It’s just about time for my pitiful attempt at tomato gardening to go to the compost pile, and I’m chomping at the bit to move on to indoor herbs. With so much cooking at home nowadays, having a self-sufficient supply of assorted herbs just feels like the thing to do this fall and winter.
I’m not really sure where I got this never-give-up gardening attitude, considering the only thing I’ve successfully grown since moving to Far West Texas is cactus, aloe vera, rosemary, cilantro and zinnias. I took great comfort the other day when a green-thumbed friend said, “It’s really hard to grow food during a drought in the High Desert.” That made me feel much better about my failed attempts at growing vegetables in 2020.
About a month ago, we were visiting with friends when I admired her enormous pots of herbs on the front porch. She sent me home with three really nice baby spearmint plants from her big plant to get started, since I didn’t have any spearmint going. I love spearmint and in wetter, more humid environments, have had spearmint take over beds and yards.
So, I stuck my new spearmint plants in pots with fresh soil in the sunny kitchen window box. They responded wonderfully, and were growing quickly, much to my pleasant surprise.
And then one morning, I walked in to make the morning coffee and discovered that all that remained of my new spearmint babies was the stems. Just like the dill and cilantro that had been mysteriously attacked on the front porch not too long before.
Only this time, the culprit was lifeless on the kitchen floor… a big, fat, undoubtedly minty-fresh grasshopper. Now I knew what to watch for.
Those spearmint plants came back with a vengeance, full and leafy. The grasshopper did something I’ve always been hesitant to do – prune the plants for maximum bushiness. I guess it wasn’t such a terrible thing to have fed a hungry grasshopper after all.
When my herb-master friend Jeannette’s husband Layton brought me bags of freshly cut basil, oregano, lemon balm, spearmint and thyme, I was giddy. My head swirled with the thoughts of what I would create with all these wonderful, fresh herbs. First on the list was pesto. I love a good pesto. Jeannette’s basil was the thickest and bushiest I’ve ever seen, and Layton said she’d already made all the pesto she wanted.
Then, it occurred that I could take pieces of these herbs, strip off the bottom leaves and put them in mason jars with water and hopefully start my own indoor herbs.
Many folks grow herbs indoors during the winter when it’s too cold outside, and you can grow herbs inside any time of year. Indoor herbs prefer the same temperatures that most people do, usually around 65 to 70 degrees, so if you’re comfortable, they probably are, too.
Turns out, there are a number herbs that are very easily grown indoors, although many more can be grown, too. The top herbs for indoor window-growing are oregano, chives, mint, rosemary, parsley, basil, coriander, marjoram, dill and thyme.
Outdoors, basil cannot survive temperatures below 50 degrees, or so I’ve read. The key to bushy basil is to trim it early in its growth and keep trimming it – this forces the plant to grow extra stems. For every one stem that you cut, two will grow back in its place. Use what you trim in your cooking.
You can keep growing the herbs in water indoors, or transplant it to soil in the garden. Rooting in water works especially well for soft-stemmed herbs such as basil, mint, lemon balm, oregano, and stevia. I’ve got basil, mint, lemon balm and oregano in glass jars in the kitchen window right now, and am excited to see what happens.
Whether you decide to use small pots with soil or mason jars with water for your indoor herb gardening, you can be rewarded with fresh herbs all year round.
Fresh Basil Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (you can substitute half the basil leaves with baby spinach)
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts (you can substitute chopped walnuts)
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 3 teaspoons)
1/4 teaspoon salt, more to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
Place the basil leaves and pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a several times.
Add the garlic and Parmesan or Romano cheese and pulse several times more. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.
While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady small stream. Adding the olive oil slowly, while the processor is running, will help it emulsify and help keep the olive oil from separating. Occasionally stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor.
Stir in salt and freshly ground black pepper, add more to taste.
Toss with pasta as a quick sauce; spread onto crackers or toasted slices of bread; use it as a veggie dip; stir it into mashed potatoes, or add it to whatever you desire.