Starting your own indoor herb garden is great way to add some homegrown spice to all your meals. Getting started is easy – just decide on the herbs you want to grow. The common, hardy types such as basil and oregano are good choices. You may choose herbs that require the same conditions for growth, or those that go well together in your favorite recipe.
Parsley grows very well with basil, while thyme grows well with oregano. In cooking, basil, thyme and oregano meld together very nicely, as do parsley and basil. To add a touch of uniqueness to your herb garden, try purslane (a weed) and perhaps an exotic herb such as lemon grass for its aroma and flavor. Now that you have chosen your herbs, buy them as seedlings or seeds at your local garden centre, ethnic market or online.
Choose medium-sized terra cotta pots, window boxes or planters. Proper soil is a crucial part of growing indoor plants. Mix potting soil with sand and a small amount of lime or compost to give your herbs the best soil conditions for growth. Before adding soil to your container, layer the bottom with gravel to ensure suitable drainage.
Good to moderate sunlight is important; a window or skylight should be enough. If you’re using seeds, once you’ve sprinkled them into the pot, add another inch of soil to cover them and water them to keep just moist. Seedlings can be placed in holes about two and a half inches deep. Water the herbs to keep them moist. If the plants are getting enough water and sunlight, they’ll flourish, and before you know it you’ll have herbs to flavor all your favorite dishes. Herbs aren’t just good for flavoring your meals – they have exceptional health benefits.
Basil, often dubbed the “king of herbs”, is used in many cuisines worldwide. It can help to prevent cramps, alleviate depression, ward off bacteria and sepsis, strengthen the body, lower fevers, and help the skin eliminate toxins. It also strengthens and tones the nervous system and supports the digestive system. It helps the body remove excess mucous and gas, and increases the flow of milk in lactating mothers.
Oregano (also known as wild marjoram) is used in the treatment of colds and flu as well as cooking. It can be used as a mouthwash to treat inflammation in the mouth and throat, and externally for infected cuts and wounds. An infusion (one teaspoonful of oregano in one cup of boiling water, left to infuse for 10-15 minutes) can be used for coughs and whooping coughs and for tension headaches.
Its health benefits include stimulating the physiological functions of the body, fighting microbes, helping with the elimination of mucous and toxins, stimulating and normalizing menstrual flow and increasing blood circulation to the skin, thereby alleviating pain. On the nutritional level, it contains iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, niacin and thiamine.
Research done at the Center for Human Nutrition at the David Geffen School of Medicine in the University of California concluded that both these herbs contain and contribute significant amounts of antioxidant capacity to the diet. Antioxidants fight free radicals and play a role in disease control.
To make oregano mouthwash, pour 500 ml of boiling water onto 2 tablespoonfuls of oregano. Leave to stand in a covered container for 10 minutes. Re-heat before gargling. Gargle for 5 to 10 minutes three to four times per day. Parsley is one of the richest sources of vitamin C, and research shows that it’s best used fresh to maintain and deliver its antioxidants.
Parsley is known for its diuretic properties and according to the World Journal of Urology, it’s the approved plant for cystitis and other urinary tract disorders. Parsley supplies important minerals, beta-carotene, essential oils, flavonoids, vitamins A, D, E and K, B-vitamins and chlorophyll.
Parsley also has a high histidine content – an amino acid said to inhibit malignant growths. According to research carried out at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, apigenin – a flavonoid found in parsley – is associated with a decreased risk of ovarian cancer. One word of caution: due to its excessive stimulation of the womb, parsley shouldn’t be taken in medicinal dosages during pregnancy.
4 oz (100g) softened butter and a handful fresh chopped parsley Chop the parsley very finely and mix into the butter and it’s ready to use. If you want to store it, get a bit of greaseproof paper and roll the herb butter into a sausage shape. Chill. This can be sliced into smaller pats for later use.
Thyme, with its content of volatile oils, is among the most aromatic of herbs. It retains most of its flavor when slowly cooked. It has been served in soups and stews for centuries, and its oil has many applications in aromatherapy. It’s also used to relieve pain and enhance mood. Thymol, one of the volatile oils found in thyme, has antiseptic, antibacterial properties and is a strong antioxidant.
These properties allow thyme to be used externally for infected wounds. It can also be used internally for respiratory and digestive infections. In a study done at the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Heidelberg, researchers concluded that the essential oil from thyme inhibits human head and neck squamous-cell carcinoma. Like parsley, thyme oil isn’t recommended during pregnancy due to excessive stimulation of the womb. For some, it can also be an irritant to the skin and mucous membranes. Purslane is a weed, but it’s also a nutritious food rich in omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Purslane has diuretic, anti-parasitic and laxative properties.
According to the Journal of Shenyang Pharmaceutical University, purslane has antibiotic, antivirus and anti-tumor properties, and also decreases blood lipids, hypoglycemic and anti-aging activities. Other researchers have found that it has high a protein content and contains minerals such as phosphorus, zinc, silicon, manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium, co-enzyme Q10, calcium and copper. Enjoy this succulent leafy weed/vegetable, either raw or cooked, in your salads. Lemon grass, also known as “fever grass” in parts of the West Indies, is used for making tea, and as the name suggests, for calming a fever.
It’s very aromatic and delivers a fresh citrus scent. It has many applications in aromatherapy, and also acts as a mild insect repellant. It’s been used to relieve insomnia, it helps to cleanse the kidneys, relieve flatulence, and it’s also been used in oil infusions to treat cellulite. Plus it has antibacterial properties, too. Researchers have found it contains and contributes antioxidants to the diet. Be sure to include herbs in your everyday diet for all their benefits and as a way to enhance the flavor of all your favorite foods.
3 fresh lemongrass stalks, chopped 2 tbsp. finely chopped green onion 1 tbsp. minced garlic 1 tsp. dried hot pepper flakes 1 tbsp. soy sauce ½ tbsp. honey 4 ½ tsp. fish sauce 1 ½ tsp. sea salt Mix ingredients together. Use on chicken or fish.