Cooking with herbs is the best way to bring out the flavors of food, plus some can be effective in other ways. It is easy to pass them in the grocery store in spite of that because fresh herbs usually cost a lot. Processed herbs cost less but are not as tasty and do not offer the benefits that fresh herbs do. It is better to grow herbs on your own. Herbs can be grown outside, but indoor herb gardens can be grown year-round no matter the climate. This makes them a great choice even for a beginner, because you have more control over the growth process, free from the weather and garden pests.
Herbs have been around for centuries. They've been used for flavoring and decoration, and some were believed to have magical properties. In ancient times, Greeks used mint as a body rub after bathing. Romans used herbs to decorate crowns for athletes. In the Middle Ages, rosemary was chewed for headaches. The earliest herbs in North America were used by Native Americans for food and tanning leather and hides. Once settlers began to arrive, they learned of the wild herbs and started planting and using them for food and medicines. The first windowsill herb gardens were pots of chives set on the sills for cows to eat. The Dutch settlers believed this would make the milk chive-flavored. Eventually, pioneer women started growing many cooking herbs inside. It was much easier to grab herbs from an indoor garden for the stew, than to have to go outside to get what was needed for the meal. Through the generations, the knowledge of how to create and grow indoor herb gardens was passed down until modern times. In recent years as women joined the work force, more herbs were purchased at stores instead of homegrown. Today, people are rediscovering the taste and efficiency of fresh herbs from their own indoor garden.
There are numerous varieties of herbs, which fall under two main categories: annuals and perennials. Annuals are planted every year anew. These are best for indoor gardens because planting pots have little space for herbs that are self-sowing and grow at will. A few of the annual herb types include:
Basil--Common but delicious herb used in many recipes and for stomachaches. It comes in a variety of colors.
Chamomile--This herb is not usually used in cooking except for occasionally tea. It is a member of the daisy family.
Dill--It is used to pickle foods and in cooking.
Chervil--used in cooking and also thought to help blood pressure.
Chives--Also used for cooking. One well-known use is to combine chives with sour cream to flavor foods such as potatoes.
Arugula--has a peppery taste and is used to flavor foods.
Parsley--This herb is not strictly an annual herb, but is most commonly grown like one and is in almost every indoor herb garden.
Aloe vera--This herb is often referred to as a plant instead of an herb because it looks more like an average houseplant and does not have any uses for cooking or flavoring. However, it is an herb with excellent healing properties. For example, it can be used on a burn or sunburn; clip a leaf, slitting it open to expose a milky interior, and then applying that milky side to the injured skin. It cools and soothes burns.
Growing indoor herbs is not hard to do but there are things to take into consideration. Choose herbs that you will enjoy using and decide how you want to start them. Most herbs can be started by seed in small pots or starter trays. You can even buy prepackaged herb kits with everything you need to start by seed. But a few herbs need to be started by cutting a small piece off of a parent plant. Some herb plants will do fine away from direct sunlight, but others need to stay by a window. For example, basil loves the sun and direct light right from being planted by seed all the way up to maturity. Oregano also loves the sun but that herb does better when started from a cutting.
You can plant your herbs or seedlings in any kind of container 6 to 8 inches deep so the roots have plenty of room. Garden centers or retail stores sell a variety of potting soils and mixes to use for planting. Consider the water needs of each herb. Most herbs do not use a lot of water. For occasional plants that need water more often you can use self-watering gadgets, usually a glass ball with a pointed end that you place in the soil with the ball side up. Water will drip down into the pointed end and into the soil as needed.
Most herb seeds will sprout and grow big enough to move to a regular container in 2 to 6 weeks. Then, growth time will depend on the herb and when it produces flowers. When the buds are just starting to open you can cut the herb stems or just pick the leaves for most kinds. In general, the complete time from planting to harvesting is a few weeks. Because indoor herb gardens can be grown all year long, you will have a continuous harvest.
Herbs can be used for just about everything. Culinary herbs are "food herbs" that make food taste better and add variety to meals. Some herbs can be added to flavor tea and benefit the tea lover by adding antioxidants and other healthy additions. Many herbs are beneficial to the skin when added to creams, lotions or shampoos. Herbs' wonderful scents can help reduce stress. This practice is called aromatherapy and can ease anxiety and offer calming qualities.These are just a few of the benefits having an indoor herb garden can offer.
The catnip herb is included in the group of mint herbs. While catnip has had other uses by humans, such as tea or medicinal, cats are the ones that really love this herb. It is often added as stuffing in cat toys. Cats will want to rub all over the catnip and may seem very animated and become vocal. Don't worry if your cat seems to go crazy around catnip. The weird behavior is normal and there is no need to get your cat medical help. Just be aware that in his anxious zeal, he could destroy your pots and herbs by accidentally knocking them over or crushing them.