Thursday, September 18, 2014

Easy Peasy (Indoor!) Herb Growing

I've found that there is a fundamental difference between "home cooking" and restaurant quality food: fresh herbs. Think about it - most basic, classic recipes (you know, the ones passed down from generation to generation, and typically involving gravy) usually call for dried herbs, if any. It's that freshness, that spark of flavor, and pop of color on the plate that fresh herbs deliver which can completely transform a meal from ordinary to exceptional. Not to mention, many herbs were originally incorporated into foods for medicinal purposes; for example, parsley detoxes the kidneys and can help alleviate bloating and water retention. Who knew?

I've tried - and failed - to grow my own herbs on numerous occasions. Even when I've bought fully grown plants and attempted to simply keep them alive, no luck. In some cases, I chalk it up to my cats. Ever heard the saying "you can have a cat, or a houseplant, but not both"? Well, it's apparently true. As it turns out, cilantro just isn't going to grow on my apartment windowsill, and basil is... well, I give up on basil for now. The bummer is that these are two of my favorite herbs, and that I haven't really been able to provide the optimal growing conditions for either of them (full sun versus full shade, ample heat, dry soil, lack of cat). Luckily, there are plenty of herbs that are super simple to grow, even in a cramped NYC apartment. 

1. Rosemary - these plants with their thick woody stems are super sturdy and can survive just about anything. The bonus is that my cat doesn't seem to like eating it. You can even plant it from an existing plant - just stick a cutting of new growth into the soil. How easy is that? And as one of my favorite dried herb ingredients, the fresh version adds so much more flavor to marinades, meat, and all of my Italian cooking that it's absolutely indispensable. 

2. Parsley - I'm partial to flat leaf, which has a stronger flavor than its curly, 1980's-plate-decoration cousin. A fresh addition to any salad and a perfect garnish for just about everything, this herb likes damp (but well-drained) soil and you will need quite a bit of direct sunlight. If you have an east- or south-facing windowsill, this herb will flourish. Just sort of leave it alone until its nice and big (the size of a full-grown bunch you'd buy at a grocery store) and it will spread like wildfire in a large container. 

3. Chives - Who doesn't like a little sour cream and chive? Chives are great for adding an oniony, garlicky freshness to savory foods and fresh vegetables alike. These are easy to grow from seeds- simply follow the instructions on the packet, and they practically grow themselves. If you end up with an overwhelming bounty of chives at the end of the season, they're great for freezing so that you can have your fresh herbs all winter long. 

4. Garlic - Are you familiar with those little fingernail-sized, mini cloves at the center of a garlic bulb that are too much of a hassle to peel and chop? How about those stragglers in the fridge that have already begun to sprout, so half the time they get thrown away? Well, plant them. Yep. Pointy side up, about 2" deep in soil, and you'll have a garlic plant (and a new bulb) in about a year!

5. Thyme - Another woody, self-sufficient herb like rosemary, thyme will keep well in a windowsill that gets lots and lots of sun. Make sure the is well drained (I like to fill the bottom of a planting pot with gravel) and this hearty plant will keep itself growing year-round!

What are your favorite herbs to grow at home? Any tips and tricks for indoor gardening? Comment below!


  1. Any tips for basil? I really would like to grow basil at home.

    1. Funny you should mention that, because I've only just successfully learned to grow basil indoors. I think the key is to keep it pretty dry, and out of direct heat. A windowsill that doesn't get much sun is working for me at the moment, and I only water it once a week. Putting gravel in the bottom of a pot, below the soil, can help with drainage. I can't stress enough how important good drainage is! I always watered my basil too much in the past, which is why I could never keep it alive. Good luck!

    2. Thanks a lot! I will try your method. Hopefully it will work for me.