At this point in the year, it feels safe to say that we have landed safely in the welcoming arms of spring and we have just a couple more months to go before the sunny balminess of summer is upon us. One of my favorite things to look forward to as warmer weather approaches are the many ways that garden fresh herbs can breathe new vibrancy into my culinary creations. However, the beauty of freshly grown herbs doesn’t stop there. Fresh herbs can be used for teas, as aromatics and for natural health and beauty remedies. What is even better is that there is no reason to wait until Mother Nature agrees that it is time to head outdoors to plant your garden. You can start right now, today, with a bountiful, fragrant indoor herb garden.
Indoor herb gardening is not only simple, but also therapeutic. You really don’t even need a green thumb to pull off a thriving indoor herb garden. You just need a few simple tools, the right plants and an idea of what each one of them needs to thrive. Growing herbs indoors is just a little different than growing them outside, and it is also a little different from tending to your average house plant. With that in mind, it is best to start with a brief description of some of the easiest herbs to grow indoors and some of the ways that you can use each to enrich your life.
What to Grow
Lemon balm contains compounds such as caffeic acid, ferulic acid and quercetin, which are all powerful antioxidants. The antioxidant capacity of lemon balm makes it an ally for protecting your skin from premature aging. Some research shows that the antioxidant protection of lemon balm is also beneficial in preventing mental aging and cognitive decline. Add to it that lemon balm helps to ease anxiety, promote healthy sleep and adds an incredible, fresh lemony scent to the environment and you can see why this is a well-rounded essential element for any herb garden.
Lemon balm is part of the mint family, which means that it is inherently hardy and can not only survive, but also thrive, in less than perfect conditions. Lemon balm grows best in warm, but not hot environments, which makes it perfect for the indoor garden. Even gardeners who plant lemon balm outside like to keep it contained in a container garden because of its tendency to spread and overtake not only garden space, but also the surrounding grass. It is also important to know that lemon balm is free seeding, which means that it can easily move from one container to another. For this reason, it is best to plant lemon balm alone in its own container and give it a little space between neighbors.
This pungent little herb is surprising rich in a variety of nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, potassium and iron. The vitamin K in chives supports bone health and is protective against certain types of cancer including three of the most common cancers; breast, colon and prostate. Chives are also great for easing digestive distress and the beta carotene in chives is effective for reducing the pain and redness of inflammatory acne.
Chives are one of those herbs that add instant character to any dish that you put them in, and they make a perfect last minute addition to that dish that just needs a little something. In my laziest moments, the last thing I want to do is run out to the garden just to chop a few sprigs of chive, so it makes perfect sense to keep this herb indoors where it is always handy. Chives do well inside, however they do need ample sunlight to the tune of about six to eight hours a day. Keep this plant near a sunny window. Chives also thrive with a little humidity; therefore, it is great to keep a few other plants near chives to promote a mildly humid environment.
Parsley, with a reputation of being nothing more than a garnish, is perhaps one of the most underappreciated of all herbs. Parsley is actually very high in vitamin C, which can help to support the collagen structures of the skin, increase skin elasticity and battle that unwanted undereye puffiness which can instantly add a couple of years to your appearance and cause you to look like maybe you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Parsley also has antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. So much goodness from just a little bit of green.
Parsley is a beautiful, vibrant green plant with delicately curly leaves. This herb that adds a little pizzazz as a garnish can also beautify your windowsill. Growing parsley indoors is relatively easy. It likes sunlight during the day and a slightly humid environment, so a warm windowsill, especially in the kitchen makes for a good spot to grow parsley. Keep the soil damp, but well drained and this plant will easily thrive.
Cilantro is one of those herbs that most people either love or hate. Personally, I love it for its aromatic qualities and the unique, fresh flavor component that it can add to practically any type of food or even drink. Need more of a reason to include cilantro in your indoor herb garden? This amazing herb is also an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-fungal, digestive aid, treats excess skin oiliness, prevents premature aging and protects cardiovascular health.
While cilantro is easy to grow indoors, it does not transplant well, so it is best to grow it from seed rather than bringing in an already existing plant from an outdoor garden or container. Cilantro has a limited root system, which means that it needs a good mixture of potting soil and sand to allow water to move freely through the soil and reach the roots more effectively. When it comes to watering cilantro, it likes properly watered soil, not overly watered soil. When you water this plant, you need to water it thoroughly to the point that water begins to escape out of the drain holes. After that, check the soil frequently but do not water again until the soil feels dry to the touch.
Mint is an all-around miracle herb. Not only does it taste great and is instantly refreshing but it also has the capability of improving your health and your mood. Treating your skin with a mint infused toner can help to sooth irritations, inflammation and heal dry, itchy patches. Consuming mint calms an upset stomach, eases symptoms associated with respiratory disorders, relieves congestion, improves focus and concentration and can help to ease depressed and anxious feelings.
The mint family, as we touched on briefly with lemon balm, is an extremely hardy and stable group of herbs. There are over six hundred varieties of mint, two of the most popular being peppermint and spearmint. Lemon balm, basil and catnip also belong to this family of herbs. Mint prefers partial, indirect sunlight for about six to eight hours a day. Make sure that the soil is damp, but take care to not over water it. Give your mint plants some space of their own as they like to spread out and take up home in their neighbor’s containers.
Ginger is in the running for one of the healthiest and most flavorful herbs around. While ginger is a well-known plant, because of its root like appearance, many people don’t think about ginger when it comes to planting an herb garden. Ginger is a rhizome, which is the underground part of a stem. Ginger is closely related to other warming, flavorful herbs including cardamom and turmeric. Of all the herbs, ginger is one that has received more focus from the scientific community in studies pertaining to its healing qualities.
A commonly known use for ginger is in preparations used in treating nausea and other stomach upsets. It is great for easing digestive stress regardless if it is sourced from the stomach flu, motion sickness or morning sickness. Ginger also helps to fight infections and is a powerful anti-inflammatory that is used as a natural complementary therapy for arthritis and potentially Alzheimer’s disease. If you are looking to drop a few of those extra pounds, ginger will give a little boost to your metabolism, helping it to function more efficiently.
Ginger is a unique type of herb to grow indoors. Start with a plump, healthy looking piece of ginger root. Soak this piece in water overnight to prepare it for potting. After soaking, simply place the root in soil that is moist but drains easily. After a couple of weeks, you will notice some delicate shoots poking through the surface of the soil. At this point, you still have a couple of months to go before you can harvest your ginger. However, when it is ready, harvesting is incredibly easy. All you need to do is dig a little in the soil, cut off the piece of ginger root that you plan to use and then replace the soil and continue growing until you are ready to use more. Ginger is easy, low maintenance, delicious and healthy.
A Few Indoor Herb Garden Tips
Now that you have a starting point for what to include in your indoor herb garden, there are a few tips worth mentioning that can help your herb garden thrive. Keep in mind that your indoor herb garden is different from the other plants that you grow indoors and should be treated differently. Here are a few quick strategies for a healthy, bountiful indoor herb garden.
- Starting from seed isn’t always best. Except for herbs like cilantro that do not transplant well, you will probably find it easier to start with transplants from your outdoor garden or one of the potted herb plants commonly found in garden centers or the produce section of grocery stores.
- Keep the outdoors in mind when watering your herbs. Typical houseplants do just fine with weekly watering. However, herbs are accustomed to growing in an outdoor environment where dew and precipitation help keep the leaves and soil at the correct level of moisture. Outdoor plants have evolved to thrive in soil that maintains moisture levels more effectively. Pay close attention to how your herbs respond to different watering and feeding schedules and then modify as necessary to suit their needs.
- Unlike houseplants, herbs like to be clipped. Clipping and using your herbs on a regular basis helps the plant more effectively distribute its food and water sources and it also promotes quicker, healthier growth. Herbs are meant to be used regularly and not used just for ornamental purposes.
- Most herbs need ample amounts of direct sunlight for at least four hours a day. A south facing window with good sun exposure is the best place for your herb garden. You can always move a specific plant away if it is receiving too much natural light.
- You don’t need to invest in an expensive arsenal of fancy lights and pots. Grow lights are great, however for common herbs they don’t provide too much benefit unless you have no sun exposure in your home. Save the grow lights for larger fruit and flower producing plants. You can use just about anything to plant your herbs in, but the main key to success is proper drainage.
If you look back at any point in our history, in any culture, you would be hard pressed to not find some evidence of a prominent relationship with herbs. Historical records tell us how herbs were used in ancient civilizations, and there are even some cave paintings depicting herbs that have been carbon dated back to prehistoric times. No matter how you look at it, we have a long standing, beneficial relationship with many types of herbs, both fresh and dried. Throughout time we have used herbs for spiritual, medicinal, beautifying and culinary purposes. Although our daily life is much different for us now than it was for the generations of ancestors that paved the way before us, we still hold dear the relationship that we have with the Earth’s natural bounty of herbs. You can continue this inherited relationship with beautiful herbs, and you can do it with little effort or gardening skill. All you need is a sunny windowsill, and a desire to infuse your home with fragrant, healing and delicious herbs.