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One of the best things about growing herbs is their luxurious fragrance. Basil, mint, and sage are just a few aromatic herbs that are strongly scented. They perfume the air around them with the slightest brush or jostle, delighting the senses and cleaning the air. You may get some of this wonderful benefit with packaged grocery-store herb leaves, but nowhere near the experience that fresh, growing plants provide. If you want that sensory experience at your convenience any day of the year, plus the health benefits of eating fresh herbs regularly, you need a kitchen herb garden.
Why Grow Fresh Herbs in Your Kitchen?
Herbs have been used for hundreds of years for medicine and food. They have essential vitamins, strong, distinct flavors, and protective polyphenols or plant compounds that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits for common and chronic ailments.
Beneficial properties of herbs provide natural health benefits that are gentler on the body than synthetic medicine preparations and at a much lower cost. See what just three of the most common herbs can do:
• Studies show that rosemary’s active ingredient, rosmarinic acid, suppresses nasal congestion and allergic responses.
• Sage has been shown to produce significantly improved brain function because it inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine, important in treating Alzheimer’s disease which is accompanied by lower levels of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger in the brain affecting memory.
• Holy basil (not regular or Thai basil) is an immunity booster and infection fighter. Studies show that it inhibits growth of bacteria, molds, and yeasts, and increases immune cells in the blood. Additionally, holy basil reduces blood sugar levels and reduces anxiety and depression.
Why wouldn’t you want those kinds of health benefits on hand as close as your kitchen?
Setup an Easy Kitchen Grow Unit
It’s not difficult to have access to fresh herbs all year long, and the delicious scents that come with them. If you have a spacious home and large windows for year-long light, a living wall unit would be ideal. But without those resources, a handy grow unit includes three or four shelves, plant lights, a surge protector and a timer, and grow trays to contain water, pots, and dirt. If you have room in your kitchen, set up the shelving unit there, otherwise, locate it as near the kitchen as possible for easy maintenance and access.
According to The National Gardening Association, herbs need 12 to 16 hours of supplemental indoor light daily, with leaves no more than 8 inches from standard fluorescent lights. Bigger, stronger lights such as high-density discharge lights let you position plants farther from them, at three feet, but are more expensive and require more space.
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Tips for Growing Herbs in Your Kitchen Garden
• Use Grow Trays – Grow trays let you keep water and soil from pots and seed starter packs neat and easy to maintain so you can water without worry of drips or overflows.
• Provide Good Drainage – Use vermiculite in the soil and make sure pots have drainage holes in the bottom to prevent water logging plants.
• Don’t Over-water or Over-fertilize – Keep a log book to record when you water and fertilize.
• <>Harvest the Right Way – Before cutting any plants, wait until they mature, and don’t cut more than a third of the plant. Let the plant grow back before harvesting again. Snip any flower buds to prevent flowering unless you want seeds.
Easy Herbs for a Kitchen Garden
You may already have your favorite herbs in mind, but in case you need some ideas, here are a few easy herbs to grow in your kitchen herb garden:
• Rosemary: A Mediterranean plant, rosemary likes to dry out between watering, so if it’s in a tray with other herbs, put a handful of gravel under the pot to elevate it slightly and avoid “wet feet”.
• Sage:This herb can get big and woody at maturity, so cut it back regularly to keep it under control.
• Thyme:Thyme is a low-growing plant that comes in many different varieties, including lemon thyme, and tastes wonderful in soups and meat dishes.
• Lemon Balm:Lemon balm is very easy to grow and its delightful sweet lemon scent adds a delicious light flavor to teas and salads.
• Parsley:Parsley is another herb that’s very easy to grow. Its high vitamin C content makes it an ideal addition to your daily menu, especially in the winter.
• Mint:Mint is an ideal herb to grow in containers rather than freely in the garden or landscape where it is an aggressive spreading plant.
• Cilantro:Cilantro is an herb you might want to plant every couple of weeks as it is a fast grower and easily goes to seed.
• Basil: This herb is so fragrant, it will scent the whole room at the slightest touch. It’s worth growing for that reason only, even without all the culinary uses for it.
Set up a kitchen herb garden today to have the freshest, healthiest herbs on hand every day. You’ll be happy you did.
Heidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and a gardener with an interest in herbs and natural living. Although she has a background in human resources and business administration, she has studied horticulture, and enjoys writing about gardening, natural living, and herbal and home remedies. Her favorite herbs are cilantro, lemon balm, and rue and her favorite places to be are libraries and greenhouses.