Growing Herbs Indoors: The Beginner’s Guide

metal tray full of herbs

This time of year can be a frustrating time for homesteaders.

The holiday celebrations are over and everyone is getting back to their daily routines.

We start to plan our spring gardens, but haven’t started seeds yet. For me, that usually starts at the beginning of February.

In this post, we discuss how to help the winter blues by planting herbs indoors in mason jars.

But what herbs do we want to plant and why?

Should we just plant whatever is available at our local nursery or should we dig a little deeper.

Today, I want to go over the basics of herbs, what they are and why we grow them.

This will give you a little background to this process and help you choose the herbs you might want to grow for your family.

Why do we plant herbs?

Look- I like the look of herbs, especially the really pretty ones like lavender and basil.

Smell- Most herbs have an aroma to them that smells nice. My favorites are cilantro and mint.

Cooking- Herbs are expensive in the store for the amount you get, which makes cooking with fresh herbs more difficult.

Medicinal- Many herbs can be used for medical purposes such as basil, sage and mint.

white mug full of green herbs

What are the benefits for each type of herb?

Basil- Basil is easily grown as a window sill herb for fall, winter and early spring harvest.  Sow several seeds in a small pot filled with a prepared potting media. Keep moist and place in a full sun location. Harvesting can begin in about 4-5 weeks.  Making successive sowings of seed at 2 week intervals insures a continuous supply of fresh basil. Basil picked for use in the kitchen is best held in a glass of water at room temperature.  Putting basil in the refrigerator results in discolored and unattractive leaves.  Basil is easily dried for storing and future use.  It is used to flavor soups, stews, tomato dishes, meat, game, fish, egg dishes, herb butters and herb vinegars.

Thyme- Plants can be potted in the fall and grown all winter in a bright, sunny location.  Use a well prepared soil mix in a pot with ample drainage.  Water as needed but keep the soil on the dry side. Thyme can be used either fresh or dry. It is widely used in soups, stews, casseroles, stuffing and poultry dishes.  Its flavor and fragrance is not adversely affected by long, slow cooking.

Chives- Chives are easily grown in pots placed in a sunny location.  Use pots with good drainage and fill with a prepared soil mix. Water to maintain uniform soil moisture.  To achieve the best looking potted chives, dig clumps from the garden after a freeze (Dec.- Jan.).  Plants potted in the fall for indoor growing do not perform as well and tend to become “leggy”. Leaves can be used to flavor salads, dips, soups, stews, vinegars, cheese dishes sour cream and butter.  Flavor is much milder and more subtle than other members of the onion family.

Cilantro- This particular herb can be referred to by two names depending upon which part is harvested and used.  If the leaves are harvested it is called cilantro.  If the seeds are harvested it is called coriander.  Two products, one plant.  Cilantro grows one to two feet tall and has finely cut leaves that resemble flat leaf parsley.  It has a penetrating odor and flavor. Cilantro is most often associated with Mexican or Asian foods.  It is used in salsa, fish and chicken dishes.

Dill- Dill is a tall herb with fine, feathery foliage.  Foliage color can range from dark green to a blue-green.  In mid-summer, dill will produce large, flat topped yellow flower clusters with seeds that can be harvested for culinary use. Used to flavor fish, lamb, egg dishes, soups and potato salad.  Seeds are used in pickling recipes and vinegar.

Oregano-  If you want to plant “true” oregano, Greek oregano is the one to plant.  Oregano is a loose, open plant growing from six inches to two feet tall with gray-green leaves and small purple or white flowers. Oregano is used in sauces, tomato dishes, pizza, Mexican dishes salads and soups.

Parsley- Parsley can be grown indoors over the winter.  After digging parsley plants in the fall, pot them using a prepared potting media.  They grow best if given high light and a cool growing location.  Discard the plants in the spring and start new transplants for the garden. Parsley is often seen used as a garnish.  It also has the unique ability to blend with the flavors of other herbs.  It is used to flavor stews, soups and other vegetables.

Marjoram- Sweet marjoram is easily grown as a container plant indoors in a sunny location.  Start plants from seed or cutting or dig up plants from the garden before frost and bring them indoors. Marjoram is used in soups, egg dishes, beef, and chicken dishes, sausages, cheese and tomato dishes.

Mint- While there are many types of mint that can be grown in the garden, each with its own particular flavor, peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and spearmint (Mentha spicata) are the most common. They grow from 1-3 feet tall and aggressively spread by underground rhizomes. They produce violet flowers. Mint is often used with veal, lamb and pork dishes as well as beverages and jellies.

Lavender- Lavender is a bushy perennial growing from one to three feet tall.  The needle-like foliage is blue-green to gray and has a balsam-like scent.  The spike flowers are either lavender or white depending on the variety.  Lavender is an excellent specimen plant and can be used as a small hedge if site and growing conditions are right. Lavender varieties in the English group and Lavandin group are considered to be preferred choices for Midwest gardening situations. Most lavender is used for scenting potpourri and sachet mixtures.  It also can be used in a culinary fashion in beverages as well as for pork, fish and chicken dishes. Caution is advised though to use it sparingly as a little goes a long way.

Rosemary- Rosemary is a perennial evergreen shrub in warmer growing zones (zone 8 and above).  Plants can grow to 4-6 feet tall with some varieties having a trailing or cascading habit.  Foliage is dark green and needle-like much like a spruce or fir.  A white band on the underside gives it a gray coloration.  In the Midwest, rosemary often does not overwinter successfully and is best treated as a tender perennial, bringing it indoors for the winter.  During the summer, rosemary produces small white, pink or blue flowers. The fragrance is an intense camphor or piney scent. Use rosemary sparingly as an accent to food as the flavor can be somewhat pungent and resinous. Use with fish, pork, lamb, poultry and game.

Sage- Sage is a shrubby, perennial plant that grows to about 2-3 feet tall.  Foliage is gray-green with a pebbly texture. Cuttings taken in the summer can easily be rooted and potted for use indoors during the winter. Place pots in a sunny location for best growth. Leaves are used in fish, pork and poultry dishes. Also with vegetables and in sausages.

Tarragon- French tarragon is a loose, open perennial growing to about two to three feet tall.  Leaves are dark green, narrow and slightly twisted.  Plant will occasionally produce small, greenish flowers that are sterile.  Leaves have a licorice or anise flavor. Small pots of tarragon can be grown in areas where very bright light is available.  Pot cuttings using a standard potting media.  Keep soils on the dry side.  Plants grown indoors will not be of the same quality as those grown outdoors but small amounts of tarragon can be harvested for fresh use. Use in vinegars, oils, marinades and salads.

This information comes from University of Illinois Extension: Herb Gardening. Feel free to search that link for more information.

What do herbs need to grow?

Herbs are pretty easy to grow indoors or outside. This time of year, if you have a nice, sunny window, you can grow herbs indoors in a variety of containers. In the link at the top of this post, I show you how to grow herbs in mason jars indoors.

Good soil- Make sure you have good potting soil and that containers drain well.

Container- Size of containers vary depending on the plant. The main thing is to make sure the containers drain well so the roots don’t rot.

Water- Water plants regularly, but don’t overwater. Check on them every couple of days to see how they are doing. Watering varies by plant.

Sun- Almost all herbs like full sun, so place them near a sunny window and they should be happy!

Resources for more advanced reading:

If you want to know more about herbs, or how to use them for medicinal purposes, here are some links you might like (affiliate links):

The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion by Amy Fewell “The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion is a beautiful guide for the modern day homesteader. From learning how to incorporate herbs and essential oils around your home, to learning how to enhance your family’s health and well-being, this book is the go-to guide for those wishing to live a more natural homesteading lifestyle. This book takes readers through the basics of herbalism, including the different types of herbs and the uses for them around the homestead. It also breaks down how herbs are used in tinctures, salves, essential oils, and infused oils. Better yet, if you’re a homesteader with livestock, you’ll learn how to maintain their health holistically as well.”

Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar “Promote vibrant health and radiant beauty, soothe everyday ailments, and ease persistent stress with these simple, natural cures for everything from dry skin and infant colic to cold symptoms and insomnia. Renowned herbalist Rosemary Gladstar provides 175 proven therapies and herbal remedies that are easy to prepare and safe enough for children.”

Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods and Remedies That Heal by Rosalee de la Foret “Alchemy of Herbs will show you how to transform common ingredients into foods and remedies that heal. What were once everyday flavorings will become your personal kitchen apothecary. While using herbs can often seem complicated or costly, this book offers a way to learn that’s as simple and inexpensive as cooking dinner.”

Click here for beginner herb garden growing tips and tricks. #herbgarden #herbs #gardeningClick To Tweet

Growing herbs indoors is a great way to enjoy growing something during the winter time, and can be a cheap way to have fresh herbs for your family. Fresh herbs can be used for cooking and medicinal methods. Plus they look and smell amazing in your home. That’s a win-win in my book!

growing herbs indoors pin

What kind of herbs do you like to grow at home? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks!

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