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Fresh Herbs on Your Windowsill

Updated on January 16, 2012
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Fresh Herbs All Year

There is really nothing that perks up a recipe like the use of freshly picked, organic herbs herbs from your own garden. Chopped in sauces, used as garnish, added to salads any dish you add them to seems to just sparkle with the essence of lazy summer afternoons. Many people sadly begin using dried herbs after the frost has killed off the fresh but there is no real need to. Most herbs are simple to grow in a sunny window. South facing is best but I have grown them in nearly every window in the house and find that they are able to adjust in most situations, barring a toddler planting animal crackers in the pot and disrupting the roots, not that that has ever happened.

A pear tart with lavender creme anglaise that I made earlier this week.
A pear tart with lavender creme anglaise that I made earlier this week.

Choosing the Variety

Of course, some herbs will do better in the house than others. Basil, lavender, oregano, parsley, cilantro, sage, chives, tarragon, and mint are good choices to start from seed. I find that rosemary is much better if bought as a small plant. Since space will normally be at a premium consider why you want the herbs and what you will be doing with them.

Basil is a must have for me. It comes in many flavor varieties such as lemon, cinnamon, and even a Thai basil, which is spicy with an aftertaste of anise! It is an important herb for Italian, Greek, and French cooking and can be used in so many different ways. Jellies, pesto, as a subtle flavor in a recipe, or as an ingredient in a salad, basil just seems to be one I reach for most.

Oregano is another must have. Like basil, a lot of flavor is changed or lost in the drying process. Oregano is a strong flavor and drying can make it bitter. Use the fresh leaves as you would dried, being sure to strip the leaves from the stems. Use in pasta sauces, Greek and Italian dishes, with chicken, tomatoes, or chopped over feta cheese. Marjoram is related to oregano and has a similar, yet more delicate, flavor.

I have heard that cilantro can be tricky but I have never had a problem with it. It likes a cooler temperature than many herbs and so I usually try to keep it in an eastern window where it gets the coolest sunlight. It is delicious in Mexican foods and fresh sauces and can be used in place of basil to make a fantastic pesto. I love it in salads because it adds an unusual warm flavor.

Lavender can be grown form seed, although I have had the best results buying it as a small plant. Most people think of potpourri when they thing of lavender but it is a delicious addition to many foods. Lavender is an integral part of Herbs de Provence, and can be used to flavor many things from meats to desserts. It has a slight citrus flavor to it and pairs well with lemon, orange, or even lime. The purple flower buds are beautiful strewn in a salad or sprinkled throughout a loaf of lemon bread. It also can be used to make a delicious jelly.

Sage is another herb where the delicate flavor is lost in the drying process. The young leaves are perfect with poultry or game birds, can be used with citrus in fish dishes, and is delicious with strong cheeses.

Of course, mint is delicious in tea and great for settling the stomach or relaxing the nerves, but the leaves add a refreshing taste to salads, and it can be used in desserts and quick breads. Mint jelly is one of my favorites!

Tarragon comes in two culinary varieties, French and Spanish. The French tarragon is the better quality of the two, having a distinct spiciness that the Spanish lacks. It is good in chicken, fish, and vegetable dishes, or can be used to make tarragon vinegar.

When you want a delicate onion flavor chives are what you want. Use in eggs, cream soups, potatoes, salad dressings, and salads. Do not dry them, do not buy dried chives. The are totally flavorless and a waste of time and money!

Parsley is good for many things besides a nice garnish. Use it in salads, sauces, soups, and herb mixtures. It generally comes in either curly or flat leaf varieties.

If you want a plant to scent your entire kitchen Rosemary is that plant. It is a perennial that gets quite large when grown outside. You can often find it in stores around Christmas time because of it's similarity to a small Christmas tree. You can use the leaves in poultry and lamb dishes, and many vegetables. For a delicious shish ka-bob you can strip the leaves from the stem and impale the meat cubes and vegetables on the rosemary stem. It gives it an intense flavor.

Starting Your Window Garden

Many containers are acceptable for herb growing. As long as they have holes int he bottom (or can have holes added) for drainage, and fit on the windowsill they will work. Plant seeds in a rich potting soil and keep damp. The soil should not be soggy! Water when it begins to dry out but is not yet dry. Soil PH needs to be near neutral for successful herb gardening. Use organic fertilizers as recommended, usually once a month.

Make sure your plants get at least 5 hours of sunlight daily. If you live in the south watch that the sun is not too intense coming through the window because it can burn the leaves. Leave plenty of room around the plants for air circulation. Use them often. The more you use the plant by pinching off leaves, the healthier it will be.

Container Gardening


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    • montana575 profile image

      montana575 8 years ago from Dorset

      A very good informative hub Marye, You use a lot of the same herbs as I do and you also enjoy cooking with them too as I do.

      I have tried homemade lavender bread and it is very very tasty as is lavender Jelly (homemade too of course).

      More people should give these herbs a go as you explain very well Marye.

      Thanks and keep up the good Hubs.



    • jstankevicz profile image

      jstankevicz 10 years ago from Cave Creek

      Nice Hub. I envy you all that great indoor window exposure. I get better results outside, tho the Arizona sun can be tricky. Nothing nicer than snipping some herbs for an omelet...

    • Jennifer profile image

      Jennifer 10 years ago

      This is a timely article, I have been wanting to start growing herbs inside. Thanks!