How do you decide which herbs to bring to your urban kitchen garden? Maybe you’ll choose based on which herbs are easiest to grow, or maybe you’ll check out your pantry, your pallet, and your recipe plans to see which herbs would be most worthwhile for your household. Either way, let’s start with the most common culinary herbs (and arguably the most delicious) – the Mediterranean variety! Some culinary herbs are so commonplace we don’t even think about how much their fresh form will elevate our kitchen and our recipes.
When you think of Mediterranean herbs, these common Italian-style plants probably come to mind: rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme, and sage or chives. These culinary classics have a long history in their uses throughout Italy and the Mediterranean, as well as Greece, Northern Africa and the Middle East. These plants were not only powerful staples in each areas’ traditional cuisine (and think of how different each country’s dishes are!) but were important for their roles in food preservation and even traditional folk medicine. Rosemary, in particular, was traditionally used to help alleviate muscle pain, improve memory, boost the immune and circulatory system, and promote hair growth.
Today, you can use these herbs over and over again to take your pasta dish to the next level, cook a delicious Thai curry, spice up your mealtime with an Asian stir fry, lighten things up with a Mediterranean grain bowl, or brew a healing herbal tea filled with fresh herbs and spices. So let’s talk a little bit about some tools that will help your herbs flourish, shall we?
Choosing Your Herbs
You can choose perennial herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, chives, mint, and bay leaf if you want a plant that will come back each year! These are best grown from young plants you can buy at a garden center (make sure to check for pests). Note that rosemary, in particular, is not winter hardy and must be treated as an annual, unless growing indoors and keeping it warm during the winter – so growing it from seed each year is a practical option. However, rosemary also thrives from cuttings! To propagate rosemary from cuttings, follow these steps:
- Take a 2- to 3-inch cutting from a mature rosemary plant with a clean, sharp pair of shears.
- Remove the leaves from the bottom two-thirds of the cutting – be sure to leave at least five or six leaves.
- Place your cuttings in a well draining medium, such as a small glass jar
- Cover with a plastic bag or plastic wrap to help the cuttings retain moisture
- Place in indirect light. When you see new growth, remove plastic.
- Transplant to a new location*
*Tip: Start a new cutting in the summer months in a container, then bring it inside when the weather begins to cool off. Not only will it provide rosemary all winter long, it will launch your herb garden next spring.
Rosemary seeds take a while to germinate and should be started about three months before the warm weather arrives. Place the seed onto a well drained base such as sand, vermiculite or very light potting mix. Cover the seed with a little more mix, water lightly and place the container in a warm location. Cover the container with plastic wrap until you see the seeds starting to emerge. As soon as you see little plants beginning to grow, make sure to keep them near a good light source and warm environment. You may not see germination from all seeds, as rosemary has a much lower germination rate than some other Mediterranean herbs.
Light and Temperature
Like other Mediterranean herbs, rosemary is drought-tolerant and thrives in bright, sunny windowsills. Rosemary is a hardy plant that will thrive down to 50˚F and up to 80˚F or higher. It comes from tropical and semi-tropical climates, as do thyme, basil, bay laurel and oregano, so south-facing windows are optimal, as they have the brightest lights and most hours of sun during the short, cool winter days. Other herbs such as mint, parsley, chives and chervil, thrive with less intense light and prefer the cooler temperatures, so east and west-facing windows are good choices for their placement.
Rosemary, and most other herbs that come from a Mediterranean climate, must have loose, fast-draining soil. Soggy soil can be fatal, especially in cooler winter temperatures. Rosemary would thrive in a soil blend of cactus mix and regular potting soil, whereas other herbs would grow well simply in regular potting soil. Be sure to keep the soil slightly moist, but never soggy. Rosemary is much more likely to be killed by over watering, than under watering. This is good news for the gardener, as it means less pressure to have a watering calendar – just check the soil and water when it gets extra dry.
Excited to try it out for yourself? Check out our new Mediterranean Herb Kit, and get everything you need to grow rosemary and other delicious herbs like thyme and chives! We also include Rosemary in our Herb Seed Collection. They’re the gift that keeps on giving.