Just because you don’t have a garden, a balcony, or even a green thumb doesn’t mean you have to miss the opportunity of having fresh herbs in your dishes. Herbs are a fantastic way to add flavor and dimension to your meals without adding too many calories. They’re also ripe with nutritional benefits. To find out how to create the optimal indoor urban garden we traveled all the way to Austria to seek out the wisdom (and taste the fruits of it!) of Alain Weissgerber, chef at the Michelin starred restaurant Taubenkobel in Burgenland. Here’s a look at what he considers to be some of the most useful crops to line your windowsill with.
Easy to cultivate, it also has a number of health benefits. Try to grow lemon mint in a separate pot as it spreads vehemently and harvest the mint leaves at any size by pinching off the stems. When crushing, this herb reveals its characteristic lemon odor – not only for fancy cocktails, desserts, or ice cream but also as a nice complement to lamb and fish. When applied in massage oil or lotions, lemon mint has the effect of calming and cooling the skin affected by insect bites or as a treat sun damaged skin. It also makes a great herbal tea.
As one of the most popular herbs since ancient Roman times, sage can grow from seeds – but the best way to grow high-quality sage is from cuttings of an established plant. Sage prefers well-drained, sandy soil and needs regular water until fully-grown. Afterwards the plant is pretty drought tolerant. Its soft, sweet savory flavor in infusions is a valuable agent when feeling shivery or fighting a cold. Externally, it is used to treat insect bites as well as throat, mouth, and gum infections. It’s also an essential ingredient in poultry seasoning for the perfect holiday turkey. You can also use it for pasta…who doesn’t love a sage butter sauce?
It’s probably the first plant in every herb garden, but growing basil indoors is not the easiest so take note! When using container grown basil, plant in well-drained soil, be stingy with water, and use an organic fertilizer from time to time. Choose a place with at least six hours of sunlight per day, a sunny south-faced window is just perfect. As one of the main ingredients in Italian dishes, basil also works great in green smoothies and fresh salads. Moreover, basil has loads of health benefits: It is loaded with anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, works as an infusion against stomach aches and only two tablespoons provide 30% of the daily recommended vitamin K.
Cilantro is a real health multi-talent: It contains high amounts of iron, several types of essential oils, minerals and vitamins like vitamin C, possess strong anti-histamine as well as antirheumatic properties. On top of that, with its antioxidant, detoxifying, and antiseptic qualities, it can improve skin appearance by reducing skin inflammation or dryness. When you grow cilantro indoors, start with seeds or starter plants and water these frequently until they are established. With the right care, you will get a herb with delicate green leaves and a pungent flavor. Together with ripe avocados, you always have the base for delicious Mexican guacamole at home.
The sun lover oregano can easily be started from seeds. To ensure the best-quality plants, thin out the plants in early spring. Oregano prefers a soil that drains well and only needs occasional water until the plants become established. As a self-seeding herb, the plants will easily grow back. It’s primarily used for Italian classic dishes like pasta and pizza, but oregano is also great seasoning for chicken or burgers. On the health front, it’s full of fiber, calcium, manganese, vitamin E, and vitamin K. It can help with menstrual cramps or stomach aches as it’s good for digestion.
Spring onions can be eaten raw in salads or used as a substitute for standard onion varieties. They are easy to grow – and even easier to regrow: When cutting the supermarket spring onion, leave approximately ½ inch at the bottom. Put these in water and watch the onion begin to grow in a few days. Then, dig a little hole and implant the sprouted onion. After one month these spring onions will be ready to harvest again.
Planted in a wide container facing indirect sunlight, aloe vera leave’s juice/gel relieves pain from scrapes, sores, and sunburns. Just cut off a single leave and use the juice directly. It has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antiviral compounds that helps preventing wound infections and quickens skin regeneration. It’s also said to stimulate collagen synthesis and improve acne and the appearance of wrinkles as it hydrates the skin. As a bonus, aloe plants produce offsets that can easily be removed to grow an entirely new plant.
A general note: Always use a high-quality organic potting soil when growing herbs. A common mistake is to plant all herbs in one container – better separate them and use containers or terracotta pots with drainage holes in the bottom in order to let them breathe and avoid water-clogging. Also less is more sometimes; try regular but minimal watering, and let the herbs do their thing. Clipping them regularly will result in further growth.