Gardeners can enjoy the sight, smell and taste of culinary herbs long after summer’s end. By providing adequate light, warmth and moisture, culinary herbs will grow well enough indoors to provide the discriminating chef with plenty of savory flavors for the pot all winter long.
Perennials such as bay tree, lemon verbena, rosemary, tarragon, winter savory, thyme, salad burnet, chervil, oregano, garlic and onion chives, marjoram, sage, and mint all thrive indoors when given the proper conditions. Compact varieties tend to grow better in pots than standard varieties do. Try English mint (M. spicata), Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum), Cuban oregano (Coleus amboinicus), Grolau chives (Allium sativum ‘Grolau’), and creeping savory (Satureja repandra).
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Don’t overlook some of the more decorative (and edible) varieties of sage, such as golden and Berggarten, as well as decorative trailing rosemary and lovely variegated thyme. And while the leaves of ginger, horseradish and turmeric are inedible, all make very pretty houseplants. As a bonus, they can be set out in the garden in spring and harvested in the fall.
True cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)makes a very pretty indoor herb specimen, but you may want to sow a new pot of it every few weeks to produce enough leaf for culinary needs. Pot cilantro (Coriandrum sativum ‘99057’), also known as leaf coriander, is the first true coriander bred for pot culture and will do very well to replace traditional cilantro indoors.
Vietnamese coriander (Polygonum odoratum) smells and tastes like a lemony form of cilantro, but is not related – nor does it look like – true Coriandrum. But unlike true cilantro, Vietnamese cilantro is an attractive perennial herb that is easily grown indoors and out. Keep in mind that while this herb is consumed regularly in other countries, the FDA has not yet granted it GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status. While I haven’t read or heard of any ill-effects of consumption, you may choose to consume this herb in moderation.
Among the many herbs that will do well indoors if given the proper growing conditions are basil, dill, garlic (for the greens) and parsley. For these herbs, it is best if seeds are started from seed in late summer or early fall and brought indoors after they have reached their full size. Parsley should be sown directly into the pot in which it will grow throughout the winter to avoid injuring its long taproot during transplantation.
Basil grows very well indoors, but its productive life can be as short as four months. To extend fresh basil far into the winter, sow several pots of seeds in two- to three-week intervals beginning in late summer. A few specific varieties of non-perennial herbs that do well indoors are ‘Spicy Globe’ basil, ‘Fernleaf’ dill, celery leaf (Apium graveolens secalinum) and curled celery (Apium graveolens ‘Zwolschekrul’).
Of course, growing herbs indoors requires warmth, light and moisture. But many times the gardener fails to realize the importance of good soil in an indoor herb garden. And no matter how wonderful your garden soil is, do not use it for growing herbs indoors. Not only is garden soil very heavy in relation to a small container, but it is full of potential diseases and pests just waiting for an opportune moment to strike.
While garden soil is an obvious culprit of indoor pests and diseases, soil from nursery-grown plants can harbor them as well. Therefore, regardless of whether your new herbs come from the garden or from a nursery, remove most of the original soil and replace it with clean, sterile potting mix before bringing your herbs indoors. Rinse or gently shake most of the soil from the roots and replant the herb in a clean pot using a mixture of 70% potting soil or sterile compost, 20% perlite, and 10% sharp sand. This mixture will allow excellent air circulation, drainage, and moisture retention.
Keep in mind that herbs generally prefer a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Some herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, marjoram, lemon balm and coriander, prefer a pH of around 6.0. For herbs that prefer a higher pH, add 1 tsp. of lime to each 6 in. (15 cm) pot or adjust the amount accordingly depending on the size of the container.
With real winter still on its way, there is still plenty of time to get your indoor herb garden started. Whether you start a few annuals from seed or take cuttings from some of your perennial herbs from the garden, growing herbs indoors couldn’t be easier or more rewarding!
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