Being in the colder months doesn’t have to mean the end of fresh herbs. Herbs make fragrant and attractive house plants. Whether you live in the country and have your own organic garden or live in the city, consider growing your own herbs.
House-bound Herbs Need…
Light: If your most convenient window doesn’t get much, supplement it with a special bulb called a grow light. (Two hours of grow light equal one hour of natural sunlight.) Requirements vary:
- All day sun: Chives, basil, anise, marjoram, borage, chervil, coriander, caraway, dill, rosemary, savory.
- Partial sun: Mint, bay leaf, parsley, rosemary, thyme, myrtle.
- No direct light: Ginger, lemon balm. If the foliage turns yellow, the plant needs more light.
Moisture:Use lukewarm water or the rinse water from sprout making.
- Keep moist: Mints, lemon balm, rosemary, ginger, scented geraniums.
- Dry out between watering: Bay leaf, marjoram, sage, oregano, thyme.
- Seldom Water: Aloe (the very useful “burn plant”) thrives on neglect-dry soil and little light.
- To increase humidity, set potted herbs on trays filled with water and gravel. Make sure the plants are over the water, not in it.
Fresh air: Herbs thrive at 50 degrees to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. On cold days, a slightly open window in an adjoining room will provide cool air without a draft.
Pest protection: Although herbs are usually pest free, indoor conditions can sometimes attract bugs. If they do, make a soap spray by dissolving two tablespoons of Ivory Soap Flakes in lukewarm water. Spray both sides of the leaves once a week. Note: Rinse leaves thoroughly before cooking or eating.
Space: Use a container with a diameter of one-half to one-third the ultimate height of the plant. Group plants together (this creates humidity) but not so close that they touch.
Plant an indoor window box: Place large plants (rosemary and tarragon) at the edges. Put smaller plants (basil, chives, thyme, parsley, and marjoram) in the center. Not good in boxes: Sage needs a deep container…lemon balm and mint spread like crazy.
Decorate with herbs: Put parsley, basil, thyme, marjoram, savory, and nasturtium in hanging baskets. Put tall plants (bay leaf and lovage) in decorative pots in corners. Place miniature plants (oregano, parsley, thyme) on tables or shelves.
Trimming: Keep plants cut back for a uniform, attractive appearance.
To get Started
Herbs can be grown from…
Seeds.* Clean your containers and fill them one fourth to one third full with drainage material (bits of broken bricks or clay pots, pebbles). Then fill them to within one inch of the top with sterile commercial potting soil. Label each container clearly. Mist daily until germination, then water as needed. Fertilize with liquid seaweed or fish emulsion one week after germination and again in one month. When the plants grow their first set of true leaves, thin them by leaving only the healthiest plant in each pot.
Cuttings. Get cutting from friends with outdoor herb gardens or indoor plants. Many herbs (chives, mint, oregano, lemon balm, etc.) spread so quickly that gardeners are happy to give some plants away. If you can’t plant the cuttings immediately, put them in water. When time permits, prepare a pot with a drainage layer, then fill it about half-way with soil, tamping firmly. Soak the soil.
Small Plants from a nursery. These are the easiest to deal with, but the most costly-about $2.50 each, and may not be available in the cooler seasons.
The joy and pleasure of growing and using your own herbs will give you lots of culinary pleasure. Have a great organic, aromatic and tasty feast.
Prepared for elephant journal by Lorin Arnold
Leslie Cerier, The Organic Gourmet-Chef, Educator, and Author of 5 cookbooks, specializing in local, seasonal, whole foods and organic cuisine that are not just good for you, but pleasurable and delicious. Her robust New England based business includes custom culinary work for private clients as well as private and group cooking instruction and coaching. Cerier is a pioneer and national authority on wheat-free baking, the entire spectrum of whole grains, and cooking with wild foods. Her specialty in grains has led to her being much sought after by health professionals and private clients to help them translate challenging dietary allergy issues into culinary success and meal satisfaction. Leslie teaches exciting “hands-on” vegetarian cooking classes in some of the most prestigious centers of holistic evolution and organic lifestyle. www.lesliecerier.com. She will be offering a special workshop about cooking with herbs and spices March 2-4 2012, at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, MA. Check out more at http://www.kripalu.org/program/view/SIU-121/spice_it_up_creative_cooking_with_herbs_and_spices.