There’s no arguing with the appeal of farmer’s market herbs, but as the weather gets colder it doesn’t tend to be a luxury that lasts. Luckily you don’t need a green thumb to grow your own herbs indoors and it’s easy to do year-round. For tips, I chatted with Dr. Pamela Yee from the Blum Center for Health. In addition to being board certified both in internal medicine and holistic medicine, Yee has her own micro-farm in her backyard and uses food as medicine with her patients.
Choose Your Herbs Wisely
Plan on growing herbs that are perennial. According to Dr. Yee these include rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano and lavender. “They can be used in teas or in cooking and need very little maintenance,” she said. “In the spring, you can plan on seeding more annual items that need more light such as cilantro, parsley and basil.”
Grow From the Seed
Consider growing from seed rather than getting plants from a big box store (we know, we know Whole Foods makes it hard to resist!). “Growing from the seed is ideal because, for one, you’ll know the source and quality of the seed,” Yee explained. “There is also a therapeutic effect from growing and nurturing a plant. You can also choose from different varieties that suit your tastes, such as if you’d rather have Thai basil than Italian basil.” Yee suggests visiting a local farm to shop for your seeds. It’s important to remember that if you’re growing from seed, some herbs are a bit more high maintenance than others: parsley is much more difficult to get to germinate than basil or cilantro, for example.
Location, Location, Location
Your first grade teacher was right: plants need sunlight to grow, so where you put ‘em is key. “While indoors, keep your herbs in a sunny location and if it’s possible, in the spring, bring them outside for the warmer months. All plants benefit from having outside time during the year,” Yee said.
Once your annuals “bolt,” meaning they flower and go to seed, don’t pull them out yet. Instead, Yee suggests collecting the seeds and replanting them next time. “Cilantro produces large seeds that are easier to collect and store as opposed to an herb like basil,” she said. Your herbs will need watering daily, but you’ll also want to mist your plants from time to time especially in the lower humidity months. “The misting is an extra step to make them happier as it helps mimic outside conditions,” Yee explained, adding that “annuals need more watering, thus more maintenance.” Drought tolerant plants include rosemary and lavender.
Yee recommends experimenting with herbs you’ve never used before. “Try herbs like Chervil and tarragon,” she said. “These will help open your palate and encourage you to cook which is one of the most important paths to take to having greater control of your health.”