There’s something magical about having fresh herbs among your cooking supplies — but summer is quickly fading and fall is on the horizon. Even if you did manage to get some herbs down in your garden earlier this spring, you need a backup plan if you want access to the good stuff all year long.
Welcome to indoor gardening! Indoor herb gardens not only give you fresh ingredients for your family meals during the cold months, but they also fill your home with their beautiful fragrance, help you feel more connected to the natural world and provide a little greenery for your decor.
Pick the Right Herbs to Get Started
You can start your herbs from seeds, cuttings or live plants that you buy from a garden center — but be careful which ones you pick. Here are our suggestions:
- Basil: Basil likes plenty of sun and water, but the extra attention you lavish on this fragrant little herb will be amply rewarded when you use it to dress up pizza, salads, pasta sauces and (believe it or not) homemade ice cream.
- Bay: The bay plant actually thrives best in small containers, so this is a natural choice for your indoor garden. Use it to flavor long-cooking dishes, like soups, stews and roasts — although it can also dress up a simple rice dish.
- Chives: These have a gentle onion-like scent and taste, and can easily be grown indoors. Pair it with fish, omelets, potatoes and dips for an upscale touch to your favorite dishes, and use its purple flowers on salads.
- Lavender: You may not think of this plant as a cooking herb, but it is. It’s especially favored for shortbread cookies and homemade breads, and it always smells wonderful wherever it grows.
- Oregano: This prolific plant is hardy under most conditions, indoors or out, and requires very little attention — and you will love finding new uses for it in your cooking. Naturally, you’ll want to add it to sauces and marinades, but don’t forget to add finely diced oregano to your favorite stuffing or bread recipes, also!
- Parsley: This herb is not meant to be a mere garnishment on a plate. In fact, the broad-leafed variety can be used with just about anything: roasted carrots and potatoes, grilled vegetables, cold salads, fish, beef and lamb alike.
- Rosemary: This herb is known for its strong scent, so you couldn’t ask for a better natural air freshener for your kitchen or home. This herb is a little fussier than some of the others to keep healthy — it requires lots of TLC and pruning — but it will pair nicely with almost any meat or vegetable dish you care to create, including rice and quinoa.
- Sage: If you love sage stuffing at Thanksgiving, you don’t want to forget this plant. It grows well indoors, and you can dry the leaves to store them — or just pluck a few fresh ones to season fish, pork and poultry at will.
Use Separate Containers with Plenty of Drainage
Your indoor herb garden won’t do well if the roots don’t have enough room to breathe and drain off the excess water that occasionally collects around them. Make sure that all your herb pots have plenty of holes for drainage and keep a dish underneath them to collect excess water.
You may also want to consider the indoor version of an old gardener’s trick: pebbles underneath the soil. Place a thin layer of stones at the bottom of your pot before you plant your herbs to help with drainage and prevent root rot. This can be useful if you’re aiming for an aesthetically pleasing choice of pots, like old mason jars, instead of regular garden pots.
Also, remember that each of your herbs needs their own pot. That helps you better organize the plants according to how much sun they need at any given point and keeps them from getting overcrowded. Herbs thrive best when they have plenty of airflow around them — and a little distance between your plants will keep any accidental diseases or mites that get into one of your pots from spreading quickly to the rest.
Pick the Sunniest Spots in Your House
When it comes time to hold Thanksgiving dinner or some other family event, you can use your herbs as decoration on the table or anywhere you please — but you need to give them as much sun as possible the rest of the time.
If your kitchen window doesn’t get the best light, put your herbs in front of whatever windows work the best, wherever that may be. If you see one of your plants struggling to produce leaves or leaves that are pale and anemic-looking, you need to find a sunnier spot for that plant.
Do take care that you don’t accidentally bake your plants, however, by setting them too close to a winter heat source. If you leave any pots above an HVAC vent, your plants will likely get too warm for their comfort. Indoor plants do fine at indoor temperatures — but they don’t like extremes. They get plenty of warmth from the sunlight coming in.
Finally, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your (very light) labors: Your indoor herb garden can not only be used to provide fresh ingredients for your culinary masterpieces all holiday season long, but they can also be used as gifts. Cuttings placed in water will quickly grow roots, and you can pass them out to anybody who admires your collection.