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PHOTO: Debbonnaire Kovacs
Whether you’re a greenhorn or you have a green thumb, you can add a lot to your gardening experience by growing herbs. Especially for the greenhorn, this is a good way to begin gardening, with very little outlay of money, equipment, space or muscle. If you are an apartment dweller who only dreams of the country life, this article is aimed specifically at you. Read to the end for three easy beginner herbs to try (and read here for ways to preserve your homegrown herbs).
1. Growing Herbs Is Easy
Although some herbs take more trouble and care, most are simple, especially if you begin with potted plants. Most popular cooking herbs are native to the Mediterranean region, so they like sun, and many don’t like too much water, so they work well for those who might forget about them on occasion (though not so well for the eager overwaterer). In general, a good watering once a week is just about right.
2. Anyone Can Grow Herbs, Anywhere
Especially you, apartment dweller: You need only a sunny, preferably south-facing windowsill or a good, high-lumen light to grow a few pots of herbs. A balcony or porch in the summer is even better. And because they are usually used by the pinch or sprig, a few pots will keep you stocked up all year.
3. Herbs Bring Flavor
Whether your food comes from your own garden, local farmers markets, the supermarket or a food bank, herbs add unbeatable flavor. Even the most mundane canned food is enlivened with herbs that bring flavor, nutrients and better health.
4. Herbs Are Healthy
Herbs are packed with vitamins, minerals, and anti-aging and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. The very reasons why we use them as flavorings and enhancers rather than as the whole dish—stronger flavor and color—signal that they are richer in nutrients than other plants.
5. Herbs Promote Hands-on Life-building
It’s hard to know how to define this one—possibly the best reason of all. There’s just something about getting your hands in dirt and growing your own food. Yes, it’s fun. Yes, it’s self-reliant. Yes, it’s healthier than food grown thousands of miles away, developed, picked and processed for its traveling ability and shelf life. But it’s more. Tending something that’s alive and then ingesting it and making it part of your own physique is good for body, mind and spirit.
Herbs Good for Beginners
Three easy herbs for beginners are parsley, sweet basil and chives. It’s best, especially if you are a beginner, to purchase started plants. All three grow happily in pots, a window box or a garden, and they require minimal care and only weekly watering. You can add snippings of them to almost anything savory that you eat.
Parsley is far more than a throwaway garnish. Just snip parsley with scissors into soups, stews, salads, eggs, fish or meat dishes. Be lavish—you almost can’t get too much. (Garnish, too, but eat it.) Parsley is biennial; you need new plants every couple of years, and they’re hard to grow from seed.
Sweet basil is for more than pesto. In fact, if you want to make pesto, you should have several plants. But only one or two plants will let you snip leaves into salads and pastas—especially anything with tomatoes or anything Italian. Remove flower heads as they appear, though at the end of the season you can leave some and they might reseed themselves.
Chives are like little baby onions. Chives grow from small bulbs and can be used just like slightly milder green onions. I mostly snip the greens into salads, eggs, baked potatoes and so on, but you can also slice up the little bulb. Eventually you’ll have to—they spread and get crowded. This bunch needs to be thinned, so some of my friends will get chives. These can flower; they make little lavender globes of florets, which are delicious and beautiful scattered in a salad or omelette, or on top of a bowl of soup.