Have you ever stood staring at the price of fresh herbs in the grocery store, wondering if you really want to spend that much? You need it for a yummy recipe so you make the leap and buy the pack, only to find yourself throwing the majority away in a few days. This is a common scenario, as herbs are typically the most expensive, by weight, of any produce, and come in an amount that can seldom be used before they begin to wilt. Luckily, there is an easy solution to the heartache brought on by throwing away money and wilted herbs: growing herbs at home.
Herbs are generally easy to grow, take up little space. And you will get much more for your money growing your own than buying from a grocery store!
Buying herbs is expensive, growing herbs at home is not
The cost of herbs depends on the grocery store and on the herb. When I checked out the grocery store I use, a small package of basil, sage, oregano, thyme, mint, rosemary, chives, or tarragon all cost $2.39/ €1.98 . Which per weight was around $3.19/€2.60 per ounce/30g!
Herbs from the store are expensive for a few reasons. First, they are probably being shipped from somewhere not that close to you, so you have to account for the shipping cost. Second, they have to be kept fresh while they travel to the store. So the packaging is specially designed to seal out air, which you also have to account for. Lastly, the grocery store has to be able to make a profit from them, so they up the price a little more.
That final grocery store price is about the same price as a four pack of starter herbs from a nursery. Garden writer Nikki Jabbour calculated that each of those four plants will produce around fifty times as much as one store bought package. This could end up saving you a lot of money (she estimated hundreds of dollars) depending on how many herbs you usually buy.
A pack of seeds is also around the price of one small pack from the grocery store. So if you have some space to work with, much higher amounts of growing and saving are possible. By growing herbs at home, you take out the costs of shipping, packaging, and the store trying to make a profit.
After the initial purchase, what you gain by are free, fresh, at-your-fingertips herbs. In addition to the benefit of cost, growing herbs at home will most likely produce herbs with more flavor and texture than their store-bought counterparts. You will also be doing the earth a favor. Growing your own herbs is more sustainable than relying on shipments coming from hundreds or thousands of miles away. To top it off, they will add a lovely smell to your home, look beautiful, and are pretty low maintenance.
So really, it’s time to get growing!
The most worthwhile herbs to grow at home
So the idea of growing herbs at home convinced you, but which ones to pick?
To begin most obviously, you could grow the ones you use the most. Depending on how long the plant’s lifespan is, you will be able to keep harvesting while it keeps growing, using it to your heart’s desire. But there are other things to consider if you want to expand your herb garden beyond your favorite herb.
I will address these considerations as I outline the herbs that are among the most worthwhile to grow yourself. You can always buy baby plants from the nursery to transplant into your own pot. But it is often more rewarding to grow them from seed (or cuttings in rosemary’s case). You should planted these herbs’ seeds about ¼ inch (0.6 cm) deep.
Why it’s a good pick: Basil is an extremely sensitive herb once it is picked. When I looked at the herbs in my grocery store, the leaves already started to turn black within the container which is supposed to keep them fresh. There’s a good chance you will open it up and leaves will already have begun wilting at least a little.
If you can’t use them all immediately, you have lost the money you spent. By growing a basil plant, you can harvest the number of leaves you want and leave the rest to remain fresh for a later picking.
How to grow it: Plant numerous seeds. As they grow pull out weaker seedlings, leaving the strongest ones to grow 10-12 inches (25-30 cm) apart. If growing it in a small pot, this will mean one plant per pot.
Basil prefers upwards of six hours of sun per day, but if that’s not possible in your house, just place it in the sunniest spot possible.
Soil should stay moist but not soaked, so make sure the water is able to drain out of the pot. Basil will grow best if you snip off any flower buds that form. By staying on top of this, you will have a happy, bushy basil plant in no time!
Why it’s a good pick: There aren’t many recipes that require you to use the amount of mint that comes in a packet from the store. A few leaves in a drink, or a few leaves as a garnish are so refreshing. But rarely are you going to use a full pack at once. This means wasted mint and wasted money.
Also, it is a fabulous plant to have growing in your home as it smells wonderful. It looks beautiful, and you can use it constantly for garnishing.
How to grow it: As with basil, if using pots, thin out seedlings until you have one baby mint per pot (unless it is a very big pot).
It is perennial, so it should survive for multiple years. To keep your mint plant happiest, add a little compost to the top of the pot every few months.
Besides that, it is pretty low maintenance as it is happy with a little shade and a regular watering. Like basil, the soil should stay slightly moist, but make sure it is able to drain.
Why it’s a good pick: Rosemary is another perennial that is very aromatic and will have your kitchen smelling delicious.
It is also so easy to grow in abundant amounts, making it seem silly to buy a few sprigs for a good chunk of money from the store. Instead, you can buy one pack and plant those sprigs to grow full plants that will keep giving for years.
As long as you don’t harvest more than a third of it at a time, it will just keep on producing. If it’s becoming bigger than you want it to be, you can always cut off a lot at once and dry it out. Now you have dried rosemary, another expensive item, to use in your own time.
How to grow it: Rosemary is particularly hard to grow from seed, so try doing it from a cutting. As mentioned above, you can use a package of sprigs from the grocery store. Then strip off the lower two inches (5 cm) of needles from numerous sprigs. Put these in a container of warm water (so just the stripped part is in the water). Place the container in a warm spot, change the water every few days. In a few weeks notice if the sprigs have grown roots. Once they have around five fairly strong looking roots, they are ready. You can then plant them in well-draining soil.
Rosemary prefers full sun and warm temperatures, so try to protect it from any cold drafts in your home. It also doesn’t like too much water, as it originates from the Mediterranean. So let the soil dry out (just barely) between waterings.
Pruning the plant is important for fuller growth. Be sure to regularly snip off no more than a third of the plant. The last step is to use what you snipped in your next dinner.
Why it’s a good pick: In my opinion, chives are one of the cheeriest plants you can have in your home. They are vibrant, crisp and delicious, and are another perennial (so the cheeriness is continual!).
Chives grow so abundantly once they get going. So I get sad when I see a small pack of chives in the store. Chives ask to be let loose to grow tall and strong, and to be harvested abundantly. You’ll be doing your health, happiness, and wallet a favor by growing your own chives.
How to grow it: Chives can take a few weeks to germinate, so be prepared to put your patience hat on.
The good news is that chives are a little cold tolerant, so you don’t need to worry as much about keeping them warm. They do prefer full sun, but will tolerate a little shade.
They will also appreciate a little extra compost, so add that in when initially planting and also top off the pot every few months. Your plant will start off lanky, but expand pretty quickly, so thin seedlings to 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) apart.
Saving money is such a great reason to start growing herbs at home. But there are of course plantiful other benefits besides helping out your wallet.
To me, the biggest benefit sounds simple. It is the feeling of abundance and connection that comes from harvesting a plant and putting it directly into your meal. Abundance because you don’t have to worry about running out, the plant will keep growing. Connection because you have helped that plant grow, and now it is helping you and your loved ones grow through its medicinal and nutritional properties.
It is always good advice to not rush into growing too much and getting overwhelmed. Start with one or two herbs, and let yourself learn what works and what doesn’t. Also begin to pay more attention to which herbs you use or would like to use more. Then begin to expand your collection. Before you know it, you’ll be strolling past the herb section in the store, smiling while you envision your flourishing plants at home.
Beautiful herbs truly are easy to grow, but being organized, recording observations, and reading helpful information makes it that much easier. Here at The Green Conspiracy, we are on a mission to make growing food more rewarding for you. Check us out to see how we can bring more enjoyment, success, and herbhappiness (that’s a word right?) to your gardening endeavors.