Growing your own herbs can be a great way to freshen up your homemade summer dishes. They’re easy to cultivate for the new gardener and can grow right on your window sill, since herbs only require about 5 hours of direct sun. They’re ideal for both the outdoor garden and for apartment living.
Here’s a list of our favorite and easy-to-grow herbs, and descriptions of how they can add more than just flavor to your life.
Latin Name: Origanum Vulgare
This herb has a few different varieties but the most common is ‘Greek’ oregano.
Oregano seeds and plants can easily be found at your local nursery. If you choose to use seeds, plant them in an indoor pot, then sprinkle a light covering of soil on the top. You can choose to transplant your herb outside once the temperature stays above 45 degrees or continue growing it indoors. However, make sure your plant location is in partial shade. Too much sunlight can cause the leaves to shrivel, and too little will prevent it from growing.
This herb will spread about 18” around the area where you plant it but won’t likely grow more than 8-12” tall. When your oregano plant has reached about 5 inches high, it’s time to harvest. Make sure to harvest the leaves before the plant flowers in order to ensure the most flavor. To gather the leaves, simply hold the top of the stem with one hand and use the other to run down and strip the leaves. After harvesting clip the stems all the way back to the ground to encourage the plant to produce more stems.
Oregano is most commonly used in Italian, Mexican and Spanish dishes. You can also find it dried in a shaker on the table of your favorite pizza joint. The herb is a great final addition to almost any Italian dish such as lasagna, stuffed shells, or spaghetti. In order to retain the flavor of the leaves in hot dishes, add them towards the end. Cooking oregano too long can result in it tasting bitter.Brewing oregano as a tea can aid in easing menstrual cramps and using it in a hot bath can clear the lungs and bronchial passages. However, it should not be consumed in excess by pregnant women.
Latin Name: Ocimum Basilicum
The 13 different varieties of basil each have their own delightfully refreshing taste due to their being part of the mint family. The most common is sweet basil.
Basil is the novice herb. It requires little maintenance and can simply be placed on a window sill that receives at least 6-8 hours of sunlight. It can be transplanted outside as long as the climate is warm, and the area you choose is sheltered from wind. Like oregano, cover the seeds lightly with topsoil or just simply buy the plant and transplant it into a pot or garden.
If you choose to transplant them outside, they will attract slugs. You can repel them naturally in several ways, one way is with beer. Slugs love the brewed beverage and will do whatever it takes to get to it. Take a wide mouth jar and bury it in the soil up to the lip. The slugs will be attracted, fall in and drown. The more you harvest basil the better it will grow so feel free to pick what you need whenever you need it. However, don’t pick every leaf at once!
Different types of basil are great additions to ethnic dishes. Italian recipes commonly use Sweet basil, Thai uses Thai basil and Asian uses Holy basil and Lemon basil. It should be added last since cooking quickly destroys its flavor.
If you suffer from acid reflux, chewing on basil leaves may help to relive some of the pain. It can also be used as a fever reducer by boiling four to five leaves in water, adding ½ cup of milk, one teaspoon of honey and ¼ of a teaspoon ground cardamom. A basil tea can also aid in relieving a hang over.
Latin Name: Thymus Vulgaris
There are over 100 different types, the most common being Garden Thyme and Lemon Thyme.
Like oregano and basil, thyme seeds should be placed under a light amount of soil and placed in a spot with plenty of sunshine. When the plant gets to be 4” tall, take it outside for a few days in order to prepare it for transplant. This herb can spread up to 12” wide, so it will need plenty of room. Thyme only needs to be watered when it gets very dry. Feel free to harvest it year-round but it will be at its peak during the summer months. You can even harvest the plant’s flowers and use them in your recipes. Thyme needs very little attention and only requires occasional fertilizing over the summer to keep it healthy.
Thyme is used in all sorts of recipes including those for soups, sauces and even bread. As a warning, bees are very attracted to the flowers on a thyme plant. However, by brewing thyme tea and spritzing doorways and windows with it, you can also repel pesky summer insects.
One other great idea is planting this herb between the cracks in pavement or a stone walkway; just stepping on it releases a very pleasant aromatic fragrance.
Latin Name: Rosmarinus Officinalis
The word Rosmarinus means ‘dew of the sea.’ This herb is symbolic of remembrance, friendship, love and fidelity.
Rosemary can survive in almost all soil types but does best in light sandy soil. The key is to keep it from getting water logged. Unlike other herbs, rosemary is difficult to grow from seed. The best idea is buying a small plant. Rosemary can be grown inside, but it’s so hardy it could live for 20 years and can get as tall as one yard. This herb is a beautiful addition to a garden or landscape. When moving the plant to the ground or large deep pot make sure to place a handful of sand in the bottom of the hole.
This wonderfully aromatic herb is best used in grilling. It’s great with lamb and can also be used in bread recipes. This herb acts as a natural muscle relaxer and it’s great for digestive or menstrual cramping. Be careful to only use one teaspoon of dried leaves for a tea remedy since more could upset the stomach.
Latin Name: Salvia Officinalis
There are 750 different varieties of sage. Historically, the herb was used to preserve meat and was brewed as a tea in order to promote long life.
Like rosemary, sage is difficult to grow from seed and should instead be purchased from a nursery. If you plant it outdoors make sure to do so after all threat of frost has passed. Sage has a tendency to spread so make sure you leave enough room for it to do so. After planting, place a three-foot-high stake near the main stem and tie the plant to it for support. Once the flowers die, simply prune the plant down to about half it’s original size. Place it on a sunny window sill next to your other herbs and enjoy it all year round.
Sage works as a wonderful part of a dry rub and marinade for meats, or as a nice addition to different sauces. The herb is a virtual panacea, helping to treat sore throats, digestive issues and insect bites. In addition, the herb can be used to treat menopausal symptoms and improve memory.
Latin Name: Petroselinum Crispum
Parsley is native to the Mediterranean region and comes in two different forms, curly leaf and flat leaf. Some prefer the curly leaf due to its whimsical appearance on a dinner plate. However, others argue that the flat leaf has more flavor and is easier to cultivate.
Soaking parsley seeds in hot water the night before to prepare them for planting. This herb takes a little longer to sprout but once it does, it can easily be transplanted outdoors. If grown indoors, make sure to plant it in a deep pot to allow the taproot room.
This herb is used mainly as a garnish, adding a nice finishing touch and refreshing note to soups, pastas and meat dishes. It can also be used in making hearty stocks and sauces.
Parsley tea is a natural laxative and helps to control high blood pressure. You can also crush parsley leaves and rub them onto insect bites to reduce itching. Like Oregano, parsley should not be eaten in excess by pregnant women.
Latin Name: Anethum Graveolens
The word “Dill” is of Norse or Anglo-Saxon descent meaning sooth or lull. It is also the sole species of its genus.
Dill seeds don’t need to be covered heavily by soil when first planting them. Lightly sprinkle them with water and set them near a sunny window. Expect them to sprout in about 2 weeks. Unlike oregano, Dill is at its peak when the plant flowers. When the blooms begin to brown, you know it’s time to cut back your dill plant to allow it to sprout once again.
Dill is great in dips, especially those made with sour cream. You can also use it in bread recipes or as a finishing touch to fish, potatoes or stews. As with most fresh herbs, add dill near the end of the cooking process. Dill is also added in the pickling process, hence the term “dill pickle.”
Some believe this herb can help cure the flu and relieve chronic coughs. It’s good for newly nursing mothers and can prevent colic in your newborn. Dill is also said to aid in digestion and soothe the stomach, preventing flatulence.