A well-maintained indoor herb garden can provide year-round supplies of herbs, to be used anytime you need a few leaves of chervil for a salad, a bit of cilantro for garnish, or a handful of basil for pesto. I like to find indoor herbs at a local garden store- already potted and nurtured from their most delicate seedling stages, thus guaranteed to thrive anywhere from one month to several years!
Here is a list of five herbs to keep indoors, and a few beginners’ tips for each:
Basil, the queen of herbs. Regardless of the variety- Lemon basil, Thai basil, or ‘Sweet’ Italian basil- this plant is an indoor classic. When provided with rich soil and plentiful light, there’s no stopping its growth. Add a few torn leaves to pasta just after tossing in sauce for maximum flavor benefits.
Basil 101: To prune, snap off outermost leaves. And you know what they say- when life gives you too much basil, make basil-ade (aka, pesto).
Mint is a nice herb to keep around to use throughout the seasons. During the spring and summer, it can be used in punch and coolers (or, in that mint julep), or mixed with watermelon for a cooling dessert. During the fall and winters, crush a few leaves between palms and steep in hot water- instant mint tea.
Mint 101: Mint loves wet environments, so water liberally. Best to keep mint in its own pot- this plant tends to be a bit invasive, and might spread over an area and other herbs if allowed.
Rosemary is a favorite herb of mine to pair with meat. Mashed with a bit of garlic and olive oil, I like to smother this wet rub on chicken, over pork loin, and with hearty fish such as kingfish or swordfish. On their own, rosemary plants will let off a heavenly scent. I like to boil some with lemon and cinnamon to fill my house with a lovely Christmas-y fragrance.
Rosemary 101: These plants enjoy slightly drier conditions than others, but still make sure it is watered regularly. Snip rosemary plants with kitchen shears, straight off the top of the plant.
Chives are a hearty perennial plant, meaning you can keep cutting them back, and they’ll just come back for more. A grasslic herb with faint onion-like flavors, I often snip off a few blades to chop finely in my eggs each morning. Garlic chives are a nice addition to many stir frys, where its faint garlicky freshness can push the dish to the next level.
Chives 101: Snip chives at the base of each blade, and it will grow back the same- just like cutting grass on a lawn!
Bay laurel is an wonderful indoor plant that takes a bit of time to come into its own, but it will be well worth your efforts. A bay plant is typically a larger potted plant, more of a tree or topiary than a small windowsill project. Bay leaves can be scattered in the pantry to detract rodents, in closets to provide natural scent, and of course, to flavor the soups and stews of a variety of cuisines.
Bay 101: Instead of starting from seed, find a small bay laurel bush at your local nursery. Water regularly and sing to it, and it will grow over the years (the first we’re sure of, the second is merely a postulation).
Healthy Herb Environments:
Set potted herbs in a part of the kitchen or house that sees plenty of sun, but is maintained relatively cool and has decent air circulation. Herbs are prone to die if the temperature is too hot or humid. Water every day to keep soil damp- but not flooded. Rotate the pot every week or so to ensure that all sides of the plant have equal exposure to sunlight, and replant in a roomy planter with rich soil if you think the soil is getting too dry. Lucky for you, a healthy herb plant needs to be pruned regularly, which means you’ll often be snipping or snapping off a leaf or two to benefit both your dinner and your plant!
If you do find yourself buying your herbs at the store, that’s fine by us. Here’s a trick to keeping them around longer:
Wash well, dry with a salad spinner or lay on a towel to dry. Fill a cup or jar 3/4 of the way with water and place the plants, roots first, in the jar. Cover with a clear plastic bag, wrapping ends around the jar loosely . Store in the door of the refrigerator or on a top shelf. Your leafy herbs will last much much longer this way!