Having an array of beautiful herbs in your kitchen or window sill can be one of the best ways to spice up your healthy eating routine. You don’t have to be an experienced green thumb! Here’s how to get started with your kitchen garden.
Step 1. Choose Your Plants
If this is your first foray into gardening, start small. Once you keep one or two plants alive, you’ll be ready to add to the garden! Choose herbs that you like to cook with, ensuring they’ll be trimmed frequently and you’ll be a happy cook. Herb plants with smaller foliage do better indoors, so if you’ve got a black thumb, opt for plants with small leaves like oregano.
There are two options for starting a home garden: starting from seed or buying herbs that have already been started at a garden center or farm. Seeding plants can be difficult, but some plants are easier to keep up than others. Some easy plants to seed indoors are basil, chives, cilantro, mint, oregano and marjoram.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil grows as an annual or short-lived perennial with a lovely aroma. When flowering tops appear, cut them off to encourage new leaves and keep them from going bitter. (The blooms are edible, as are most herb flowers.) There are a couple varieties of basil commonly available: Try “Genovese” for the most classic aroma and flavor; “Spicy Globe” for more compact growth, closer to 8 to 10 inches tall; or “Siam Queen” for which has a distinct spicy flavor, for your Thai dishes!
Cooking tip: Basil is best fresh. Always toss it in at the end of cooking—heat damages its flavor and color.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Chives are mild onion flavored grass-like sprouts, which have edible flowers in spring and early summer. Chives can be grown from seed, or purchased at garden centers and farmers markets all summer into fall. Like most herbs, trimming regularly encourages production. Chives can be cut down more than other herbs, and are very hard to kill. Some tasty varieties include “Compact Grolau” which is great for containers and windowsills, and “Grande” features big, broad leaves instead of narrow, grass-like leaves.
Cooking tip: You can freeze excess chives; use them as you would fresh. The edible flowers can also be frozen!
Recipe: Chive Flower Tempura
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
Cilantro grows fast, and is easy to grow from seed. It’s also known as Chinese parsley, and has a distinctive parsley/sage/citrus-like flavor. The entire cilantro plant is edible: enjoy the flowers, the leaves, the brown seeds (coriander) and the roots (in soups and stir-fries). Plant a few seeds each month to keep it in your garden year round. Some excellent varieties for window gardens are “Santo,” which lasts quite long; “Delfino” has fancy, lacy leaves that look lovely on the sill.
Tip: The ripe seeds are the orange-scented spice known as coriander. To harvest coriander, allow plants to flower and then collect seeds after they turn brown.
Recipe: Cilantro- Jalapeño Hummus
Mint [Peppermint (M. x piperita) and spearmint (M. spicata)]
Mint can be started from seed, but plants bought at farmers’ markets and garden centers often have better flavor. Mint is notoriously aggressive, so it’s best to grow it in smaller, separate containers from other herbs. Clipping growing tips monthly encourages new growth, and are great for tea. Peppermints and spearmints are best for cooking but have distinct flavor profiles; another variety, “Pineapple Mint,” has beautiful variegated leaves.
Tip: Mint is versatile and easy to dry. Cut the stems an inch or two off the soil. Wash and dry it, bundle the stems and hang it up in a cool, dry place.
Recipe: Cucumber Mint Lemonade
Oregano (Origanum vulgare ssp. Hirtum) and Marjoram (Origanum spp.)
The varieties of oregano and marjoram vary in size, flavor and growth habits. All are easy to grow from seeds. Hardy oregano can survive in an unheated garage, even in colder climates, and is a great plant for beginners. Like most herbs, the flowers can be trimmed to promote leaf growth and are edible. “Kaliteri” or “Greek” oregano has the best flavor for a pure oregano. “Italian oregano” is a delicious marjoram-oregano cross that has a spicy profile. “Sweet marjoram” is distinctively sweeter and more delicate.
Tip: Oregano has the strongest flavor in the summer, which is when it is best to dry.
Recipe: Vegan Ratatouille Pizza
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