variety is milder and most often used in cooking. It adds freshness to a dish.
Sage is a beautiful herb, with a soft grayish green color. Like oregano and rosemary, it’s another strong herb that should be used sparingly.
Mint comes in two main varieties: spearmint and peppermint. Peppermint is the stronger of the two and is the mint of choice for medicinal purposes like soothing upset stomachs. While spearmint is milder in flavor, either can be used for cooking purposes.
Caring for Your Herbs
Choose a container large enough to accommodate growth and make sure it has ample drainage holes. Also make sure to buy a tray for underneath your pot, to collect and drain off excess water.
- Start with a high quality organic potting soil (one that is appropriate for vegetables) and a few of your favorite herbs.
- Fill the pot with soil about three quarters of the way up.
- Moisten the soil lightly with water until moist but not wet.
- Remove the herbs from their containers, loosening the soil at the root base, taking care not to damage the roots.
- Evenly space the herbs in the pot and fill with enough potting soil to cover to the top of the root ball.
- Pat the soil down lightly and water well when finished.
TIP: Mint grows like a weed and can easily overtake and crowd out other herbs, so it’s best planted in its own container.
Light is the most important element in growing indoor herbs. Find a spot in your house that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of light per day. If you find your herbs are growing long stems but few leaves, then they are probably not getting enough light and are stretching to find it.
TIP: Regularly rotate the orientation of your pots with respect to the source of sunlight so that they don’t lean in one direction.
Water each herb according to its individual needs. To test whether your herbs need watering, insert one finger up to the knuckle into the soil to test for dryness. If the soil is dry, water the herbs. Make a habit of testing the soil before you water your herbs to prevent overwatering.
Good drainage is also important; don’t let water accumulate at the bottom of the pot. Water thoroughly, then let drain completely to avoid water logging the roots. Leaves turning yellow are one of the first signs of overwatering.
TIP: Plant herbs with similar watering requirements together. Rosemary, for example, prefer to remain on the dry side while basil needs to be watered frequently.
Regular clipping will promote further growth. Even young plants need to be clipped regularly to encourage them to branch out and become fuller, but don’t cut more than a third off.
If your herbs start flowering, they are not being clipped regularly enough. Cut off the blooms and clip back down to one third.
Growing your own herbs indoors can be a rewarding experience that doesn’t require a lot of experience or effort to be successful. Their beauty and aroma are sure to inspire your cooking creativity.
What are some of your favorite herbs?