Why should you consider growing herbs indoors year-round? Fresh herbs can give your salads a new wow factor, elevate your home-cooked meals to a new level, garnish dishes to impress guests, and add a special zing to your tea or mojito. Growing herbs inside does take a bit of a green thumb, and if you don’t come by that naturally, don’t be discouraged by trial and error. Once you find a plant’s sweet spot for its necessities—light, water, temperature—it will happily grow and serve your needs.
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Best Herbs to Grow Indoors
Basil is a staple for many dishes, especially when tomatoes are a key ingredient. Basil leaves are a great addition to salads, sandwiches, and sauces, especially pesto, which uses basil as a key ingredient.
Bay laurel is known for having thick, flavorful leaves that serve as essential ingredients for soups and stews—perfect for cool-weather soul food. The oldest leaves have more flavor than new shoots, so keep that in mind when harvesting.
Chervil is a member of the parsley family and an important ingredient in Béarnaise sauce. Fresh leaves work well in salads, and this herb pairs very well with fish, eggs, potatoes, and carrots, especially when steamed.
Chives is a versatile favorite that works well in any dishes in need of a mild onion flavor. Soups, salads, dips, stews, pasta dishes, chicken, steak, baked potatoes…it works well in a wide variety of dishes. Because heat diminishes the delicate flavor, be sure to wait until the final steps before adding chives into your dish. This plant can handle hard and frequent chopping, but be sure to leave a minimum of 2″ of growth to ensure the plant can resprout. This herb is less intolerant than some of the others and is usually a fairly easy keeper. If the leaves start to turn brown from lack of watering, don’t fret; chives usually rebound after a good drink.
Cilantro (also called coriander) is a member of the parsley family with a pungent, distinct taste. It’s not for everyone; some people are genetically predisposed to an aversion of the herb, claiming that it tastes like soap. Cilantro works well in salsas, soups, stews, curries, salads, tacos, and vegetables, as well as fish and chicken dishes. It’s even used in lime margaritas! Cilantro doesn’t transplant well, so you’re better of starting with seeds or starter plants rather than trying to move from the garden. When growing indoors, it’s likely to become spindly. Pinching back the new growth will force the plant to maintain a bushier, more robust shape.
Dill is a member of the carrot family and has a sharp, fresh flavor that works well with seafood, especially salmon. It also adds a punch to cold dishes, such as potato salad, cucumber dishes, chilled soups, cottage cheese, cream cheese, and goat cheese. If you haven’t tried dill in an omelet or burger, you’re missing out!
Mint has dozens of varieties, including peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, and more. Freshly snipped leaves and sprigs pair perfectly with salads, tea, desserts, and mixed drinks. It’s a fairly hardy perennial that is able to tolerate cooler temperatures.
Oregano is a member of the mint family and is a critical ingredient for many Italian, Mexican, Central American, and Middle Eastern cuisines. Like basil, it pairs well with tomato bases and sauces as well as meat, casseroles, soups, and stews. Oregano’s leaves are more pungent after they’ve been dried as opposed to fresh snippings.
Parsley is a versatile herb that makes a delicious addition to pesto and the number one ingredient in tabbouleh. Although commonly used as a garnish, it also adds a colorful and flavorful kick to stuffing, chicken, fish, and vegetable dishes, as well as soups, salads, and sauces.
Rosemary has a wonderfully earthy fragrance and a flavor that pairs perfectly with chicken, pork, lamb, and potatoes. It also works well in soups and recipes that call for olive oil, tomato-based sauces, or cream sauces.
Sage is common in Mediterranean cuisine. It pairs particularly well with veal, cured meats, sausages, pork, turkey, and stuffing, and soups. Sage is generally quite drought tolerant and is quick to perk up after a good drink if it’s looking a bit wilted.
Thyme has a place in just about every type of cuisine, particularly Cajun and Creole, and it pairs well with a variety of other herbs, including cilantro, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and sage. Thyme is an important ingredient in Caribbean jerk seasonings. It adds a rich, earthy flavor to meats and is an especially strong addition to pork, lamb, duck, goose, and turkey.
Keep in mind that not every window in your house will receive the same amount of light, and certain herbs are better adapted to certain locations. North windows likely won’t have enough light. South-facing windows will receive the most light in comparison, especially in winter when the days are short and the sun is lower in the sky. A south window is best for herbs that are native to tropical and semi-tropical climate conditions. This includes basil, bay laurel, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
Windows oriented to the east and west receive bright light in the morning and afternoon. But east windows tend to stay at a lower temperature, and this is the ideal place for herbs that like cooler temps and indirect light. This includes chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, and parsley.
Another option, especially in homes that don’t have much natural light, is to use full-spectrum grow lights. Herbs can be left under grow lights for 12-16 hours a day. Remember that not all herbs have the same lighting needs, so you may need to adjust the time for certain plants as needed.
Just as not all herbs like the same amount of direct sunlight, they don’t all thrive getting the same amount of water, either. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep your herbs in separate pots rather than planting them all together. If you do want to use a single pot or planter, be sure to do your research and ensure you’re grouping together a set of herbs that have similar light and water needs.
In all cases, soggy soil is a surefire way to kill your herbs by causing root rot. Fast-draining soil is the best choice; this can be achieved by blending regular potting soil and cactus mix. Let the soil dry out a bit between waterings. You’re more likely to kill your herb by overwatering rather than underwatering. Because different herbs have different water needs, it’s good practice to let the soil dry between waterings, then give your plants a thorough drink and let the excess water drain out of the soil. Keep an eye on your plants; in many cases, they’ll let you know if they aren’t getting enough water. The leaves will droop or start to turn brown on the tips when the soil is too dry.
If you notice your plants aren’t doing well, you’ll want to check a variety of factors. First, the soil. Is the soil bone-dry? Your herbs are thirsty and begging for a drink! Is it soggy even though you watered a few days ago? Repot in a better draining soil and then be sure to water less frequently, although by the time plants start to show stress from root rot, it’s often too late to save them.
If the soil doesn’t seem to be the issue, check the leaves for signs of pests. If your plants have been infected, you should be able to see small insects on the undersides of the leaves or, in the case of spider mites, you’ll see webs between the leaves and stems. There are various treatment options, including sprays for the leaves and granular treatments for the roots to absorb. If you’re struggling to get pests under control, use multiple different treatments at once.
According to the EPA, neem oil is safe to use as a pesticide on edible plants: “A determination has been made that no unreasonable adverse effects to the U.S. population in general, and to infants and children in particular, will result from
the use of Cold Pressed Neem Oil when label instructions are followed.” (Biopesticides Registration Action Document: Cold Pressed Neem Oil PC Code 025006).
Still, it’s best to err on the side of caution and use the product sparingly. Also, you should strongly consider rinsing off the leaves before you use them.
If there’s no sign of pest activity, your plant is probably not happy in its current location. Try moving it to a different window or adjusting how much time it spends under a grow light.
Experiment and Enjoy!
Growing herbs indoors can be a very rewarding experience! It’s a fun way to experiment with new flavors and enhance your cooking. It also gives you more control and allows you to grow organic produce, giving you peace of mind to know you don’t have to worry about pesticides and other things beyond your control or knowledge when you’re purchasing from the supermarket.
What are your favorite herbs to use in recipes? Share your favorite pairings in the comments (and maybe find some inspo for your next experimental dish)!