A to Z of Starting Your Own Herb Garden
Herb gardens are the thing! They are all the rage and rightly so, owing to the numerous benefits they bring with them. They are lush with a variety of foliage and oh the fragrance…they will make your home smell divine. The food scene in India is growing by leap and bounds and global cuisine has invaded the Indian kitchen and if you are experimenting with cuisines from other countries you will agree with me that fresh herbs elevate the flavour profile to another level.
Herbs don’t take up much space and if you Pinterest the idea, you will get several hacks for space saving herb gardens on window wills, kitchen shelves in mason jars, and what not. We are here to tell you the A to Z of starting your own successful herb garden, coz heaven knows it’s not similar to ornamental gardening!
Let’s start with the planning:
- Identify an area in your home that gets direct sun for at least 3-4 hours and bright indirect light for the rest of the day. It can be anywhere, in you balcony, windowsill, kitchen shelves or a wall where you can install shelves.
- Make a list of herbs you need. There is a plethora of herbs that are grown across the globe, select the ones you use more. For Indian kitchens coriander and mint are a no brainer, apart from these select the ones you want such as basil, rosemary, thyme, parsley, marjoram, sage and so on.
- Group herbs with similar needs, for instance sage, thyme, and oregano prefer rocky soils that are relatively dry, while mint, cilantro, and parsley need a rich but well-draining soil.
- Select pots with good drainage. One of the most common killers of herbs is overwatering, so it becomes essential to ensure that they are never in standing water and the soil is rich but well-draining.
- Always use good quality seeds. Spend a few extra bucks and get quality seeds for a thriving herb garden. Good seeds also contribute to better taste.
- Stock up on equipment like pots or planters, they can be anything from basic plastic pots to mason jars or old container, the only requirement is proposer drainage at the bottom. Sharp scissors for regular harvesting of herbs, herbs are all about the foliage and the more you prune/harvest the bushier they get. Get yourself a watering can for watering directly into roots, herbs like cilantro or parsley don’t like water on their leaves. Stock up on basic fertilisers and organic pesticides for denser foliage and better growth.
With the planning out of the way let’s move on to the actual herbs and their requirements.
- Parsley: Parsley is a mild bitter herb used in everything from Italian to Middle eastern cuisine and goes on both as a garnish and as an integral ingredient. It helps dishes like soups and stews achieve a balanced flavour. Parsley is a good source of Vitamins A and C and as an added benefit, it also aids in digestion. It is often grown as an annual that grows to be large and bushy.
- Mint: There are several varieties of mint. It is famously used in drinks like mojitos or mint juleps, it also adds freshness to your iced tea and lemonade (nimbu sharbat for the win!). Dried mint is used in marinades for kebabs and mint and coriander chutney has a cult following of its own. Medicinally mint freshens the breath and will help to calm your stomach. Take care to grow it in a container or this invasive species will spread and take over your garden. Give it a partially sunny spot with ample watering in a well-draining soil.
- Basil: Basil is bae! You can love the large leaf Italian basis or purple sweet basil, I won’t judge. This plant is popular in many cuisines but is a hero in Italian cooking like pizzas, salads, sauces, and pesto. Basil has several health benefits and is said to provide defence against low blood sugar. In old Greek and Roman civilisations basil sprigs were carried around to be used as mouth fresheners. Give it a sunny spot with a well-draining but rich soil.
- Rosemary: We have declared Rosemary the queen of herbs. A flavour bomb for poultry, meats, and vegetable dishes, it also finds extensive use in sweet dishes in modern cuisine. It has a very distinct and potent fragrance that soothes the senses, it is used extensively in candles for aroma and soaps for its anti-microbial properties. Rosemary likes its soil a bit on the dry side, so be careful not to overwater and watch it grow into a full sized bush.
- Coriander: It is also known as Cilantro or Chinese parsley. It is the OG Indian herb, and almost any savoury dish can be elevated with coriander, irrespective of the cuisine. Personally, it is a staple and who can say not to the green chutney. Coriander like a rich but well-draining soil, give it a cool spot and never water on the leaves, they will blacken and rot.
- Thyme: One of the most delicate looking herbs, thyme is often used for flavouring meat, poultry, vegetables, or soups. As a condiment, very few things can beat thyme butter. It is frequently used in the Mediterranean, Italian, and Provençal French cuisines. It loves full sun and a very well-draining soil.
- Sage: Sage true to its name finds use in both culinary escapades and religious practice of certain communities. It is an aromatic herb used extensively for seasoning meats, sauces, and vegetables and needs to be used sparingly to prevent it from overpowering the complete dish. Sage also helps to relieve cuts, inflammation, and is believed to help with memory issues. Sage is an easy herb to grow and is relatively easy to care for in dry well-draining soil with ample sun. It’s great in your garden for attracting bees.
- Oregano: A famous member of the mint family, native to the warm climates of Eurasia and the Mediterranean. Oregano is a perennial plant and is sometimes called wild marjoram in certain parts. It is used for flavouring a plethora of dishes and is a staple herb of Italian and American cuisine. In the United States, it gained popularity following World War II as the “pizza herb.” Give it a light and well-draining soil with full to part sun, it is more tolerant to underwatering.
- Chervil: With flat lacy leaves and a hint of anise in its taste, it enhances the flavour of chicken, fish, vegetables, eggs, and salads. A quintessential heirloom herb that was most likely introduced to European herb gardening by the Romans. Closely related to Parsley, chervil has become an indispensable herb plant in the kitchen and a classic component of French cuisine. It loves full sun in rich loamy soil, but do not overwater.
- Chives: Chives are native to Asia but have been used as an additive to food for almost 5,000 years. A member of the garlic family and chives are famous as garnish especially with sour cream. Mostly used for flavouring, it is one of the “fine herbs” of French cuisine. It works well with eggs, fish, potatoes, salads, and soups and are an excellent source of beta carotene and Vitamin C. They thrive in full sun in a rich but well-draining soil.
After the planning and the list of herbs that can be grown easily as a part of your kitchen garden let’s move on to a few pointers for maintenance.
- Water each herb as per its needs. A standard rule for watering is to dig your fingers one inch into the soil, if its dry and does not stick to your finger then water the plant. Another tell-tale sign is dropping leaves.
- Ensure that there is plenty moving air around your herbs. Stuffy and closed growing environment attracts pests.
- The more your prune your herbs, the more they will grow. If growing from seeds, prune the top couple of leaves once the plant is at least 6 inches long to promote branching. After that pluck, the top couple of leaves on very branch to have bushy growth.
- For harvesting, never cut more than two thirds of a plant or branch. Never let your herbs flower, the flowering changes the taste of your herb, so keep pruning the growing tip.
- Feed your plant with a well-balanced organic fertiliser in growing months for better growth and use foliar spray for bigger leaves.
- If you have more herbs than you need, air dry them completely over days and then store them in airtight containers to be used later.
The list of herbs you can grow are endless and so are their uses in both culinary experiments and medicinal requirements. Herbs are easy to grow and do not require daily attention, they are just finicky about light and water, too much or too little of both kills them. Take it from my personal experience, there is nothing more rewarding than a kitchen garden.