Growing Herbs as Houseplants

>> Friday, January 4, 2008

Every time I pickup a garden book I start getting giddy about what new things I might learn. This giddiness is something that has been with me for years and hasn’t let up once even though for many years I didn’t even have a garden.

Growing herbs has the same effect, or rather, the prospect of growing herbs.

The same picture always comes to mind when thinking about growing my own herbs. The scene is in the kitchen at a bright sunny window. On the ledge is a long tray holding several pots of lemon grass, basil, thyme, and parsley.

I have no idea why I always picture these particular herbs, but the lemon grass (pictured here) really stands out. I think it’s the combination of colors and textures that appeals. Have you ever seen trays of various types of grasses growing in health food stores? My image is kind of like that.

This past summer I grew parsley and dill out on the deck in a container, along with several varieties of coleus. When the cold weather hit the coleus was the first to go. The dill followed shortly thereafter, but the parsley lasted a long time, even with snow on it. The container was an experiment of sorts in texture and color. And no plans were ever made to actually use the herbs.

I’ve grown basil with tomato plants in a container and they looked beautiful together even before the Basil bloomed. But I kept them for their blooms instead of actually using them in any food dishes.

Well, this year is proving to be no exception to opening myself up to all the possibilities of what I want to grow. I can already feel that familiar giddiness and not one garden catalog has been opened yet.

Our kitchen is on the north side of the house so that little indoor herb garden that is planted so vividly in my mind will not come to pass in this house. Setting up grow lights might work but some rearranging is going to have to take place. In the meantime, I might start something in my office, which sits on the south side but behind the dogwood tree. I still get about six hours of sunlight which is considered full sun, so it should be okay, but more would be better. I also have enough room to set up a grow light here if I need to.

If you are interested in growing your own indoor herb garden here are a few tips I have picked up over the years and will hopefully try this year.

Good quality potting soil. It provides good drainage, because herbs don’t like wet feet. Organic is best if you plan on actually eating the herbs. Also, with good potting soil you don’t need to place stones or pebbles in the bottom of the pots for drainage.

Water the plants when the top of the soil feels dry.

Fertilize sparingly. Herbs don't require much when grown outdoors, but they will appreciate an occasional feeding. In keeping with the idea of eating the herbs then an organic fertilizer would be best.

Temperature is easy, Herbs should grow well in temperatures that are comfortable for people. No problem here, I like it toasty warm too.

There are some herbs that won’t grow well indoors but unless you plan on going gonzo extreme in exotic herb choices you should be okay. I think size is the biggest limiting factor. Some of these herbs can take over a room if you let it. Just read the labels for the herbs you want to grow and make certain you and they can tolerate each other indoors.

Another tip to consider is that some herbs are rapid growing, spreading like crazy, such as any member of the mint family. But seeing as how these are going to be in their own containers this should not be a problem. Most herbs don't mind being a bit crowded in the pot and the size of the pot will curb the growth to an extent.

Good choices for herbs to grow indoors are mint (the variety is amazing), chives, thyme, rosemary and oregano.

There are many uses for Mint. The leaves can be rubbed on itchy skin. It has a cooling, slightly numbing effect. Also, you can rub them on your gums to relief a toothache.

Mints can be used to aid digestion either by simply chewing the leaves or steeping them in hot water to make a tea that if drunk before bedtime will almost guarantee no indigestion.

Peppermint tea is great for menstrual cramps, diarrhea, and tummy aches.

Dried or fresh leaves in your cupboard will keep mice away. Growing pots of pennyroyal mint will help keep mosquito populations down.

Chives are mainly used in cooking. As a member of the onion family with a very mild taste, it goes well with potato dishes. I have even heard it used in pasta dishes. The flowers are an interesting shade of pink and since I will be growing herbs mostly for decoration, this plant will add a nice contrast to the mostly green foliage.

Thyme has a multitude of uses as a flavoring in vinegars, jelly, herbal soaks, soups, stews, gravies, stuffing and vegetables. It is a basic ingredient in Spanish, French, Italian, and Turkish cuisines, and is also widely used in Lebanese and Caribbean cuisines. It has a particular affinity to and is often used as a primary flavour with lamb, tomatoes and eggs.

Rosemary is a member of the mint family and as such, lends itself well to growing easily anywhere. It can be used fresh or dried and is used frequently in traditional Mediterranean cuisine. It has a bitter, astringent taste, which complements oily foods, such as lamb and oily fish. Since it is attractive and tolerates some degree of drought, it is also used in landscaping.

Oregano is another, what I call, ornamental herb. The purple flowers can be used as a garnish, but its leaves are used in Greek and Italian cooking. Americans are most familiar with its use on pizza, tomatoes sauces and fried vegetables. Oregano is also used in medicine for its high level of antioxidants and is known to have antimicrobial activity against food-borne pathogens which is useful in food preservation.

The great thing about herbs is that when the weather is favorable for them they can be taken outdoors and planted in the garden. They can also be brought back inside at the end of the season. Just be sure to allow some time for adjustment to light and temperature changes. Also, you will want to clean up the plant and check for pests before bringing them indoors.

My indoor herb garden will probably only be for looks, but hey, isn’t that what ‘houseplants’ are for?


mightymatt1313 January 6, 2008 at 11:27 AM  

Beautiful Herb pictures!!

Hydroponic vegetable gardening indoors January 27, 2010 at 5:14 AM  

Thanks for the post, we will post your Hydroponic vegetable gardening indoors article. I will post for our customers to see your articles on your blog Hydroponic vegetable gardening indoors

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