Green Ways to Grow Herbs
Look in nearly every chef's kitchen and you're sure to find one thing in common: Herbs. Across the globe and in every culture, herbs are used to flavor all kinds of dishes. A few leaves of basil or a pinch of oregano can instantly turn any dish from bland to brilliant. But herbs offer much more than just flavor. They also pack all kinds of nutrients and health benefits. For example, Rosemary contains antioxidants which can help ward of certain types of cancer. Unfortunately, dried herbs often lack the falvanoids and oils which make fresh herbs so flavorful and nutritious. But don't fret! Growing your own herb garden is MUCH easier and cheaper than you might think.
This month I've found myself falling more and more in love with nature. I've spent my days picking mulberries and raspberries, and I realized how much tastier food is when you grow it yourself! So I set out to grow more of my own food- I started an herb garden. I decided to recycle by planting my herbs in containers I found around the house or made myself. So I set out around my house, like a mad scientist, rummaging through closets, picking through our recycling and garbage cans. I got creative. After I planted my herbs, I was amazed at how quickly they sprouted! It has been less than a month and I am already enjoying fresh basil and cilantro.
Pick your herbs.
There are so many herbs to choose from, it can make your head spin! Here's a list of basic herbs as well as their flavor components and health benefits.
- Basil: This herb is an excellent source of Vitamin K, which helps blood to clot and can help ward of certain cancers. Basil is also a good source of Iron, Calcium and Vitamin A. Basil also contains anti-inflammatory properties and can help protect your body from free-radical damage. Basil is slightly sweet, slightly spicy and has licorice undertones. This herb is commonly used in Italian cooking, and stars in Pesto and pairs well with tomatoes and mozzarella.
- Thyme: Thyme is an excellent source of iron, maganese, and vitamin K. This herb is also jam packed with antioxidants. It has also been used medicinally to treat upper respiratory ailments. Thyme is a bit pungent and clove-like. It is savory, and a little goes a long ways. Great with all meats and roasted vegetables.
- Rosemary: Rosemary is used to boost immune function, increase circulation and has anti-inflammatory compounds. This herb has a pine-like flavor and is very fragrant. Rosemary is great for flavoring chicken and lamb dishes.
- Cilantro/Coriander: Cilantro, also known as Coriander, can raise 'good' cholesterol while lowering 'bad' cholesterol. It may also stimulate insulin production in diabetic. Cilantro is a spicy herb and is often used fresh in Mexican dishes.
- Sage: Sage is closely related to Rosemary, and also has anti-inflammatory properties as well as antioxidants. Sage is earthy and minty, with a hint of lemon. Sage is a staple in stuffing! Use to flavor savory dishes such as stews, soups, poultry and fish.
- Parsley: Parsley isn't just for garnishes anymore! This herb has properties which have been known to inhibit tumor growth. Parsley is also a good source of folate, which helps keep the heart healthy, and an excellent source is vitamins A, C, and K. Parsley is mild, slightly peppery, and savory. Use it to flavor pastas, soups, vegetable dishes, and to pair with other herbs.
- Oregano: Oregano is packed with antioxidants. Also, it contains potent anti-bacterial properties. Oregano is also a very good source of fiber, maganese, and iron. This herb is earthy and a distinct clove-like flavor. Use Oregano to season any tomato dish, as well as poultry and fish.
You can find many varieties of seeds nearly anywhere that specializes in home and garden. Home Depot, Target, Walmart, Ace. There are many varieties of each herb, so read the description of flavor on the back of the seed packet. Make sure to check the expiration date on your seeds, they do spoil.
Pick Your Pot.
- Disposable Water Bottles. We've all seen the commericals. 1 hour on the treadmill, for ever in a landfill. Although everyone should be using a reusable water bottle, many of us don't. So instead of tossing your plastic water bottles in the trash, use them for your herbs. Simply use a sharp serrated knife and cut the bottle in half. Plant your herbs in the bottom half. (You can save the top half and use it for a funnel to fill up bird feeders or a scoop for the cat food!)
- Other drink containers. Water bottles aren't the only containers that can be recycled! Nesquick Chocolate milk, 2 liter soda bottles, Sobe life waters, (I like these, they're very sturdy) energy drinks. Just rinse out your bottle of choice and cut in half or to desired height.
- Fish bowls. Nemo took his final swim years ago, so get out that fish bowl and put it to use! You can also use the small plastic aquariums that hold fish and hermit crabs. Get creative and add colored marbles or rocks to the bottom before filling with dirt.
- Coffee mugs. Most of us have more coffee mugs than we really need, so pull out your Disney World 1994 and Worlds Coolest Sister mugs and get planting! You can make your herb garden look funky by mixing and matching your mugs, or more uniform by using all the same color/style.
- Mason Jars. Next time you finish your grape jelly rinse it out and save it. Mason jars make adorable planters!
- Egg cartons. Cut off the top of the egg carton and save the 'egg part.' Fill each hole with dirt and plant different seeds in each one!
- Empty paint cans. Just clean out the inside- the paint on the outside gives it character!
- Old baking dishes. Muffin tins are great for planting several different herbs.
- Disposable Coffee/drink cups. My favorite reusable planter is a clear iced coffee cup...You know, like the tall kind from Starbucks? I have mine on my window sill!
- Food tubs. Yogurt cups, sour cream, even peanut tins work well for herbs.
- Get creative. Practically anything that can hold water can be turned into a planter for your herbs. Buckets, unused safe boxes, old soup bowls. Use your imagination!
Pick your dirt. The type of soil you want to use for your herb garden is entirely up to you. I like to use my own soil from my garden as often as possible. This ensures that my soil is free of fertilizers and additives. If you like, you may also use a bag of basic top soil found at any gardening our home store. Look for basic soil, without fillers or fertilizers. Remember, you are what you eat. Whatever is in your soil will end up in your food, which ends up in you. You can also save money by mixing in a bag of store-bought soil with the dirt from your yard. Whatever soil you decide to use, make sure it is very fine and moist. Make a healthy mixture of soil by incorporating ground eggshells, used teabags (not the bags, just the tea!) and compost. You'll have thriving plants without having to use toxic fertilizers.
Planting. Now the fun part! You've picked which herbs to plant, you've bought your seeds, you've scavenged for containers, you've mixed up your dirt. Now it's time to plant! If you have a tall container, fill the bottom with rocks or marbles to use less dirt. Fill the container to the top, and follow the planting directions on the seed packets. Make sure to cover the seeds with a very fine layer of dirt, so they are not smothered. Water the plants right away with a spray bottle- using a watering can will drown and dislodge the seeds, but a spray bottle will give a gentle, even mist. Water your herbs at least once a day, more if it is extremely hot outside.
Pick a spot. Your herbs are planted, and you've surely got a funky array of containers. Now it's time to decide where to put them! Each herb has different sun requirements. Some may need full sun, some may need shade, others adapt to whatever weather. Place your herbs somewhere where each herb can get the sunshine it needs. For example, a patio which is partly covered by a tree. The herbs which require full sun can sit out uncovered, while herbs which need shade can be placed under the shade of the tree. I have my herbs placed on a shelves my dad made. The plants which need most sun are on the top shelf, and the plants which need less sun are on the lower shelves.
Window sills are also a fun way place to plant herbs, especially in the kitchen, for easy access. Just make sure to water them every day, and rotate them so the entire plant gets the sun it needs.
Most herbs will take about 7-14 days to sprout, and will be ready to harvest in about a month. After you use your home-grown, fresh herbs for the the first time, you'll realise that all your hard work is definitely rewarding. The health benefits and fantastic flavor are unmatched, and will make an essential addition to your healthy cooking!