Try Something New This Spring - Grow Your Own Herbs

Herb Garden In Raised Beds
(Image credit: SbytovaMN)

Do you like chopped parsley on your new potatoes, basil on your tomatoes, tarragon hollandaise with your steak, or coriander in your couscous? Do you make regular trips to the supermarket to collect these green treasures? With spring on the way, you might consider growing all you need to make your cooking sing in your own garden or backyard. Herbs don't need much space and you don't need to be a green-fingered wizard either. You don't even need a garden! In fact, you can start with a few pots on a windowsill or in a small sunny corner.

Which Herbs to Grow

Most herbs can be grown in containers or outdoors and don't need too much looking after. They need sunshine, good soil, and not too much water. Many herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and lavender come from hot dry climates. They positively hate standing in water, so make sure you only water sparingly when the compost looks dry. Culinary herbs make a good starting point for the novice herb grower. You can use them to brighten up your cooking almost as soon as you've potted them-- how's that for an instant sense of achievement? Try parsley, basil, thyme, and sage for your first attempts at herb gardening. When your confidence has developed, and provided that you have the room, add rosemary, lemon balm, chamomile, lavender, chervil- your options are limitless!

Growing Herbs Indoors

Try growing herbs indoors. Herbs love light and sunshine. Select a window that gets the sun for a few hours every day. A blind would be good, as hot, midday sun can scorch delicate leaves. Assemble pots and containers that fit your windowsill. Buy healthy looking plants from your local herb nursery or garden center and plant in good compost. Water well and watch them grow. Most herbs are suitable for growing indoors, but I would give coriander (cilantro leaf) a miss. While the leaves are truly delicious and the seeds find wide use in the kitchen, the growing plant does not smell too inviting. If you must have coriander, grow in a pot or container in a sunny spot outside.

Herbs For Kids

Give your children's green fingers plenty of exercise by growing herbs with your kids. The easiest herbs to grow are mustard and cress (and they go well in lunchtime egg salad or roast beef sandwiches!). Take several empty egg cartons and fill the hollows where the eggs sat with cotton wool. Sprinkle on mustard and cress seeds and water gently. Place in a sunny spot and the seeds should germinate in about a week. Keep the cotton wool moist while the herbs are growing. Harvest with kitchen scissors when the plants are 1 to 1 1/2 inches (2.5-4 cm.) tall and add to egg salad, potato salad, or roast beef sandwiches.

Growing Herbs Outdoors

You don't need a large garden to grow herbs, as most are compact, bushy plants that need little room. So even in a small space, you can grow many different herbs. If space is at a premium, herbs win again, as they grow very well in containers. Again, choose a site that gets full sun for several hours a day. Some wind protection such as a wall, fence, or hedge would be useful. Plant your herbs in groups by usage or color or place containers with herbs between vegetables or flowers, such as pots of basil between the tomatoes.

Uses for Herbs

Herbs can do much more than just add sparkle to your cooking. The next time you have a sore throat, pick a handful of sage leaves, put in a mug, and pour over boiling water as if you were making tea. Leave to stand for five to ten minutes, then use as a gargle. Your throat will love you. To clean and disinfect your cutting boards and kitchen worktops, mix chopped rosemary with lemon juice and salt. Chamomile tea, left to cool and used as a hair wash, will brighten blond hair. Rosemary tea will do the same for brunettes.

Heather Rhoades
Founder of Gardening Know How

Heather Rhoades founded Gardening Know How in 2007. She holds degrees from Cleveland State University and Northern Kentucky University. She is an avid gardener with a passion for community, and is a recipient of the Master Gardeners of Ohio Lifetime Achievement Award.