Herbs as houseplants or for cooking can flourish indoors

Jeff Lowenfels

One of the nice things about having grow lights during the winter months is the ability to grow your own fresh herbs. Not only will you use these when cooking, they make attractive houseplants. The trick is to figure out which are the easiest herbs to grow indoors. Lucky you. I have the answers.

There are two ways to generate herbs indoors. The obvious method is to start with seeds, plant them and grow the plants. The less obvious method is to use cuttings from supermarket herbs. Several of these will root easily and can then be grown as houseplants.

First, let's start with those herbs you can grow from cuttings. This means you buy fresh herbs at the supermarket and then root some of them. There are all sorts from which to choose, but the ones that will root easiest are those that have square stems and symmetrically located leaves -- that is: directly opposite each other instead of alternating up the stem.

Which ones? Well, mint, for example. Pull off the bottom set of leaves from a few stems and place these in water. They will quickly develop roots. You can either continue to grow them in water or you can plant them in soil where they will grow. Soil-bound mint will often develop new plants and spread into the rest of their container. You can trim back mint to keep the plants at a nice, even height.

Another great herb plant to try rooting is thyme. Look for the ones with the broad leaves, not the skinny ones. Similarly rosemary will grow from cuttings, producing pretty large, two foot tall plants. They really need lots of light, but growing thyme is always worth it.

Finally, if you can find them, bay leaves can be rooted.

If you search enough, you can find Vietnamese coriander. Go ahead and look it up online. Plants grow to eight inches and can be snipped back to four inches and will regrow. Normal coriander won't do this.

On the seed side of things, there are plenty to choose. Chives are probably the easiest to grow and there are several that have been developed for indoor growing. They are quick to germinate (less than two weeks is usually all that is needed) and they can be used from Day 1 if you want.

Believe it or not, oregano is also very easy to grow. It will germinate quickly and is ready in about three weeks after planting. You want to find "Greek" oregano seeds. These have the best indoor flavor.

There are all sorts of sages and basils which can be grown from seed. These can become large and lovely, edible houseplants. The basils are more difficult than most because they need long and bright daylight hours, temperatures above 65 in the day and no lower than 55 at night. They come in some really interesting flavors, however.

What is neat about growing herbs is that seeds are relatively cheap and easy to buy. My two go-to sources for herb seeds I can't find locally are nicholsgardennursery.com/store/ and reneesgarden.com. If you explore both companies' online catalogs, you will find great herbs; both are owned and operated by people who love to cook so they carry the most flavorful varieties. And you will find some interesting herbs to try that are not covered here, such as water cress, parsleys, catnip and peril.

You have nothing to lose by trying to grow some of these herbs. Of course, all of this is also another nudge for all readers to have a set of lights under which to grow plants during the long, dark Alaska winters.

Contact Jeff Lowenfels at teamingwithmicrobes.com. His radio show, The Garden Party, is in winter hibernation and will be back in the spring.

Jeff Lowenfels