Growing Herbs

growing herbs

Why Grow Herbs?

You can grow herbs anywhere. Growing herbs take up little space, are great to cook with, are easy to grow, and a great way to save money. Herbs can be grown indoors or out, and can be taken with you if you move.

Growing your own herbs can save you money. They will make cheap ingredients taste amazing, saving you money on food. They are expensive to buy fresh, and cheap to grow.

Cooking with herbs you grew means you can choose fresh or home dried. You can grow different varieties and try different flavors. You can make gourmet sauces, teas, and meals out of cheap ingredients that taste expensive.

With a sunny windowsill or inexpensive grow light, growing herbs inside is easy. You can also grow them on a patio in containers. If you have a yard, you can grow them in the ground. When growing herbs outside you enjoy the benefits of encouraging beneficial insects, pollinators, and making better soil.

To cut the amount of plastic you buy, you can buy lots of ingredients in bulk. Yet herbs, fresh or dried, don’t last long and so shouldn’t be bought in bulk. Growing herbs means you buy less plastic and other packaging. It also means wasting less food because your herbs won’t go bad in the fridge.

Herbs have other benefits. They smell amazing, and are beautiful. No matter the size of your garden, herbs can bring beauty to your home and yard. Gardening can improve your physical and mental health, and growing herbs are a great way to start out on a gardening journey.

Starting out with growing herbs doesn’t take a lot of commitment. If you are interested in learning to grow your own food, starting with herbs is a great option. If you like growing herbs, you can try out some cherry tomatoes or growing strawberries next time!

Having fresh herbs on hand means you can cook at home easier, also saving you money. Seeds, pots and soil are much cheaper than buying fresh or dried herbs.

Herbs in the yard can be used as great ground covers or for replacing the lawn. Insects don’t damage them much, and beneficial insects love them.

Herbs aren’t just for cooking, either. You can use them to make your own tea blends. You can start learning about herbal medicines as well. Herbs can be used to repel pests in the home, and in cleaning blends.

What Herbs to Grow?

When first growing herbs, it’s best to start with easy herbs that you already cook with. There are annual and perennial herbs to try. You won’t need a lot of space to grow each outside, maybe a square foot of space per plant. Indoors, stick with compact varieties, so you can use less space.

Growing herbs is great because they don’t need as much light as tomatoes or other veggies. They can handle partial sun, making them ideal for growing inside or in a less than ideal location.

There are many herbs out there to try. Here is a list of more common ones that are easy to grow:

Basil

Basil is the most commonly used herb in the US. It tastes peppery, slightly like anise, and a bit like cloves. It comes in many different varieties and colors.

Since basil is a delicate herb, it is best added at the end of cooking for maximum flavor. It goes well with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. Pasta dishes, chicken, eggs, and pizza all benefit from basil. Try mixing it with berries, peaches, plums, and figs as well.

Growing basil indoors requires more heat (75F or so) and they are short term house plants. Use basil for a few weeks until it starts getting woody. Plant new seeds frequently to keep it in steady supply.

Chives

Chives have a light oniony taste. They are great raw, or added at the end of cooking. Use them with eggs, potatoes, soups, sour cream, breads, and vegetables.

Chives are perennial herbs. The long thin hollow stems, the purple flowers, and the bulbs are all edible. They are easy to grow outside and inside.

Cilantro

Cilantro is one of those herbs that you either like or you loathe. Some people find it soapy and hate it. Most of us don’t, and it’s just a delicious addition to guacamole.

Cilantro looks a bit like parsley, but has smaller leaves and longer stems. It tastes a bit citrusy, and can be used at the beginning or end of cooking. It goes well in spicy meals, salsas, chicken and fish, and combines well with fruits like mango, pears, and bananas.

Growing cilantro can take a bit of time to get started from seed. It is sensitive to drought, so make sure to keep it well watered.

Dill

Dill is often added to pickles, but you can also use it with potatoes and creamy dips. Dill is described as clean and grassy. Try it with fish, beans, eggs, soups, and potato salads.

Dill looks like a delicate fern with soft hair-like leaves. It tastes like a mix of celery, fennel, and parsley. Fresh dill has more flavor than dry and can be added to foods before or after cooking.

Mint

Though peppermint and spearmint are the most common, there are tons of types of mints out there to try. Peppermint is strong and cooling while spearmint is lighter and sweeter. Other varieties taste differently, often with the flavor of the name of the mint.

Peppermint and spearmint have rough, jagged green leaves. They make great herbal teas, but also can be added to lamb and pork chops, to chocolate and sauces, cocktails, and fruits.

Mint is considered an invasive plant. Unless you want it growing all over your yard, you are better off with it in pots, or indoors.

Oregano

Oregano is an herb that is slightly sweet and spicy. Mediterranean (or Greek) oregano is milder than Mexican oregano. They have a strong flavor, and should be used at the beginning of cooking.

Use oregano with pizza, pasta, and tomatoes. It goes well with cheese, eggs, pesto, meats, and salad dressings.

Parsley

Parsley can be curly or flat. The flat parsley is peppery while curly is blander. Flat is best in long cooking while curly is a nicer garnish.

You can use parsley in soups and stews, with fish, vegetables, and sauces. Try it with fruits like bananas, mangoes, pineapples and summer melons.

Rosemary

Rosemary has a strong pine like smell and flavor. It grows on woody stems with needles. You can use both stems and needles in cooking. Add the whole stem and remove it before serving.

As a strong herb, it goes well with robust meats, as well as potatoes, marinades, fish, eggs, also oranges and apricots. It is a perennial herb, but won’t grow well with Maryland winters.

Sage

Sage is a slightly peppery, slightly minty herb. It goes well with heavy or creamy dishes. Sausages, dairy, and breads pair well with it.

Add sage at the beginning of cooking. Add it to stuffings, beans, potatoes, and tomato sauce.

Sage has light gray green leaves. The leaves are soft and fuzzy.

Thyme

Thyme, like other herbs, has several varieties available that may look different. In general, thyme is sweet and slightly pungent. It goes well with basil, sage, and lavender.

Before cooking, strip the tiny leaves off the woody stems. Add to dishes at the beginning of cooking. Use it in broths, soups, breads, meats, potatoes and marinades. It also goes well with cherries, figs, grapes, peaches and pears.

Tips for Growing Herbs

Container herbs outside can be brought inside in the winter if you have a sunny window. Some work better than others, but it’s worth trying if they’ll die otherwise.

If you choose to buy plants instead of seeds, get at least six inch pots for individual herbs. If you are growing herbs from seed, you can start in any small container and transplant into a bigger one later, when they are 2-4 inches tall.

Look for herbs that don’t get too big if you want to keep them small. Chives, basil, lavender, parsley, mint, rosemary and thyme are good options for smaller herbs. You can also look for compact or dwarfing varieties of herbs.

If you don’t have enough window light to grow with, you can place fluorescent lights no more than 18 inches above the plants to supplement light, keeping them on for about 10 hours a day, maybe more like 12 to 16 if they need it.

Once plants are six inches tall, start using them. The more you use them, the bushier and healthier they will be. Never trim more than a third of your plant to avoid damaging it.

Annual herbs don’t last forever. Some herbs, like basil and dill, will go to seed in four to six months. You’ll want to reseed them to keep a supply around. Perennial herbs last much longer, but can be harder to start from seed.

Most herbs indoors will want to be in a south facing window for maximum sunlight. A few herbs can handle the west window instead, like mint, parsley and thyme. If you find your herbs growing leggy, yellow, or pale, they probably need more light.

Most indoor herbs can handle temperatures that are appropriate for people indoors. However, basil likes it hotter, more like 70 or 75 degrees F. Basil, if too cold, will let you know within 24 hours.

Some herbs like it moister than others. Make sure you have drainage holes, as no herbs like wet roots. Some like more humidity, so grouping them over a tray with wet stones below, or misting them with a sprayer can help.

Mediterranean herbs prefer faster drying soil. Rosemary, thyme, oregano and bay laurel plants prefer a mix of cactus soil and regular potting soil. Let that mix dry a bit between watering.

Indoor herbs that thrive well are basil, chives, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme.

Keep indoor herbs in separate pots. That way you can adjust watering, fertilizing, and light requirements. Indoor herbs are easy but can be fussy.

Make your indoor garden pretty! Use fun containers, mix them up together. Something you enjoy will be something you maintain and use. You can enjoy them better. They can be great houseplants!

How to Use Herbs

When you grow your own herbs, you always have what you need on hand, so you don’t waste expensive store bought herbs.

Fresh herbs can be used in all sorts of recipes for meals. You can also use them in teas, salad dressings, oils, butters, dips, breads, vinegars, and even cocktails. For non edible uses, you might want to try making potpourri or sachets to make your home smell good or repel pests.

Some herbs are better fresh, others dried. Tender herbs like basil, parsley, and chives are better fresh because they have a subtle flavor. Tougher herbs like rosemary, oregano, and thyme might be better dried because their flavors are more concentrated.

Use fresh herbs in dishes that have shorter cooking times. Dried herbs take longer to release flavors, so they are best in longer cooked dishes.

Of course, you can use dried or fresh depending on what you have on hand. To use fresh instead of dried, add 3-4 times the amount of dried that is needed. Add them at the end rather than the beginning.

Storing Herbs

Though fresh herbs don’t keep well, there are many ways you can preserve them for longer if you have extra or your plants die. You can dry your own homegrown herbs and gift them to friends and family.

Before preserving your herbs, do a bit of research first. Learning more about water content, chance of mold, and essential oil levels can affect whether you should dry or freeze your herb.

Herbs like basil, sage, cilantro and rosemary are easy to dry because they have larger, solid leaves. Herbs like tarragon, thyme and dill have smaller leaves that need to be removed from the stem.

You can dry any herb you want, of course, but some will work better than others. Make sure you label as you dry so you don’t end up confused about what you have when you are done!

Herbs can be dried in hanging bundles, on drying racks in the open, in the oven, in the microwave, or in a dehydrator. Try different options to see what works for you.

Since it’s quite humid during Maryland summers, you may want to try a dehydrator or the oven. Bunches of herbs, though pretty, might mold before they dry.

Store dried herbs in small jars. Don’t crumble them at first because some flavor might be lost. Larger leaves may need some crumbling to fit into containers. Remove the hard stalks.

You can also try freezing your herbs. Delicate herbs should be washed, chopped, and placed in ice cube trays and covered with water or olive oil to freeze. Hardier herbs can be frozen on a cookie sheet and kept in a container in the freezer.

Growing herbs is easy to do. It can improve your health by improving your cooking, and your environment. You can save money by making cheaper meals and not spending money on expensive herbs.

Try growing herbs and learning to use them. It’s cheap to get started, and can be a fun hobby that saves you money!