Nutrition Articles

How to Grow Your Own Herbs for Cooking

Sprout Spices and Seasonings in Your Own Backyard!

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Decide where to plant your herbs. Many herbs grow well indoors and outdoors in the ground or in containers.  If you have a little space with at least 5 hours of direct sunlight a day, you may prefer to grow them indoors, as the herbs will be much more accessible for cooking and watering, and not subject to threats of pests, weeds, or variations in temperature.

Decide whether you’ll start from seeds or seedlings.  Seedlings are very young plants that you can transplant into your own garden. They are typically only available in the spring and summer from gardening centers and farmers markets.  Seeds cost less, but take more time and resources to grow from scratch (here's how).

Gather your materials.  You’ll need a few gardening tools, like a small shovel or spade, some gardening gloves and pots or containers (optional since herbs can also be planted directly into the soil). You’ll also need some fertilized soil.  If you have a compost pile, you can use some fully decomposed compost to fertilize the soil.  Otherwise, you can use a general purpose compost solution, available in any gardening store.   If you’re container gardening, use a packaged potting soil mix, which will be free of pests.

Start planting.  If you’re starting from seeds, sow into moist soil and cover with 1/2 inch of soil on top.  The seeds should germinate in about one week.  If you’re using a pot or container for seedlings, follow these steps.
  1. Ensure proper drainage by filling the pot with a shallow layer of course gravel.
     
  2. Fill the pot about 1/2 of the way full, and place the plant, still in its original container, into the new pot.  Add dirt around the plant, gently packing it into place, so that the top of the new soil is at the same level as the top of the plant’s original soil. 
     
  3. Remove the plastic pot, tap it so you can easily slide the plant and all of its soil out, and place the plant and all of its soil into the hole in the soil of the new pot.
Care for your plants. Water at the base of the plant when the soil begins to feel dry, at least once per week.  Pull weeds that appear near the plant, because they will steal the nutrients from the soil.  If growing outdoors, bring them in before the first frost.

Harvest the herbs.  Most plants will grow new leaves if you don’t pick the stems bare. You can pick the leaves with your fingers or snip them with kitchen shears.

Use or store the herbs.  Many recipes call for fresh herbs, so simply pick your herbs, wash them and pat them dry before using in your favorite recipes. To store, you can preserve your herbs for future use by freezing them or drying them.  In either case, you must first prep them.  First, remove any soil or bugs by rinsing in cold water.  Then, remove flowering stems and flowers and gently remove excess water by patting with a paper towel.  Once your herbs are prepped, you can choose your method of storage:
  • Air drying:  Cut the stems at soil level and hang upside down in bunches (so that the flavorful oil travels into the leaves) to dry for one to two weeks.  Once dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store in a dry, airtight container for up to a year.
     
  • Freezing:  The benefit of freezing, as opposed to drying, is that the herbs retain more of their just-picked flavor.  Place clean herbs directly into freezer bags, or try the cube method: Place a few teaspoons of chopped, fresh herbs into each cell of an ice cube tray.  Fill the trays with water, and freeze.  When cooking, just pop out a cube and add it to the pot like you would fresh herbs!
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • I am looking into starting my own herb garden this upcoming summer. I really like these suggestions. - 1/1/2014 2:39:12 PM
  • We've been very successful growing them indoors. I love the accessibility. - 12/2/2013 8:10:38 AM
  • Good lord, i've found ALL of my herbs to be invasive, not just the mint. My oregano went from a tiny 4 inch plant last year to being 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide this year. My italian parsley went nuts before i could snip the flowers off and reseeded. My chives although planted in a small area that is concrete on all sides have started popping up all over my yard. The basil is out of control. The only thing that's not doing well is the dill...the oregano is eating it ;( - 8/13/2012 3:53:31 PM
  • i plan on doing container gardening for my herbs using mason jars that i fasten to a board and hang on the wall.

    A friend told me it will work as long as i paint the outside of the mason jar.

    should i still use starter pots or start the seeds in the jars? - 7/24/2012 1:31:28 PM
  • Not sure if it's too late for the lady who wanted to print with no buttons. On a PC you can print a page by holding down the control button on your keyboard while hitting the P key. - 4/26/2012 6:36:13 PM
  • A couple of other suggestions:
    1. Start the slow-growing seeds in trays indoors. For parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and other really slow growing seeds, if you direct seed into the garden, you are likely to lose them to weeds or uneven watering. The seeds are so tiny, they are likely to wash away. Plant the seeds very shallowly in trays of seed starting mix. (Don't try garden soil.) Keep the soil warm and moist. Be patient.
    2. Be aware that some herbs are annuals, like parsley, dill, and basil, so you have to replant them every year. Rosemary and thyme are perrenials, so you think carefully where you want them . Thyme is low growing, and can make a nice border. Rosemary can grow to 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It can make a nice bush-like plant for your garden. - 4/26/2012 12:08:20 PM
  • I want to print or at least save this article but there aren't any of the "usual" buttons. Help? - 4/26/2012 11:07:52 AM

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