Even though the language of herbs can be hard to crack, indoor food gardening has become one of the most popular hobbies for today’s millennials. In an effort to create little urban jungle, the inevitable questions like how much water different herbs need, when to plant, and how to use them are still the ones that are puzzling us.
As passionate plant scientists and techies ourselves, we spent months testing and understanding over 50+ different herbs while building UrbiGo - smart nano garden.
Our jaws hit the floor when we found out that there is much more about them than just basic growing tips. We discovered that each and every one of them hides different stories and mysteries.
In order to simplify the process of indoor gardening for you as well as introduce you to plant benefits and interesting facts, we crafted this simple guide that will walk you through everything you need to know about the 7 most used herbs, including their:
- Plant profile
- Cool facts
- How to use them
- Special editorial tips
So, let's begin.
Known as the king of herbs, basil is an herbaceous (meaning there is almost no wood in its stem) plant that lives for one year in nature and has a specific pleasant aromatic note and aroma.
It belongs to the family of ‘mints’ or Lamiaceae in Latin. Plants in this family have flowers that resemble the lips of a mouth.
Basil can grow up to 40cm in height with leaves covered with fine hairs. With over 160 varieties, basil has leaves that are 1.5cm to 5cm long and are about 3cm broad.
In nature, Basil blooms from June to September. Its seeds are black in color and are up to 1.5mm in size, a little larger than chia seeds, having a similar nutritional profile but twice as much fiber.
In case you decide to grow Basil indoors, it will sprout in about 7 to 14 days after sowing. For Basil to sprout successfully, you’ll need a temperature of 18 to 25 ° C and as much as 16h of full Sunlight in order for it to grow to its full potential.
It is believed that evil cannot go where the basil is, so there’s a common saying that “the soul of good people smells like Basil”.
The household that grows Basil cannot be poor because basil keeps money and health in the house and guarantees a happy marriage (if you were wondering what plant to give to your significant other).
The first-ever mention of this amazing herb dates back to 4000 years b.c, in ancient Egypt, where the remains of basil were found in the tombs of the Pharaoness.
Ever wondered how mummies are in such good shape? Egyptians used Basil as a natural preservative, due to its strong antifungal and antibacterial properties which helped them conserve deceased ones.
An important part of many religions. And, well, some weird traditions.
Almost all the religions of the world use Basil in different customs because its ascribed divine power. For example, Roman women used it to drive men crazy . So much that they made a basil powder and dust for their breasts.
In India, it is a symbol of welcome, while the French make use of basil to filter water by putting it overnight in a jug while they return to drink the water the following day. Well, at least until they built a decent sewer.
How to use it
From cancer-fighting properties to stimulating appetite and soothing inflammation, Basil is really one of its kind. This plant can be used not just for the culinary delicacies, but also as a natural preservative, dye, remedy, and an antibiotic.
Here are the top uses of Basil that will help you fully utilize this herb:
Basil-infused olive oil
Mix one cup of fresh basil leaves and one cup of extra virgin olive oil and grind it in a mixer until it is chopped finely into a soup-like mixture. Pour it in a hot pan and simmer the mixture on low heat for 5 minutes. Strain the mixture into a glass jar and use it for the next 7 days (or put it in a freezer for future use).
The organic purple dye
Cut the leaves and stems of the plant and boil it in water to extract a fine purple-grayish color liquid that you can use to dye Easter eggs or pieces of clothes. Use purple Basil for some cool gothic shades.
For natural remedy, besides fresh green Basil, you would need 4 more ingredients:
- 2 green apples
- 6 collard green
- 1 Cucumber
- 1 lemon
This juice is a natural cure for sore throat and cough - perfect for cold and windy winter days!
Don’t let your Basil bloom. Pinching off the flower buds will help the plant to grow and intensify its taste. If it flowers, Basil will gradually lose its aroma and become bitter.
If we could set aside a celebrity between herbs, then it would surely be Lavender.
It is a crop that basically made up a multi-billion dollar essential oil industry, so much so that scientists from the University of British Columbia are trying to crack secrets written in its genetic code.
Lavender in Latin means “to bath” or “to wash”, which may be the reason royal families used it as a fragrance when they didn’t bother to take an actual bath.
In nature, it blooms between July and September, while the seeds ripen between August and September. It is interesting that Lavender is hermaphrodite - their flowers have both female and male sex organs!
The flower branches are simple, and are about 20-40cm long. The flowers are tiny, clustered in classy blooms and dazzling purple. Although, beautiful flowers dominate the plant, Lavender has leaves that are narrow and greyish green.
All types of Lavender are characterized by a very strong, distinctive scent that comes from the accumulated essential oil. The amount of essential oil is dependent upon the climate and Sunlight duration, so in order for the lavender to be rich in essential oils, it needs to be exposed to light for about 16 hours a day.
Lavender vs Lavandin.
Lavandin is a hybrid of Lavender that has 10X more essential oil than common Lavender. You can find Lavandin in the south of France where Lavender species cross-pollinate by wind or insects and create this scent full hybrid.
Ever wondered why Lavender in the first place produces its famous essential oil? It is believed that essential oils are toxic to other plants, preventing them to grow nearby and assuring the full dominance of this Mediterranean beauty in the area.
People are treated with lavender for insomnia, nerve diseases, indigestion, direct inhalation and scenting of lavender essential oil, affecting the nervous system, calming and relaxing.
At a time when the plague was ravaging Europe, the legend circulated that whoever applied Lavender oil would never be infected by the plague.
The sacred plant of alchemists...and witches!
In medieval times, this sweet-smelling herb was used by healers, and apparently in witchcraft - to promote passion, romance, friendship, and good cooperation with a lover.
King Charles VI of France did not travel anywhere without his favorite pillows filled with lavender flowers. Because that was the only way he could fall asleep!
Coming back to modern times, this plant has inspired one of the most prominent painters of the 20th century, Jackson Pollock, to paint his famous piece “Lavender Mist”, now valued at $450 million. Boy! Imagine what the collectors are ready to pay for a Lavender featured art!
How to use it
Many celebrities like Victoria Beckam make use of Lavender essential oil in their daily beauty-and-health routine, so we decided to reveal the best recipe to make it yourself in just a few easy steps:
- Cut fresh Lavender right before their buds open and let it dry for 2-4 weeks in the dark, dry corner in your home.
- Gently crush the Lavender and place it in a smaller glass jar.
- Pour oil over it and mix. It’s best to use jojoba or sweet almond oil, but if you don’t have it by your hand olive oil will also do a job.
- Heat the oil on the steady temperature (38–49ºC) in a pot for 2-5 hours.
- Strain the oil through the gauze in a new and clean jar.
Fun fact → Never dry Lavender on the Sun ‘cause it will fade purple flowers, which in turn will lose its pungent scent and aroma you need for effective essential oil.
If this Oil-Lavender mixture is too intensive for you, you can always dilute it with more oil. Lavender oil is very handy because it could be used for minor burns, mosquito bites, general skincare to soothe eczema or even help prevent wrinkles!
Eat Lavander if you are anemic. Yes, you can actually chew fresh Lavender, especially if you have iron-deficiency.
3. Lemon balm
This herb might have a similar look to mint but unlike its famous relative, Lemon balm is a true plant transformer - it can be a healing, aromatic or even industrial plant, depending on its use.
And did you know that bees just love it?
This is why Lemon balm has many different names like a sweet balm or bee balm.
Melissa Officinalis means THE bee leaf
Lemon balm’s lifespan is usually between 5 to 10 years with its upright, hairy stem and dark green leaves. Lemon balm is not too picky when growing outdoors, but indoors, it requires at least 12 hours of intensive Sunlight per day.
You can keep growing cuttings of this herb in plain water or transplant it in well-drained, but moist soil. Sandy soil with a good supply of organic matter is best.
Although it can survive low temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius, it will flourish on any sunny spot. You’ll know if you’re doing good if you see little sprouts coming out of the ground in 10 to 14 days.
Did you know that Lemon Balm, was named by a nymph that look after Zeus and protected him from his revengeful father?
Kronos, Zeus's father was notorious for killing all his successors to keep them from. But when he discovered that his son was raised in secret, by Mellissa the nymph, he was furious, so he turned her into a worm.
After Zeus finally triumphed over his father and became a ruler, he transformed Melissa into a queen of bees, as a sign of everlasting gratitude, to forever collect scented honey from the flowers and nurture, well us, humans.
An essential ingredient of the first cologne
By 1611, French monks were already using Melissa to create the first-ever cologne. But they didn’t use it just for aesthetical purposes alone, they also used it for healing purposes. If rubbed on your forehead, it reduced headache surprisingly fast!
“I get "high" from this little plant called Lemon Balm”
Those who even tried to smoke Lemon balm, by mixing it with a bit of tobacco say that they felt an unbelievable feeling of relaxation and ease within 15 seconds, like on this Reddit post.
How to use it
Lemon balm can be used fresh or dried. Even though it lowers down blood pressure, serves as a natural anti-stress medicine and even purifies the blood, many still use it as simply a perfume ingredient.
We cannot stress enough how important it is to have Melissa in your home medicine. As a result, we’ll set aside two most important recipes.
Tea blend against viral infections:
- Lemon balm 100g
- Elder 50g
- Sweet root 50g
To prepare this tea, you need 5 tablespoons of this mixture, one liter of boiling water, a thorough stir, and twenty minutes of your time to fight seasonal viruses.
Tea blend for calm, against anxiety and insomnia:
- Lemon balm 200g
- Dill 100g
- Linden flower 50g
- Valerian 50g
Mix the herbs, put it in a pot and pour over 300ml of boiling water into it. Leave for half an hour and enjoy this calming potion every day.
Natural (and very effective) sore medicine
To treat persistent outbreaks of herpes, the best thing to use is Lemon balm tincture.
- Put freshly chopped leaves in the glass jar (three-quarters filled).
- Pour vodka until the jar is filled to the top.
- Leave for 4-6 weeks, with periodical shaking.
- Use it when needed, just a few drops are enough!
And one modest but refreshing recipe straight from our office!
This one, anybody can make it and it will look like it was done by a cocktail pro! But in the real sense, you’re just adding some fresh Lemon balm to the old, good lemonade :)
Cooking the Lemon balm will destroy its fragrance. Always add it freshly chopped to the salad.
As a native Mediterranean herb, Parsley makes it as an inevitable aromatic herb in culinary art, with taste that brings us back to our childhood’s chicken soups which our grannies made. It belongs to the same plant family as carrot and celery.
One of the rarely known but useful parts of the plant is its 20cm long and 5cm wide root - whitish, carrot-like look. It is used in Dutch, German, and Polish cuisine, even though many of us have never tasted it, let alone see it!
Parsley has leaves that are simple in structure and feathery, varying from yellowish to dark green in color. They are particularly rich in essential oils.
Parsley contains 2.5 times more vitamin C than lemons and oranges and almost 14 times more than blueberries.
This herb can be grown in the company of other herbs, indoors. A warm and sunny environment is a must though. While it is quite easy to grow it from a seed, Parsley needs up to a month to sprout.
Parsley has been cultivated for centuries as a spice and medicinal plant. It is believed to have originated from the Middle East, from where it spread throughout Europe.
The ancient Romans wore parsley necklaces around their necks, believing it absorbs sweat and body odors.
During the holidays when they were drinking heavily, Romans wore wreaths of parsley around their heads to protect themselves from intoxication.
They were the first to start eating parsley in large quantities because the parsley leaves were thought to help gladiators in the fight to be more powerful and more cunning, with better reflexes.
How to use it
Today, all parts of parsley including its root, leaf, seed, fresh or dried, are used in the food, pharmaceutical, and culinary industries. But if you want to stand out, here are two really cool recipes:
- Parsley - 1 lace
- Walnuts - ground 3 tablespoons
- Garlic - 1 price
- Olive oil - 4 buckets
- Salt - to taste
- Pepper - to taste
Mix all the ingredients, grind them, and serve with grilled fish.
Summer parsley salad:
- Parsley - 5 laces
- Carrot - 1kg
- Lemon juice
- Olive oil - 150ml
- Salt - to taste
If you can, plant parsley near the roses. Apparently, you’ll reap more fragrant blossoms!
The name Rosemary is derived from two Latin words: “Ros” meaning “Dew” and “Marinus” meaning “of the sea”. Dew of the sea thrives best in coastal areas and its stem looks like it’s covered in tiny salt.
Rosemary is a perennial shrub that can grow to a height of about two meters.
Its branches are stiff and contain needle-like, hairy, and densely arranged petioles. The flowers usually vary in color, between light blue to purple, small and in the upper parts of the branches collected in bloom.
Under ideal conditions, meaning in warm, sunny and moist soil, Rosemary seeds germinate from between 14-30 days.
The trick here is to plant the seeds thickly, as only 30% of the seeds will germinate even if you create an ideal growing scene indoors.
Rosemary is not an easy one to grow - soil must be well-drained, but moist, with temperature from 26 to 30 degrees Celsius. Also, you would need at least 8 hours of Sun-light in your home if you are growing it indoors.
One of the most interesting stories about Rosemary took place in Hungary in the 16th century.
The Queen Erzebet was suffering from arthritis and was living her life in misery. She tried the best medicines, listened to various doctors and healers, but all to no avail.
Then she heard about Rosemary, the plant with various medicinal and beneficial properties. She started using it, and in just a few months, not only did she get healed, she also got married, in her 65th year, to the King of Sweden!
Rosemary has always been associated with memory; the most famous literary reference is found in Hamlet when Ophelia says "Rosemary is for remembering, praying for love, remembering".
An interesting test conducted by a team of psychologists examined the effects of rosemary. 4 drops of oil were injected into the fan, 5 min before the subjects entered the room. 66 people participated in the survey. They resided in fragrant and ordinary rooms and tested the memory functions. It turned out that those who stayed in rooms where the air was enriched with rosemary essential oil had better concentration, better memory, and quicker reactions.
How to use it
Rosemary in the diet can be used dried or fresh as an additive to meals, cakes, and specially roasted meat.
In the kitchen, dried leaves, flowers and twigs are most commonly used, usually in smaller quantities due to the fact that too much of Rosemary can be harmful to the body.
Rosmarinic acid, found in Rosemary, is proven to suppress Alzheimer’s disease.
If you spend most of your day in shoes or standing, you would want to recover your ankles with Rosemary compress - put 5-10 fresh twigs in a cup and overflow with hot water. Dip a cotton cloth in this mixture and place compresses on the pain spots.
And for those who like extravagant cocktails, try Rosemary gimlet - a mix of Rosemary syrup, gin, and lime!
First, you’ll need a home-made Rosemary syrup that is surprisingly very easy to make with just a few ingredients:
- Combine 1 cup of water, 1 cup of white sugar, and ¼ cup of rosemary leaves. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves for about 1 minute. Let the mixture rest and cool down aside.
Now, when you have this sweet, herbal syrup, the next you want to do is to convert its medicinal taste into a refreshing, unique alcoholic drink in a few simple steps:
- Mix 2 ounces of gin, 3/4 ounces of fresh lime juice and 3/4 ounce of rosemary syrup in the shaker. Fill it halfway with ice, cover, and shake the gimlet mixture for about twenty seconds.
If you love grilled meat try adding whole, crushed, or ground rosemary to your favorite recipes to help lower the amount of cancer-causing HCA's - compounds that are produced during grilling.
Arugula, an herb that can live up to 2 years on the Mediterranean soil, with its extraordinary peppery taste. It is a must-have vitamin bomb!
It is usually used as a leafy salad. In nature, it can grow up to 60cm. In the first Stage of growth, it creates a ground leaf rosette with leaves up to 6cm in height.
This herb is handy to grow as it grows pretty fast - in two to four weeks it is ready for consumption. The flowers are white or zucchini, infused with violet nerve-like structures.
If you want to get tanned quickly, try Arugula - the plant is rich in vitamins, especially vitamin C and carotene - if you eat it every day for a month, your skin will get a nice, orange undertone when exposed to the Sun.
One of the most important benefits is that Ruccola is a natural multivitamin supplement, containing significant amounts of vitamin B complex, pectin, calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, potassium, and copper.
As it is rich in vitamin C and A which boosts the production of sex hormones, and also in zinc, Arugula is seen as a powerful aphrodisiac dating back from ancient Romans.
The arugula belongs to the cabbage family, which includes superfoods like broccoli, kale and cabbage. Using this herb regularly reduces chronic inflammation in the body.
Arugula has a high level of chlorophyll, a pigment that gives it a green vibrant color and prevents DNA and liver damage.
How to use it
The main thing to remember about keeping the freshness of Arugula is that whether home grown or store bought, ensure you make use of it in two days after cutting and keep it in a cool and moist place. Arugula is a delicious and aromatic salad. It can be eaten alone or spiced with dressing.
If you want the true taste of the Mediterranean, mix it with other herbs. Mediterranean salad with arugula, garlic, butter, tomatoes, olive oil and sea salt is the best choice. For gourmet, try salad with arugula, parmesan, olive oil and vinegar.
You should store Arugula away from apples, bananas and other fruit so that it does not get dark spots on leaves - a sure sign that it has started to rot!
Sage is a perennial plant that can grow from 50 to 90cm tall. Its name is derived from Latin “salvare” meaning “to save” which explains why it’s seen as the most healthful herb on Earth.
With its silvery-green leaves and bluish-purple flowers that are rich in nectar, Sage is adored by pollinators like bees.
It has a strong branched root. In nature, flowering begins in May and lasts until the end of July. Sage can tolerate your careless watering - just try to remember to water it every week or two and it will revive as if nothing happened!
Indoor gardening enthusiasts should grow Sage in mid-size containers, from the cutting or seed, in well-drained soil and near a Sunny window. This herb is highly economical, as just one pinch of it will make your meal or hot tea extraordinary tasty and aromatic!
Known as the Queen of Herbs, Sage was famous in ancient Greece and was credited for stimulating longevity and intelligence. Sage is also seen as an aggressive medicinal plant because of its strong ingredients and essential oils.
In France, sometime in the 17th century, when plague raged, it happened that people who were dying of the plague were robbed again and again. But how could anyone steal a patient's house without getting infected?
Finally, when the thieves were caught, police offered them immunity if they revealed the secret of how on Earth they stayed protected from plague all this time.
To their surprise, they discovered that they had used a preparation that included 60% sage mixed with thyme, rosemary, and lavender in a liter of vinegar. They made such a strong antiseptic tonic to put on their masks and whole body before robbing. They never got the plague.
This recipe has sustained even today, found anywhere from luxury stores in France to Amazon, and is called “Four thieves oil”.
How to use it
The main medicinal ingredient of sage leaf is the essential oil, which has from 1.5% to 2.5% in one plant.
Sage tea is home remedy for sore throat - gargle it to disinfect throat and mouth when inflammation occur.
There’s this thing called Sage vine which acts as herbal probiotic - It takes 1l of white wine, 100g of sage and two tablespoons of honey to make it. All ingredients are mixed in a sealed container and stirred occasionally for 10 days.
Finally, process it and drink a glass of this potion daily.
Use Sage with caution - too much of it could have adverse health effects.
Still not confident about your gardening skills?
Indoor herbs don’t have just nutritional or health benefits - they are a subject of amazing stories about our history, customs and traditions.
To wrap it up, for the majority of the plants mentioned, you’ll need temperature from 20-30 degrees celsius, well drained, moist soil and a sunny place in your apartment. Meeting those needs could be quite hard during gloomy autumn and winter days, but that doesn’t mean that the only solution left are pre-packed, flavorless herbs from the local supermarket.
With UrbiGo, indoor herb gardening is effortless, automated, and possible year round! What’s best is that you don’t have to be a professional gardener to enjoy the full flavor of your favorite aromatic herbs!