Whether you’ve dabbled in tending to a small herb garden or are an old hand at planting rows upon rows of vegetables from seed, it doesn’t take long to realize that growing your own food feels pretty magical. And while I’m a longtime raised-bed gardener who loves harvesting basketfuls of plump tomatoes every summer and tending to my cold-frame-grown spinach in the winter, this fall I learned yet another way to grow my own vegetables and herbs using—wait for it—a mere glass of water.
Seriously. Turns out, plenty of the plants that make up our everyday meals are actually regenerative, meaning that they can grow back (mostly) on their own. Numerous herbs and vegetables—including alliums (leeks, green onions, scallions), carrots, bok choy, cabbage, basil and cilantro—can be regrown simply by placing their roots in a glass of water, placing that glass in sunlight (like on a windowsill) and waiting for the plants to begin growing again. No fancy tricks; no soil or digging required.
Since the regenerative part of the plant is typically what we refer to as a vegetable’s “scrap” when we’re cooking a meal, this is excellent news for those among us (like me) who are always looking for fresh ways to reuse food waste beyond compost or fertilizer. Growing regenerative plants is extremely thrifty, which is always a boon. And it’s also a fine opportunity for those who feel timid about gardening on the whole (whether its due to a lack of space or that fact that they once somehow managed to kill a succulent) to experience the unique satisfaction of growing something themselves—and then eating it.
For regenerative gardening beginners, alliums are the perfect starting place. Cut your green onions or leeks about two inches from the root (the white part), plop in a glass of water with enough of the wet stuff to cover the root and place in a sunny spot, making sure to change the water every few days. Before your eyes, you’ll see a new allium start to emerge within a week or so, ready for harvest once again! (We keep so many onions regenerating in our kitchen now we’ve taken to calling our windowsill “allium row.”)
For other plants, methods vary slightly, but are pretty much the same gist. For basil and cilantro, place sprigs in a glass of water, place in a sunny spot, and repot in soil when roots grow to be about 2-3 inches. For bok choy, place the root-side down in a dish of water, place in a sunny spot (notice a theme?) and when the plant begins to regrow, transfer to soil. The same pattern holds for carrots: place carrot tops in sunlit water, and when the greens begin to grow shoots, transfer to soil.
Trust me, the first time you see your baby green onion begin regenerating right there on its own (!) with only a little water and sunlight to thank, you’ll agree that growing your own food is magical.