By: Victoria Le Maire, RD, LD
Fresh herbs make all the difference when cooking at home. Cilantro can take that amazing guacamole recipe to the next level, basil will create the pesto of our dreams, and oregano will bring Italy right into the kitchen. Now that we’re all spending a little more time at home, we’re bringing you a beginner’s guide to growing fresh herbs yourself. We hope you can enjoy them during this pandemic as well as year-round. It’s the perfect time to add a fun DIY project to your growing list.
1. Decide what you want to grow (and ultimately, eat!).
Before you start digging, do some research on which herbs are worthy of your time and a fit for your budget. A great place to start is determining your favorite types of cuisines. If you like Italian dishes, consider growing oregano or basil. Fan of Mexican food? Try out cilantro. The next step is deciding to buy seeds or use an established plant. Seeds will be a more budget-friendly option but require a little more attention.
Perennial herbs, like rosemary, thyme, mint, and chives are simplest to grow from an established plant. Some herbs can be started from cuttings that are placed in a glass of water, such as basil and mint. Basil, cilantro and chervil are best started from the seed and will require being replanted throughout the year, as they only last one season.
2. Find the right spot.
The type of herbs you’re looking to grow will determine where they should live. For example, an herb like basil thrives with a ton of sunlight, whereas marjoram prefers to be in a shady spot. Most herbs require plenty of natural light so place them in a window that will get ample amounts of sun. According to Bonnie Plants, try to find a spot in which the herbs will get at least 6 hours of sun daily. Reading about the specific herbs you’ve decided to grow will help you optimize their placement and treatment.
3. Get the equipment.
Selecting the right containers will be key for herbs to bloom successfully. The material of the pot can vary from clay, metal, wood or cement. The most important thing is that the pot should provide proper drainage. Whichever container you choose must allow excess water to escape. Although we love mason jars to create overnight oats, we don’t recommend them for growing herbs because they lack holes in the bottom. Another thing to know when choosing your pot is that size does matter. The pot needs to comfortably fit the plant you plan to grow. Aim for a container with about 8 inches of space per plant. Remember, you’ll also need to purchase soil and fertilizer to plant your herb. We recommend potting soil as this will drain water most effectively.
4. Caring for your plants.
Herbs require consistent care to help them flourish. Sunlight, water and temperature are variables to monitor. Most plants need a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight each day. Be sure to water your plant anytime the soil feels dry to the touch. If you decide to put your herbs outside on a sunny summer day, keep in mind that if it’s way too hot for humans outside, it’s likely too hot for your plants as well.
5. Use and enjoy them.
Now you’ve finally arrived at the stage in which you can enjoy the fruits of your labor! Here are a few creative ideas on ways to use your homegrown herbs:
- Try a cucumber mint smoothie
- Infuse your own oil
- Make a compound butter
- Add them to salad dressing or a vinaigrette
- Create a basil or cilantro pesto
- Kitchen hack: place leftovers in an ice cube tray, freeze and pull one out the next time you sauté vegetables or meat for a flavor packed dish.
- Dry them
- Group them in small bunches, tie together with twine or a rubber band and hang them upside down in a cool place (the kitchen may be too hot for them to dry) with circulating air. In a few days, you’ll have dried herbs which you can crumble and store in a glass jar or store whole in an air-tight container.
Ready, set, grow!