How to Grow Herbs Indoors

How to Grow Herbs Indoors

Easy? Maybe not. Rewarding? Hell yeah.

By Roxanne Webber

The grow-your-own movement is all well and good if you’ve got a great yard, but tons of people don’t have access to an outdoor space. So we spoke with gardening experts to figure out what it takes to grow herbs indoors.

Growing anything isn’t easy (and yes, you may kill off a few plants before you get the hang of it); just start with the simple stuff. Even if you won’t be able to brag about your heirloom tomatoes, you can still feel the satisfaction of putting your own basil in a cocktail or stir-frying with some fresh lemongrass.

WHICH HERBS TO GROW

Here’s a breakdown of what to grow, for clueless gardeners to the greenest of thumbs. Or jump to an explanation of light, water, pots, soil, food, and more.

EASIER

Bay Tree: A very slow grower. Be sure you pick up a Laurus nobilis, cautions Rose Marie Nichols McGee, coauthor of Bountiful Container and co-owner of Nichols Garden Nursery in Albany, Oregon; the Laurus nobilis is best for cooking with. Bay tree can become infested with scale if it gets too dry—use dishwashing detergent to wash off the leaves, then rinse them thoroughly.

Chive: Doesn’t require as much light as some other herbs. The Grolau variety was bred for growing indoors.

Kaffir Lime Tree: Kaffir lime leaves are often used in Thai cooking. Be sure you give this plant special citrus food.

Lemongrass: A good way to cheat, because it requires no soil; you can just use a stalk you get at the market. Make sure it has a good amount of stem and the bottom is intact; trim the top and put it in a container with a couple of inches of water. Connie Campbell, a New Hampshire–based master gardener, says, “It will send out roots and new sprouts and many, many new stalks from the bottom, and you can just cut those off and use them.”

Mint: Very invasive, so it needs its own pot. Peppermint is great for teas, and you’ll only need a little of it. You usually need a lot of spearmint for recipes, so it may not be worth growing in a container.

Parsley: It doesn’t need much sun, says Carole Ottesen, author of The New American Garden, but it’s a slow grower so may not yield a whole lot.

Vietnamese Coriander: Almost identical in taste to cilantro, says Campbell, and “very, very reliable.”

MORE DIFFICULT

Oregano: Try the Greek variety. Needs a lot of light.

Rosemary: Keep it on the dry side and look for an upright variety like Tuscan Blue or Blue Spire. It needs a very sunny window and probably supplemental light. Since you don’t need a lot of it for cooking, it’s a good herb to grow. It’s very sensitive to overwatering.

Thyme: It will likely need supplemental light. Look for lemon thyme, which has a unique flavor and can’t easily be purchased in markets.

HARDEST

Basil: It’s a favorite to cook with, but it’s a tough one to grow. Your best shot is to grow it during the warm, bright summer months. Connie Campbell suggests the Spicy Globe or African Blue variety, the latter of which is more like Thai basil and does well indoors.

Cilantro: Cilantro is the name for the stems and leaves of the coriander plant. It often bolts, meaning it starts growing flowers and seeds instead of leaves. Leslie Land, gardening columnist and blogger, sows coriander seeds in a shallow flat (a plastic tray), then eats them as sprouts, root and all. “Sow the coriander seeds quite thickly, like almost paving but not quite. Only let seedlings get about four to five inches tall, then pull them up, roots and all, and wash them.” To make this economical, she says, just pick up coriander seeds in bulk at a health food store.

Sage: Rose Marie Nichols McGee says that sage is more susceptible to mildew and is very sensitive to overwatering. If you want to try it, though, Connie Campbell says to go for the dwarf sage, which is more compact than regular sage.