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How to start an indoor herb garden and how to dry herbs. List of herbs to grow indoors for cooking and herbs for medicinal purposes

Whether you live on an expansive farm or in a cramped apartment, there are many benefits to starting an indoor herb garden. These range from always having fresh herbs on hand to the environmental benefits of having plants indoor. 

This article will expand on the benefits of growing your own herbs, reveal the best way to start an indoor herb garden and to dry your herbs plus some common herbs you can grow. 

Why You Should Start an Indoor Herb Garden

Herbs are beneficial not only for making your food taste good but also for medicinal purposes. The dried herbs sold at the store are good for food but to get the best taste possible, fresh is always better. You can avoid paying the high costs of buying fresh by starting your own herb garden.

Whether for medicinal or culinary purposes, herbs have been used for centuries, even before recorded history. Many ethnic and regional cuisines still use a variety of fresh herbs and spices for a healthy dose of preventative medicine with each delicious bite.

Herbs are also quite healthy. Many people use herbs as an alternative medicinal source, especially in light of the high cost of prescription medications. Herbal remedies are thought of as alternative medicine today but just about all medicines can be traced back to plants, seeds, spices, flowers, herbs and roots.

Purchasing common and unique herbs can cost you quite a bit. Besides the cost, already cut herbs, even fresh, will only keep for about seven days, some even less. Unless you plan on using all you buy right away, there will be some waste.

Avoid the waste and the cost by growing your own herb garden. This can be done outside in a planting box or indoors by a window. You can create a balcony herb garden or use stands on a porch or patio.

An indoor herb garden can be cultivated all year round. Inside the home, your plants are at less risk for pests, worms and damage due to weather.

How to Start an Indoor Herb Garden

Whether you are trying to expand your culinary palette or create a more natural medicine cabinet, here are some tips for starting your own indoor herb garden.

Many plants grow well indoors. As long as you have ample sunlight on at least one side of your home and a tiny bit of space, it can be done – even if you don’t have a green thumb.

Step 1 – Choose your herbs

Decide what herbs you want to grow. Some are best placed in their own pots to avoid mixing the smells or tastes. For instance, chives have an onion flavor and might be too strong to grow next to mint.

Step 2 – Choose your pots

Use containers that are large enough to accommodate roots of growing plants with holes in the bottom and a pan underneath it for drainage.

Step 3 – Add the soil

Most herbs come in small containers so you will need to re-pot them unless you’re buying seeds and starting from scratch. Fill the new pot about three-fourths full with a potting mix that contains fertilizer.

Step 4 – Add the herb plant

Carefully remove your plant from the original container, gently shaking off excess dirt from the root ball. Cover the root ball with more soil.

If using seeds, place you seeds in your pot about an inch down from the surface.

Step 5 – Water your herb

Add water until the soil is damp but not too wet. Plant herbs with similar water requirements together in the same pot if you like.

Step 6 – Add light

Place plants in a window that gets a lot of sunlight, at least eight hours. Place shorter plants in front so all get enough sun.

In as little as four to six weeks, you can begin to harvest your herbs for medicinal and/or cooking needs.

How to Dry Fresh Herbs

One way to preserve the herbs that you have so painstakingly grown is to dry them. There is more than one technique for drying herbs. We will discuss the options here so you can get the best flavor and oils from your leaves.

Herbs are a way to add extra zest to foods without adding fat. If you’ve ever had cuisine with fresh herbs then you know the difference it makes. The next best thing is dried herbs. 

Drying Fresh Herb Best Practices

Here are a few tips that always need to be observed when you’re planning on drying herbs.

Harvest herbs at their peak – Do you know when herbs are at their best tasting and most potent as far as oil is concerned? It occurs when they are getting ready to bloom. You will notice several buds but none will be open yet. Wait until after the morning dew has dried before cutting your leaves.

Carefully choose your leaves – Look for healthy branches that are free of disease, damage or yellowing. Also , remove any insects that might tag along on the plants. This usually isn’t a problem for indoor herbal gardens.

Wash your leaves – Remove any dirt and soil from the leaves. Use cool water and then dry with a paper towel, being careful not to rip or tear the leaves. Wet herbs will mold so make sure they are completely dry.

Methods for Drying Herbs

Bunching – This involves hanging your herbs. Remove all leaves from the bottom of about four to eight stems. Bind them together gently with a rubber band or a piece of string. Place them in a paper bag with the stems protruding out. Tie the bag closed around the stems and hang in a warm, dry area. Poke holes in the bottom of the bag for air circulation.

Tray drying – This is done for the leaves. Remove the stems and the stalks from leaves. Place the leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet or a drying tray. Large leaves can be cut into smaller pieces. Place in a warm area that is dark until drying is complete.

Drying in an oven – You don’t actually turn the oven on when you do this. Gas ovens seem to work more efficiently with this method. Using a baking sheet again, place leaves in a single layer so they are not touching. Separate more than one layer with a paper towel. Dry overnight.

Solar drying – This is not a very efficient method but may work for people who live in a very warm area. Place your leaves on a drying tray or an old window pane in the sun. In order for this to work, the temperature needs to be constant with low humidity (below 100 degrees F and 60% humidity). Avoid direct sunlight because leaves will fade.

Store your dried herbs in a dry, dark place in airtight jars for up to one year. Drying fresh herbs can keep your food full of flavor all year round.

A List of Common Herbs and Their Uses

Not sure what herbs to start with? Here’s a list of some common herbs and their uses. 

Let’s start with culinary herbs.

These herbs are perfect for complementing a lifestyle of clean organic eating. You can also use these herbs to spice up your ketogenic diet meals

Basil – Most often used is sweet basil. Use it to season meats and vegetables. It has a flavor similar to cloves.

Anise – The seeds are used for salads and baked goods. The leaves can also be used for meat and salads. Tastes like licorice.

Chives – Have an onion flavor. Used in salads and on vegetables.

Dill – Known for use in making pickles, but also popular for dressings. Use leaves in salads and as seasonings on fish, meat and vegetables.

Garlic – Chopped, minced or as a spread, it flavors meat and vegetables.

Oregano – Used in Italian and Mediterranean cooking. Common on pizza, in soups, sauces and on vegetable dishes.

Mint – Used as a flavoring for mint sauce. Use the leaves in teas as a soother.

Parsley – Mostly used as decoration on dinner plates. It can make a seasoning for soup and salad.

Thyme – Found in the mix of herbs used in Italian cuisine.

Sage – This herb is used the most around Thanksgiving and Christmas. It flavors poultry as well as stuffing and dressing.

Savory – Found in dishes that contain egg, soups, sauces and green beans.

Rosemary – Great for seasoning lamb and poultry.

Marjoram – It is found in the Italian mix of seasonings. Use it to flavor meats.

Coriander – The seeds are used in stuffing and curries. It tastes like orange leaves. The leaves are used in Asian and Mexican cuisine.

Chervil – Can be used as a garnish. Often mixed with salad greens and in soups or omelets.

Fennel – Used to season fish and sometimes found in sauces. You can use the leaves, seeds and stems.

Tarragon – This is a French herb. It is an ingredient in tartar sauce, chicken dishes, some seafood and it can flavor vinegars.

Sorrel – An acidic-tasting herb that is used in soups and sauces.

Cilantro – Used primarily in Mexican cuisine for salsa, rice and meats.

How many of these herbs do you have in your kitchen? Use fresh and dried for your cooking purposes.

Medicinal Herbs and Their Uses

Now for a look at some herbs used to cure or aid common ailments. You’ll notice some culinary herbs doing double duty. 

Peppermint – It is great for candy but has several medicinal purposes as well. Leaves can be steeped in tea as a muscle relaxant, antispasmodic and antacid. Use leaves on the chest as an expectorant.

Calendula – This flower is used as a healing cream to fight inflammation. Use it to find relief from poison ivy.

Garlic – Tastes great on meats and in stews. Eat fresh cloves to help boost the immune system naturally as well as lowering blood cholesterol. Garlic is also an antibiotic.

Yarrow – This root can be used to stop bleeding externally. Also used as an antibiotic when ingested. Combine with lavender to repel insects.

Lavender – The purple flowers smell great. Used in essential oils to relieve headaches and stress. Lavender is one of the few essential oils that can be used topically without burning or damaging the skin. Use as an antibiotic and antifungal.

Chamomile – Steep the leaves in a tea as a sedative to help you sleep better. Also used as an anti-inflammatory.

Ginkgo biloba – We’ve all heard of this one for improving memory. Used as a supplement to help fight the effects of free radicals in the body.

Echinacea – Known as the “immune booster,” it is used to help fight off the effects of a cold or sore throat. When taking Echinacea, the duration of the cold is less.

Ginseng – Used to boost the immune system.

Ginger – Eating fresh ginger root can help fight upset stomach and digestive problems. Use also in tea with a bit of honey.

Tea tree oil – Used as an expectorant and an anti-inflammatory.

Nettle – Used to fight muscle spasms like menstrual cramps.

Rosemary – Improves memory and blood circulation.

When using herbs for medicinal purposes make sure to check proper dosages used by herbalists for best results. Also, check with your doctor for any interactions with prescription meds.