You don’t have to be a hard-core plant mom to grow herbs indoors. Most of them are fairly easy to take care of (just remember to water ’em), and some, like mint, are almost impossible to kill. Plus, they add a little bit of freshness to any meal and smell really damn good, like your own homegrown air freshener. Begin with these easy-to-grow plants that thrive in small pots and don’t require too much work except for a good watering:
Start from scratch with a packet of seeds or buy a ready-to-pot seedling. Plant in rich soil and place on a southern- or western-facing windowsill or set up a grow light since basil thrives in heat and direct sun. But don’t get too attached; this herb usually lasts for only a few weeks before the stems start to grow woody. So you’ll need to plant some more seeds or replenish with a new plant. To use, simply pinch off the leaves and add to a caprese salad, along with mozzarella and tomatoes, or grab a bunch and whip up your own homemade pesto.
Mint usually conjures up thoughts of peppermint or spearmint, but there are many varieties, even chocolate and pineapple, that you could plant. All of them are fast growing and spread, though, so you’ll need to keep them contained in a pot. Pinch back the leaves regularly to help the plant stay bushy and full. Also, keep the soil moist and place in moderate to strong light (partial shade is OK). Mint is easy to grow and hard to kill, plus its fragrant stems make it a pretty-smelling houseplant. Snip off some leaves or sprigs to add to iced tea, cocktails such as mojitos, salads and desserts.
A member of the mint family, oregano is like the savory cousin that you can add to tomato sauce, stews, marinades, chicken recipes and more. The instructions for growing oregano are similar to mint: Don't let the soil get dry and make sure the plant gets moderate to strong light. To use, strip the leaves from the stems. Keep in mind that fresh oregano is milder than the dried kind and is best added to dishes toward the end of cook time, so you don’t lose any flavor.
Choose to plant either curly parsley or Italian flat-leaf parsley. Typically, flat-leaf parsley provides more flavor, while the curly kind is more of a garnish, but you can use them interchangeably. Just remember to taste after adding to a dish, in case you need to adjust for flavor. Grow both kinds in a deep pot with rich soil and place the plant in strong light. If you’re starting from seed, soak them in warm water first to crack the coating. Parsley works in a range of recipes, but if you really want to show off your crop, make some tabbouleh; the herb is the key ingredient in this Mediterranean dish.
Like parsley, chives make an easy garnish, but they also add a mild onion-like flavor to eggs, soups, salads and this yummy ham-and-cheese scones recipe. Place them in a south-facing window and keep the soil moist but make sure there is proper drainage. Snip off the spiky leaves with scissors, and if you trim the whole plant (like you’re cutting grass), be sure to leave at least two inches of growth so the herb can resprout.
Cilantro has long, stringy roots, so plant this herb in a pot that’s at least 12 inches deep and has good drainage. Give it sun in the morning and indirect light the rest of the day, as opposed to direct sunlight all day, and keep the soil moist. For the best flavor, wait until the plant grows to at least six inches; the leaves will be the least bitter then. Since cilantro can overwhelm a dish, use it sparingly. Our beloved Ina Garten won’t ever cook with cilantro, even when making guac and tacos, because she thinks it’s too overpowering.
Tips for growing herbs indoors
You’ll need to find the sunniest area in your house (such as a south-facing window) where you can set up your garden, since most herbs require moderate to strong sunlight. If you don’t have many windows or your home doesn’t get much direct light, consider investing in grow lights, which can be installed under kitchen cabinets.
Use containers with good drainage. If you want to use a decorative planter without drain holes, plant the herb in a container with drainage that fits inside the pretty pot.
Plant the herbs in separate pots to make them easier to care for since they each have different watering and sunlight needs.
Don't over-fertilize because the herbs’ flavors can be affected by it—and not in a good way.
If you’re already growing herbs outdoors, you can bring them in during the winter by propagating the cuttings in an indoor garden.
Before you bring a plant indoors, check for pests like aphids, spider mites and scale. Look for fine webs on and between the leaves, which are a sign of spider mites. Aphids and scale make sticky droppings around the plant.