Herbs to Grow in the Kitchen
It is amazing to see people using jars of dried herbs from the supermarket and wondering why their food remains bland. Most herbs bought from the supermarket contain a lot of rubbish. The companies that make them will dump anything into the shredder to make up the weight, including woody stalks, roots and dust. The plants are also chemically raised and lacking many of their beneficial nutrients in the first place.
The ‘fresh’ herbs sold in supermarkets are little better, and are also chemically reared. Take a good look at that cheap basil plant next time you are in there. The poor thing is clearly weak and unnatural. Its leaves are an artificial luminous green, its stems are hollow and it has a strange rubbery texture.
The only herbs you should be using are those you have grown yourself; your heath and your dinner guests will certainly thank you for it. But what if you don’t have a garden?
Well use your kitchen. Because most herbs will happily grow on the kitchen windowsill.
If you already have a herb garden outside, then good for you. But you still might want to grow small quantities of oft used herbs indoors so they are at arm’s reach. It will save you getting wet socks when it has rained, you need a particular herb, and can’t find your shoes.
All you need for an indoor herb garden are some nice little pots and a windowsill that will get a decent amount of sunlight. It is best to put them in the kitchen because they like the steam, but if yours is especially gloomy then just use another room. The good news is that most herbs behave like weeds, so they are very easy to grow and keep alive.
Basil is a member of the mint family but tastes very different to mint. It is the quintessential Italian herb and particularly sublime in ragu and other tomato-based sauces. You can also use it on salads, pizzas and paired up with garlic for a posh cheese on toast. Basil reduces stress, calms the stomach and relieves coughs and colds, no herb collection should be without it.
Growing basil indoors is a cinch. The plant likes good drainage so choose a nice little pot with holes at the bottom. Add a few stones to the bottom of the pot to stop soil blocking the holes, and then add compost until the pot is about ¾ full.
Now sow some basil seeds a few inches apart and cover them over with a little more soil. Wet the soil with a mini-watering can or spray bottle and place the pot on your warm windowsill.
Your new basil seedlings will start popping up within a few weeks. When they have a few leaves on, you should thin them out. They need to be about 15cm (6”) apart, so if you are using a small pot you may only have space for a few to come to fruition.
Water your basil every so often to keep the soil moist, but do not over water or soak the plants because their roots can rot. Every so often you can add a few chicken dung pellets to top to keep the plants healthy.
Wait until your basil gets to a decent size before harvesting, and don’t be too greedy. When picking, always pull leaves from the top of the plant working downwards. This will stop the basil going ‘leggy’ (tall and spindly).
Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and your basil plant will not live forever. It is an annual, so every year you will have to let it go to seed and grow a new one.
Oregano is another member of the mint family and the legendary ‘pizza herb’ of Italian-American cuisine. Most of the corrupted Italian dishes that we love in their American form use oregano as a catalyst; pizzas, meatball marinara and spaghetti bolognaise will all benefit from its addition. This herb fights bacterial infections and has antioxidant properties which beautify the skin.
The method for growing oregano indoors is exactly the same as the one given for basil, except it has a more definite requirement for warmth, so make sure it has a prime sunny spot on the windowsill.
Harvest oregano from the top just like basil. But your oregano plant is a perennial, so it will last more than two-years before you need to replace it.
Mint is grandfather to the previous two herbs but more vigorous than either. It is good for general digestion and cleanses the palette, it can cure nausea and headaches, help lung function and ease depression. Mint is of course the perfect addition to lamb or boiled new potatoes.
Growing mint is similar to growing basil or oregano but you should add a little sand to your compost. It also likes a little more moisture, so use a misting spray every so often in addition to watering.
Mint can be grown from seed like the others, but it is also very easily transplanted. If you want to transplant some, then find an established mint plant and dig up a portion of it. You should be able to find and separate a complete stem and root. Look for one that is young and healthy.
When you have it (or a few), dig a little hollow in your pot of compost big enough to accept the plant and place it in there. Hold it while you fill in with more compost. Water the plant in and keep watering three times a week for the first few weeks until the roots have taken hold.
Parsley is a different type of herb than the first three, it is related to carrots, celery and coriander. We use parsley as a mild garnish and a stand-by herb that you might employ to give some depth to a dish without overpowering it. It is especially complimentary to fish-based meals. Parsley is rich in vitamins, supports healthy joints, regulates blood pressure and helps flush toxins from the body.
Although a member of a different family, parsley is easily grown and cared for using the same methods as basil and oregano. The only differences being that it is not so dependent upon sunshine and you should soak the seeds in water for a few hours before you plant them, otherwise they have a habit of failing.
Thyme is an evergreen shrub and another member of the amazing mint family, although it looks and grows differently to most mints. Its deep, earthy flavour is excellent with pork, chicken, lamb and game and it comes loaded with antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Thyme is difficult to grow from seed so it is best to get a cutting from a friend who has some. Dig up some of the target plant at a corner and carefully break away a clump of the plant and its roots. Divide that clump into 4 sections, so that you have 4 mini thyme plants each with a stem and root. Fill a pot ¾ full with compost and plant your thyme sprigs. Water them in and place upon a windowsill. Keep watering every few days until the plants take root. If one or more of them dies pull it out.
Once established, thyme does best if it is left well alone. You only need to water it every so often when the soil looks dry. To harvest, snip away sprigs from the top with a pair of scissors.
Chives are a member of the onion family and native to China. Their stems work deliciously as a mild addition to cheese or egg and they contain plenty of vitamins and stimulate the cardiovascular system. Chives are very easy to grow indoors and make an especially attractive plant for the windowsill.
Fill a pot ¾ full with compost and water the soil. Sprinkle seeds liberally over the top and cover with a little more moist soil. Place on the windowsill and keep moist. The seeds should germinate within two weeks.
Once your chives have begun to sprout you only need water them when the soil is dry to the touch.
Harvest when the stems are 15cm (6”) tall. Chop the tops off with a pair of scissors but leave a few inches of stem so as not to kill them.
Chives are perennial so you should be able to keep your plant going indefinitely, but you will need to divide them and change the soil once every few years.
Turmeric is native to India where it is used as a colourant. We are used to seeing turmeric in its ground form but fresh turmeric looks exactly like an orange version of fresh ginger.
This herb should be more popular because it is extraordinarily beneficial to human health. It helps reduce bowel problems, prevents cancer and leukaemia, eases cystic fibrosis, protects the heart, reduces cholesterol, lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s, and has often been touted as the most effective supplement in existence. It is also a proven anti-inflammatory agent that relieves arthritis.
You may be surprised to know that turmeric can be grown indoors in pots in the UK quite easily and it is a fun one to try. However, the plant grows quite large with beautiful tropical leaves like a parlour palm. So it is perhaps more suitable for standing in the corner of a room near the patio doors or in your conservatory. Each turmeric plant can produce around 2kg of turmeric each year, which should be more than enough for anyone.
To grow turmeric at home you need to get hold of some fresh rhizomes (turmeric roots). You can order these from the internet or sometimes find them in traditional Indian food markets if you have one close to you. Try to find rhizomes which look lively and have little buds attached.
Take a fairly large pot or trough and fill it with compost. Wet the compost and bury some rhizomes 20cm (8”) apart and 5cm (2”) deep. Place the pot in a warm spot that gets plenty of light but don’t water again until shoots come up. The plant should begin shooting about 5 weeks later.
Water the plant regularly but only when the soil becomes dry to the touch. Do not overwater it or the rhizomes might rot. You can put your turmeric outdoors during the hottest summer months but it will not tolerate a temperature below that of a warm summer’s night.
You will need to wait ten months from planting before you can harvest turmeric. When the leaves turn yellow you will know it is time. Dig carefully at the sides of your pot and pull up some of the stems and their rhizomes. Remember to leave some of the plant (and rhizomes) in the pot and it will die off to come back the following year.
You can then eat your rhizomes fresh, or dry and grind them into a powder so that you can enjoy this powerful herb year round.
You can follow this same method for growing ginger, which is another health powerhouse.
Now you know how to grow herbs around the house you need never waste money buying them from the supermarket again!