Easy Spices You Can Grow at Home

spices
Photo: The Nest
Nothing adds more flavor to your meals (and gives you more satisfaction) than spices that you grow yourself. We understand not everyone is born with a green thumb, so we cut this how-to down to key spices. Pick a few you use most and give it a shot -- then buy the rest at the store. We won’t tell.
  1. Basil

    Photo by Thinkstock / The Nest

    About basil: Basil is an annual -- meaning it will last one season. It needs a lot of sunlight, so make sure to plant it where it will get a ton (apartment dwellers: Near a window or on your fire escape should work!). It also needs to be well-drained, so make sure that your pot drains easily. You can grow it from a seed, but for ease -- and especially for herb newbies -- buying a baby plant is your best bet (they usually come in packs of four or six).

    To start growing: Transplant the baby plant(s) to one six-inch (diameter) clay pot. (Plastic pots don't breathe.) Plant it in a mixture of half potting soil, half cactus sand to make sure it gets good drainage. Important: Do not water it until the top half inch of the soil is dry (herbs like to be on the dry side). Don't let water sit in a saucer underneath the pot either, and there's no need to fertilize.

    To use: Once plants have at least six leaves, it's safe to clip the top two. As the plants grow more, you can clip more. Clip basil from the top, positioning your scissors close to the next-to-last leaves. This will help the plant create more branches when growing. Use basil to make pesto, add flavor to pasta sauce and pizza, give soup some flavor and more.

  2. Oregano

    Photo by Thinkstock / The Nest

    About oregano: One of the most commonly used oreganos is Greek oregano. It can grow pretty tall (over two feet!), so make sure to snip often enough to encourage new growth (and, you know, so it doesn't take over your space). The plant can last years in your home if it's well-maintained. You can expect, on average, two to three years of life.

    To start growing: Buy two small plants or one large one. This herb is difficult to grow from the seed, so skip that route. Transplant the plant(s) into one six-inch (diameter) clay pot. Plant it in a mixture of half potting soil, half cactus sand, and make sure the soil is the same level as what you bought the plant in. If you plant it too deep, it'll cause the stem to rot, and if you plant it too shallow, the exposed roots will be damaged. Do not water it until the top half inch of the soil is dry, and do not fertilize. Important: While this plant is safe to grow indoors, do not place it above the kitchen sink or in the bathroom, as the moisture may cause it to rot.

    To use: As a rule of thumb, six inches is a good length to start snipping off the leaves for use in cooking. Most of the time when you buy oregano, it will already be a bigger plant and you can use it immediately (it should at least be the size of your hand). Clip from the top, which will help the plant create more branches. Use it for Italian dishes like pizza and pasta.

  3. Rosemary

    Photo by Thinkstock / The Nest

    About rosemary: You can expect this perennial, woody shrub to last at least two to three years. It needs three things: good drainage, good air circulation and plenty of sunlight (it loves heat!).

    To start growing: Buy two small plants or one large one. Again, this guy is not one you want to try your hand at growing from the seed (it’s hard!). Transplant into one six-inch (diameter) clay pot. Plant the herb in a half-and-half mixture of potting soil and cactus sand. Do not overwater -- only water it when the top half inch of the soil is dry.

    To use: When the plant is the size of your hand, clip the tips. As plants gain in size, you can clip more. As you clip from the top, the branches will start to create more branches -- clip from these also to create more branching (and more usable herbs!). If storing, wrap loosely in plastic wrap and place in the fridge until ready to use. Use it in chicken, salmon and tuna dishes for awesome flavor.

  4. Flat (Italian) parsley

    Photo by Thinkstock / The Nest

    About parsley: This herb is a biennial, which means it should last two seasons. Plus, it loves heat, so make sure it’s directly exposed to sunlight and is placed in the driest window available.

    To start growing: Buy small, inexpensive plants (usually available in packs of four or six) and transplant into a six-inch (diameter) clay pot. Use a deep pot so it can create a large root system, and plant it in half potting soil, half cactus sand for good drainage. Transplant it so that the soil level mimics that of the individual container it came in. Don’t water it until the top half inch of the soil is dry. Don’t fertilize.

    To use: Cut parsley stalks near the base, right down to the soil. New parsley leaves will replace clipped ones. Use them in soups, stews and any dish that you want to give a bit of flavor, and of course, they make an excellent garnish.

  5. Thyme

    Photo by Thinkstock / The Nest

    About thyme: Thyme grows well in drier environments (meaning it doesn’t need a lot of watering), and interestingly enough, it doesn’t need a lot of nutrients (so no expensive soil necessary for this guy). Note that if it’s exposed to a lot of shade, it may still grow, but not to capacity -- so make sure it gets lots of light!

    To start growing: First, avoid placing it above the kitchen window or in the bathroom, as the moisture can kill it. Buy two small or one large plant. Transplant into a six-inch (diameter) clay pot. Plastic pots aren’t so great for this herb, as they don’t breathe and they collect moisture. For good drainage, plant in half potting soil and half cactus sand. Don’t water until the top half inch of soil is dry, and don’t let a saucer underneath the pot collect water. Don’t fertilize either (like we said, this guy doesn’t need the nutrients!).

    To use: A lot of the time when you purchase thyme, it will already be an established plant. You can start clipping when it’s as large as your hand, and naturally, you can clip more the bigger it gets. Clip from the top. Thyme is great for salad dressings and marinades.

  6. Sage

    Photo by Thinkstock / The Nest

    About sage: Sage is a resilient plant, making it easy for new growers to try out. It requires good potting soil (so buy one with nutrients) and a sunny spot to grow. It can get pretty tall, so make sure to use it often (in the summer, it even grows purple flowers, making it pretty perched on a windowsill!).

    To start growing: Buy two small or one large plant. Transplant the herb into a six-inch (diameter) clay pot. Plant sage in half potting soil (preferably one with nutrients) and half cactus sand. Don’t water until the top half inch of soil is dry, and don’t let a saucer underneath the pot collect water.

    To use: Clip from the top -- and use often (it grows fast!). Best used in lamb and pork dishes, it also can provide great flavor to veggies.

    Nestpert: Katherine Whiteside, host of www.GardeningGusto.com and author of six organic gardening and cookbooks