Quick guide to fresh herbs in your kitchen
Fettuccine with basil-mint pesto, eggplant stew with cilantro, asparagus with lemon and parsley… Fresh herbs can magically flavor up healthy foods without adding salt, sugar, fat or calories. Adding those soft, leafy, green herbs makes your dish look pretty, and they add some awesome health benefits, too. But how do you keep ‘herby’ happy and healthy indoors? Here’s a quick guide to keeping fresh herbs from the supermarket extra fresh in your kitchen.
1. Choose the best herbs
To grow, herbs need roots, so go for the ones in a pot. Potted herbs should be green, bright and crisp, and you should be able to smell them with your nose a few inches away from the leaves. Avoid herbs with broken stems, crushed leaves or brown roots. The shorter they have been in the supermarket, the more likely they will grow after you bring them home. If you have a choice, opt for small-leaved varieties, as they do the best indoors.
2. Divide the plants
Herbs from supermarkets are generally overcrowded. Remove the herbs from the pot, divide the root mass into four sections and plant each section in a different pot. Remove the smaller, weaker parts as the herbs start to grow, so all the energy goes to the stronger parts.
3. Get the right pot
Terra cotta is better than plastic, because it allows moisture and air to pass through. If the drainage is poor and the roots cannot breath, they will eventually rot. If you use a plastic container, make sure there are enough drainage holes in the bottom so excess water can drain out.
4. Provide plenty of light
Fresh herbs prefer a bright area: south-faced windows are preferable to east and west views. Direct sunlight for at least 4 or 5 hours a day is the minimum they need. If the light is low, keep the temperature low.
5. Let them breathe
Place herbs in cool areas, such as on windowsills. Air circulation is very important, so open up a window or locate them near an overhead fan or in an area in the kitchen that receives air movement from another room.
6. Avoid overwatering
Most herbs like to be well watered but they do not like wet feet. Check regularly and water when the top of the container feels dry. Don’t let pots sit in trays of water. A good principle to follow is to water until the water comes out of the drainage holes. To ensure good drainage, you can add sand or vermiculite to the soil.
7. Fertilize monthly
Feed your herbs once a month with a half-strength solution of a well balanced, liquid fertilizer; biweekly during the periods when the herbs are actively growing.
8. Rotate once a week
Rotate the herbs once a week so that all sides receive enough light. That way, you help ensure they grow strong and straight.
9. Don’t forget to prune
The more you pinch, the more your herbs will grow and stay bushy and healthy. Indoor herbs tend to become leggy, so it’s best to pinch them at the growing tips, thereby forcing a more attractive growth form.
10. Prevent insect attack
Use a good commercial potting soil or a mix made with compost, peat and perlite. Resist the temptation to use disease- and pest-prone garden soil, and if you see insects on a plant, leave it outside. Help the herbs stay healthy by providing the correct mix of temperature, water and light. A plant weakened by dry, hot indoor conditions is more susceptible to insect attacks than a healthy one. You can use soap sprays to control pests, but don’t spray in bright sunlight, make sure every surface of the plant is covered and don’t forget to wash off residues the next day.
P.S. New healthy recipes featuring fresh herbs coming soon, so keep checking here for updates!