It pays to grow fresh herbs in the kitchen, because they enrich any meal. Provide your kitchen with fresh herbs all year round using varieties that thrive on a sunny windowsill or under special herb light. For best results, grow each herb in its own pot so you can customize care and give the plant room to grow.
What is the best place to grow herbs indoors?
In natural light: South-facing windows are the brightest and can boast the most hours of sunshine during the short, cool winter days. Plants that originated in tropical or subtropical climates, such as thyme, bay leaf, basil, rosemary, and oregano, feel especially at home here.
East or west facing windows get about six hours of bright sun in the morning and afternoon, but you must expect east facing windows to stay cooler. Parsley, chervil, chives and mint, which grow well in lower light and prefer the cooler temperatures, do particularly well in this windowsill.
Full-spectrum grow lights, on the other hand, are ideal for all herbs. Start by shining bright light on plants 12 to 16 hours per day, adjusting lighting as needed.
Watering: How to care for herbs indoors.
Loose, fast-draining soil is a must for many herbs, especially those native to the Mediterranean region. A soggy soil can be deadly for these plants, especially in cooler ambient temperatures. At best, plant rosemary, thyme, oregano and bay in a mixture of half cactus soil, half regular potting soil. Special herb soil is also highly recommended and will fully meet the needs of your culinary herbs for the first growing season.
Allow the soil to dry slightly before watering. Other herbs, such as parsley, grow well in regular potting soil. Keep the soil slightly moist, but not soggy. Once or twice a month you should fertilize the herbs with a liquid herb fertilizer. Make sure that the fertilizer is organic.
What herbs can I grow in the kitchen?
Herbs that grow perennially, such as oregano, chives, rosemary, thyme, mint and bay leaf, are easiest to grow from young plants available at any garden center. You can also use small plants dug up from the garden. Many herbs can also be grown from cuttings. Basil and mint you can just put in a glass of water and they easily root quickly. Some herbs, such as cilantro and chervil, do best when grown directly from seed and resown throughout the year.
Note: Before you buy plants (or move them from the garden), check them for pests. Aphids, spider mites and scale insects are common on many herbs. What to look out for. Aphids and scale insects form sticky excretions around the plant. Spider mites spin filigree webs on and between plant parts. If you find these pests, you can temporarily wash them off with lukewarm, soapy water, but it’s best to start with a pest-free plant from the beginning.
Herb varieties suitable for cultivation in the kitchen
An important herb for kitchens around the world, basil is also a popular tomato partner and is easy to grow indoors. Use the leaves in salads, sandwiches and sauces. Make your own pesto from them. You can sow seeds or buy small plants, the only important thing is to use rich, organic potting soil to grow it. Basil loves warmth and bright light, so place it in a south or west facing window at best.
Alternatively, just use a grow light. Avoid cool, drafty spots, especially in the winter. Basil is not a long-lived plant, however. You should expect the plant to thrive for several weeks until the stems begin to lignify. To ensure a steady supply, plant a new batch of seeds every few weeks.
The thick, flavorful leaves of this Mediterranean shrub are important ingredients in soups and stews. Pick individual leaves as needed or harvest a few from the larger plants and dry them for further storage. The oldest leaves have the strongest flavor. Use quick-drying soil and place the pot in a bright east or west window. Good air circulation helps prevent disease. Watch for scale insects on leaves and stems. Keep neem oil on hand to control outbreaks.
Chervil is one of the four herbs used to make the traditional French fine herb mix. Flavor-wise, it resembles anise-parsley flavor. It is also an essential ingredient in béarnaise sauce and goes well with fish, potatoes, steamed carrots and eggs. Chop fresh leaves for salads, use it in white wine vinegar for dressings, or add the herb at the end of cooking to preserve the intense flavor.
Plant chervil seeds in moist potting soil in deep pots to give their taproots room to grow. Once germinated, keep plants in a cool place (15 to 17 degrees) and watch for moderate sunlight. Transplant every few weeks to have plenty of fresh young leaves available.
Reminiscent of onions in flavor, this herb adds mild spice to eggs, soups and salads and is also used as a pretty garnish. Use scissors to cut off individual stems, or give the whole plant a “crew cut” to trim the wilted stems clean. Leave at least 2 thirds to allow the plants to resprout. It’s best to start with a plant purchased from a garden supply store and repot it in rich, organic soil. Chives grow best in bright light, such as a south-facing window.
With dozens of flavorful varieties, you could devote an entire garden to mint. Choose from peppermint, spearmint, flavors of chocolate, orange, apple, banana and more. Harvest the leaves and sprigs for tea and mixed drinks, salads and desserts. Mint plants usually grow shrubby, and their trailing, fragrant stems make them attractive houseplants. Keep the soil moist and give mint moderate to strong light. Most mint species are hardy perennials that can tolerate subzero temperatures. Mint also makes a great decorative element on desserts. If you want to spice up your peach jam, add some mint.
A must for Italian, Mexican, Central American and Middle Eastern cuisine, oregano is a member of the labiatae family. Strip the leaves from the cut stems and add them to tomato sauces, meats, casseroles, soups and stews. The dried leaves are more pungent than fresh. Grow oregano as you would mint. Water when the surface of the soil is dry, but don’t let it dry out. The plants require moderate to strong light, so a south-facing window is best for growing indoors.
Choose between curly or smooth parsley, which do not differ significantly in taste, but visually do. Parsley belongs in every herb garden and is more than just a garnish, parsley adds bright color and flavor to soups, salads and fresh sauces. It’s indispensable in tabbouleh and delicious in pesto, stuffings, and chicken, fish and vegetable dishes. Harvest individual leaves by pinching off the stems near the base. Plant parsley in a deep pot with rich, organic potting soil and provide plenty of light, and your parsley will grow and thrive.
On a cold, wintry day, the earthy scent of a few crushed rosemary leaves can transport you to warmer climes. This herb contains a lot of essential oil and is easily recognized by its aromatic scent. The needled leaves are great for flavoring chicken, pork, lamb, soups, potatoes and olive oil. It also tastes delicious in tomato and cream sauces. Cut the sprigs and add them to soups, or strip the leaves and chop them. Rosemary tolerates hot, sunny, dry locations in the summer months, but prefers cooler temperatures (5 to 10 degrees) in the winter, as long as there is enough light.
Thyme’s versatile flavor – and its many sub-varieties – make it an important ingredient in almost every cuisine in the world. Its tiny leaves and trailing stems also give it a natural charm as a houseplant. If you plant potted thyme in a quick-drying soil and give it a warm, sunny window, you’ll get a lot of enjoyment from this herb. Water it only when the surface of the soil is dry, but you should not let it wilt.
Harvesting herbs in the kitchen
Now comes the part I’m sure you’ve been waiting for: how to actually harvest, use, and enjoy the herbs you grow in your new kitchen herb garden! The good news is that harvesting kitchen herbs is easy. You can do almost nothing wrong. Just make sure to never cut the plant all the way off, unless the plant is beyond saving and should be discarded. Otherwise, indoor herbs benefit from regular pruning. Harvesting and lightly pruning herbs ensures that they begin to branch and develop new growth.
Basil, chives, parsley, basil, oregano and mint grow back especially quickly. Continuously harvest small sections of annual herbs until the end of the season or until the first frost. Annual herbs continue to grow back throughout the season, even if they are only cut back to a few inches in height. Early in the season (spring and summer), you can cut back a perennial herb by almost half its height.
You should not skimp on pruning either, as this is the only way to develop many new shoots that will ensure healthy growth of the herb in the upcoming season. Try to cut the stems just above a natural branching or leaf node where a new shoot is already showing. From there, the plant will branch out on each side. For herbs with dozens of small stems (thyme, chives and dill), you can either cut a little off the top or cut back a few stems further down. Stay a few inches above the soil line when doing this. Rosemary, on the other hand, will just branch wherever you cut a stem.
When an herb plant starts to flower in the kitchen, it’s a signal that it’s just trying to form seeds. The leafy greens will become smaller, more bitter and tougher after that. If you don’t want the plant to flower, you can simply cut off the flowering tips as soon as you see them. If they persist, cut off the entire flowering stem. Keep in mind that not all flowering herbs die after flowering. Purple sage and rosemary bloom several times a year while the plants continue to produce new green foliage that is still edible for cooking.
Drying herbs in the kitchen
Indoor herbs are best when used fresh, but the harvest usually turns out larger than you can use fresh in a season. Air drying is not only the easiest and least expensive way to dry fresh herbs indoors, but this slow drying process can also help preserve the herbs’ essential oils. This way, you’ll preserve their aromatic flavor. Air-drying works best with herbs that don’t have a high moisture content, such as bay leaf, dill, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, summer savory and thyme.
A microwave or oven on low may seem like a convenient alternative at first, but you’re actually cooking the herbs this way, losing the oil content and flavor. Use these devices only as a last resort. If you want to preserve herbs with succulent leaves or a high moisture content, such as basil, chives, mint and tarragon, you could try drying them with a dehydrator. To preserve flavor, you should freeze your herbs. This is easy and even faster than drying in a dehydrator.
When it’s best to harvest herbs indoors for drying
Harvest your herbs in the kitchen before they bloom to get the full flavor in the drying process. If you’ve been harvesting all season, your plants will probably never get a chance to bloom. However, in late summer, even those herbs that have not yet flowered will begin to bloom as the weather cools (even indoors). This is a good time to start harvesting and drying your herbs.
Cut the branches during the morning, since the herbs indoors definitely experience the day’s cycle at the level of the sun or the incidence of light, it is recommended to harvest in the morning hours. The herbs are at their crispest at this time. Don’t cut off the whole plant unless you plan to replace it. You should never cut back more than two-thirds or remove more than about one-third of the branches of a plant at one time.
By the way, it is not advisable to buy basil and co. in the supermarket, because these products are bred by nurseries to look perfect at the time of sale and are produced virtually as a throwaway product. These plants are not sustainable and often not even able to form a perennial plant growth.