By Geraldine Sweeney published
The best herbs to grow indoors are simple to cultivate, providing you create the right conditions, making it possible to have fresh herbs all winter, for popping into soups, salads or teas. They're tough, useful and beautiful.
For most, especially Mediterranean types, such as sage and thyme, you need a sunny windowsill with at least four to six hours of sun a day. Herbs also need warmth: 65-75°F (18-24°C) and no less than 50°F (10°C). Make sure they have good drainage, so use pots with holes and a peat-free multipurpose compost mixed with grit.
Herbs are fast-growing, so re-pot them to a larger pot when roots poke through the bottom. They’ll need humidity, so place pots on a saucer of pebbles in water. And keep snipping the foliage to help your plants produce tasty new leaves. You could even grow them alongside your best indoor plants for a stunning houseplant display.
Whatever you do, don't be afraid to use your herbs because you think you'll run out. Keep snipping the foliage and using it, and it will encourage your plants to keep producing those tasty leaves.
Get fresh flavor all year round with the best herbs to grow indoors
Herbs come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. So depending on whether you're going for aesthetics or taste choose a selection of the best herbs to grow indoors and start to build up your indoor herb garden.
1. Mint (Mentha)
Mint has bright green shiny foliage which has a fresh flavor. Making it useful for herbal teas, mint sauce or for rustling up a mojito. It's easy to propagate mint by taking cuttings. They will root easily when kept in water to make new plants.
Unlike many herbs, it likes a rich, moist soil, but keep it at 65-70°F (15-21°C). And watch out for mint because it's a rampant grower. It will spread massively, quickly enveloping any other herbs. So give it its own large pot – never plant it with other herbs.
You can choose from many different forms – there’s an attractive white-edged pineapple mint, and even a chocolate variety. As it's one of the best herbs to grow in your garden, you may already know how to grow mint. If so, why not pot up your garden plants in fall to keep on a windowsill indoors over winter?
2. Bay (Laurus nobilis)
Bay is an attractive-looking plant which you might have seen flanking a doorway as it's one of the best trees to grow in pots. It can be clipped to size or pruned into an attractive topiary ball or lollipop shape.
Aside from its structural beauty its green, glossy foliage has wonderful aromatic properties. It’s slightly tender in an outdoor pot, so will love being inside over winter, where its pungent leaves, fresh or dried, will flavor your soups and stews.
It makes a large plant, so won’t fit on a windowsill. Keep it in its own pot and have it as a statement indoor plant. It’s best kept in a sunny spot with good ventilation. Mist the leaves frequently and watch out for pests like scale insect.
3. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Parsley is invaluable in the kitchen and doesn’t need quite as much sun as other herbs. Choose from the flat-leaved, stronger-flavoured varieties or the decorative, curly-leaved kinds.
Learning how to grow parsley from seed is tricky so we'd recommend you buy it as small plants from your garden center. Alternatively if you have outdoor parsley plants you could dig them up before winter, divide and pot up for the kitchen windowsill.
You want to put it in a good size pot. Keep snipping off leaves for use in food and it will keep producing more and more. Parsley is a biennial, so it will thin out in winter and need replacing every spring.
4. Lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora)
Lemon verbena is an attractive sherbet-lemon scented plant which is easily grown from cuttings, making it an excellent plant for value. The fact that it's not completely hardy making it perfect for a pot indoors.
Lemon verbena makes a refreshing herbal tea, or you can add the leaves to fruit salads and ice-creams. Place it somewhere sunny and where you can brush past it. As this is how it releases wafts of the zingy scent.
It grows up to 7ft in gardens, so snip back the stems to restrict growth if you’re short of space indoors. Keep it ventilated and mist frequently to guard against red spider mite.
5. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is an invaluable culinary herb, with tiny aromatic leaves on strongly-flavoured stems. Perfect for throwing into savoury dishes and like roasted meat. It grows easily from seed, and is highly ornamental, with a froth of tiny pink or mauve tiny flowers in summer. It’s a Mediterranean herb, so a key thing to remember if you're learning how to grow thyme is that it must be kept dry and in a sunny spot.
Choose from lemon-scented varieties, (syn. thymus citriodorus) or the golden-leaved thyme (thymus pulegioides ‘Archer’s Gold’). Keep cutting back the stems to encourage fresh new growth. Shear off any flowers which appear if you want a stronger leaf flavour.
Thyme will grow well with other Mediterranean herbs so you could plant a herb pot with other varieties which will contain all your culinary needs in one place.
Basil is a pungent herb, which loves warmth but not bright sun. It can put up with a little shade so keep it away from windowsills in full sun.
It’s easy to know how to grow basil from seed in spring. Put pots on a warm windowsill out of direct sunlight. You could also mount them on a kitchen wall as a vertical garden idea. Once plants begin growing, keep trimming and using the perfumed leaves. They’re great with tomatoes, or stirred into pasta sauce.
Basil needs to be kept moist, but not soggy, and grows rapidly, so needs frequent repotting. Different varieties include a beetroot-coloured purple-leaved basil, ’Purple Ruffles’ and the small-leaved Greek basil (Ocimum basilicum x minimum).
With their slim green stems and small mauve pompom flowers, chives look attractive on a kitchen windowsill. They germinate quickly from seed in spring, or dig up a garden plant and repot sections into peat-free multipurpose compost in autumn, to have a supply of fresh chives close at hand over winter.
The stems are onion-scented and are great snipped up and added to potato salads or with cheese. Cut the plant back if the foliage looks yellow, so the plant keeps producing new leaves. Don’t let the plants flower if you’re growing them for flavour.
8. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
This evergreen Mediterranean shrub is fine in pots but can be tricky to keep indoors. It’s prone to mildew, so keep it well-ventilated. It needs at least 6-8 hours of sun, so give it your sunniest spot. Learn how to grow rosemary in a porch or conservatory so you can enjoy its flavoursome sprigs, and pop the blue flowers into cocktails.
‘Benenden Blue’ is the best variety for intensity of flower colour. Keep your rosemary plants in slightly moist but not waterlogged soil. Be sure to let the soil dry out between waterings.
9. Sage (Salvia officinalis)
The smoky flavour of sage leaves is perfect for stuffing meat, and makes good tea. Another of the evergreen Mediterranean herbs, sage can be grown indoors, but needs a really sunny spot. Keep it warm, at 70°F (21°C).
It likes good drainage, so is best planted in a terracotta pot and allow it to dry out between waterings. There are several varieties to choose from: the more attractive-looking purple (S. officinalis ‘Purpurascens’), and a golden-leaved version (S. officinalis ‘Icterina’). These can also be used for cooking but are less flavoursome than other species.
If you have success with sage as one of the best herbs to grow indoors you could tray planting some out in the garden. If you do so then plant it in your veg patch near your potatoes as it's one of the best companion plants for potatoes.
Marjoram can be compared to oregano, but marjoram has a subtler flavour. It's slightly tender so will be happy on an indoor windowsill in a warm spot, ideally at a temperature of 65-70°F (18-21°C). The small, sage-green leaves can be sheared off the plants and added to salad dressings, and pasta dishes.
Start seeds off in spring or buy small plants. Pot them up in a mix of peat-free multipurpose compost and grit or perlite for maximum drainage. If growing indoors marjoram will benefit from misting. Cut plants back hard in late summer.
Sow seeds in spring, putting young plants outside when the risk of frost is over. Sunshine is essential, and it won't thank you for being kept in waterlogged soil. Gold-leaved and variegated forms are best grown in light shade to prevent scorching.
Mist indoor plants regularly. There’s a pretty golden-leaved oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’). Cut plants back hard in late summer.
12. Myrtle (Myrtus communis)
Myrtle is a shrub with highly-scented aromatic leaves, which can be added to roast pork at the end of cooking. Attractive all year round, it produces fluffy white flowers in summer, followed by small blue-black berries. Myrtle needs the sunniest spot you can give it. But it will struggle to fit on a windowsill, as it can grow to 9ft (3m) in the garden.
Choose the variety myrtus subsp. tarentina for indoors, which is more compact than the species. Pot it into John Innes No 3 compost with added grit, and mist the leaves frequently.
13. Geranium (pelargonium)
The scented cousins to the popular flowering bedding hardy geraniums, do well indoors. Keep them at 55°F (13°C) degrees over winter. They have scented foliage but insignificant flowers. Choose from a range of varieties from rose (p. capitatum), through lemon (p.crispum), to peppermint (p. tomentosum).
Use them in cosmetics or in cake-making and to flavor fruit dishes and ice-creams. These pelargoniums make superb houseplants in living rooms and bedrooms as indoor plant ideas.
They are grow easily from cuttings in water in spring. Cut plants back in autumn, water sparingly in winter, and don’t repot until really necessary.
How do you keep herbs alive indoors?
Keep herbs alive indoors by giving them the light conditions, temperatures and drainage they need. Check plants regularly for signs of pest or disease.
They’ll also appreciate large pots. Turn the pots from time to time, and swap their positions if they’re not happy.
If there's one thing that herbs hate it's soggy feet, so be sure not to overwater them. Keep soil just moist, and feed with liquid seaweed every two to three weeks during spring and summer.
And remember - keep harvesting their leaves to encourage new growth.
Do herbs need full sun?
Mediterranean herbs like thyme need six hours to eight hours of light per day. Put them on a sunny window sill but don’t let their leaves touch the glass or they risk getting scorched. Basil likes warmth but prefers semi-shade, as do chives, parsley and mint. Try using an LED grow light if your indoor space is shady.
Can you grow herbs all year round indoors?
You can grow herbs all year round indoors but they can also go outdoors as part of your kitchen garden ideas for summer, once the danger of frost is past. When your herbs outgrow their indoor space, plant them outside and start new ones for indoors. If you don’t have any outdoor space, give them plenty of ventilation inside. Annual herbs like parsley and basil will need replacing each year.
Geraldine is a gardener and garden writer, who has worked for over 12 years in historic public gardens and private gardens around London. She has written articles for Easy Gardens, Which? Gardening and Women’s Weekly Gardening Special magazines and for gardeningetc.com. She also edited the book ‘Britain’s Favourite Plants’ for the RHS.
She has a north-facing London garden with cottage-style planting, where she aims to keep the colour display going as long as possible, watched by two resident cats, visiting squirrels and foxes. She is planning to create more wildlife-friendly features in the garden. She loves working with plants, discovering new ones and writing about them.
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