Thursday, January 3, 2013

Winter Herbs, You Say?

Yes, I know it is officially winter out there (has been for some time) and temperatures are dropping to below zero for many of us, but that does not mean that we need to be without our beautiful little lovelies.  I, for one, have grown accustomed to having fresh herbs in my meals, so today, I'm going to share with you how to grow your outdoor herbs indoors during the chilly season.

Be Mother Nature

Obviously, the first thing we need to do is provide ideal temperature and light for our lovelies. Healthy plants will thrive best when they are given lots of light, so make sure your herbs are exposed to 6 hours of natural light, if you are fortunate enough to have the windows, or 14 hours of artificial light. Also keep them somewhere where the temperature stays mildly cool to warm, like in the Southern US. 60 degrees at night to around 70 degrees during the day is ideal for your budding beauties. The kitchen is an ideal spot, if you have the room, as it's usually the warmest place in the house - with the added convenience of you having them right at hand when you're preparing a meal.

Dig the Dirt

Not really.  What I really mean here is to pay close attention to it, though.  Because your herbs will be in containers rather than the ground, it can be very easy to over-water, and that could easily cause your pretties to damp-off or get root-rot. And that would be very sad. You want the soil moist, but not dripping.  I recommend organic fertilizer so that you can be extra eco-friendly, if you don't already make your own compost. 

Give them a Shower

If necessary.  It's not uncommon for indoor plants to get infested with insects, and if that happens, you can remove them with a soapy plant bath. Fill a large pot or kitchen sink with diluted soapy water,
and gently tip the top of your herbs into the water, holding the base of the plant secure with your hands. You'll need to be extra careful when you do this, as you don't want to drop the bottom part (where the roots are) into the soapy water.  Gently give it a few swishes in the soapy water and the pests should be swept away. If your plant is too delicate to turn upside down, use a spray bottle to spray the soapy solution onto the leaves and infected areas.  If you find you still have a problem, then you may need to try Neem Oil.  It's an excellent pesticide, but because it's a plant, too, it's much better than a chemical solution.

Choose Wisely

The extent of your success with an indoor herb garden really depends on which herbs you grow.  Here are some of my favorites: 
  • Sage: Often a primary ingredient to many winter meals. It’s key to most poultry seasonings and is delicious mixed with grapefruit. Its Latin name salvia means to heal, and sage was considered to be one of four sacred plants by Native Americans . For irritations or inflammation of the throat try gargling with a mixture of sage and apple cider vinegar sweetened, if you wish, with a little good raw, local honey or you could sip a soothing hot infusion.
  • Rosemary: It blooms intermittently throughout the year in bee-attracting shades of white, pink, purple and blue. Chopped with garlic, pepper and salt, it makes a fast, flavorful rub for just about any roast. Rosemary tea can help bring relief for colds, catarrh, wheezing and bronchitis clearing phlegm from the chest. Infuse sage with rosemary and use as a gargle for a sore throat.  You can also toss a few fresh springs into a bowl of hot water and make a tent with a towel to get relief from sinus symptoms.
  • Parsley: Grow enough so that you can harvest fistfuls for delicious salads to stave off winter blues. Parsley contains a large amount of chlorophyll, and as such is a natural breath sweetener.  Eat the leaves right off the plant to combat bad breath. 
  • Thyme: If I had to choose only one herb to grow, this would be the one. Mixed with a bit of salt and pepper and rubbed on the inside of a chicken with a squeeze of lemon juice, this tasty leaf makes for an easy roasted bird to feed the whole family. It is effective for helping fight off sore throats and colds. Try it when you have a cough or to clear mucus from your chest. It was once used on bandages to prevent infection and is even reputed to be a hangover cure and can lift your spirits.  Thymol the active ingredient in thyme is one of the strongest antiseptics known. It treats fungal problems and even has a reputation as a hangover cure.
  • Bay: One leaf is usually plenty to infuse your dishes with lots of taste. Just be sure to remove the leaf as soon as your dish has reached perfection; bay will continue to infuse a dish with more and more of its pungent flavor the longer its left in the mix. Bay leaves can  be used as a local antiseptic and as a means to stimulate the appetite, improve digestion, and decrease excessive flatulence.
And there you have it!  Just because the weather outside is more akin to a deep freeze is no reason you should have to pine away for the flavorful, healthful company of herbs. 

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