How many times have you made a dish, only to realize how much more flavorful it would have been with a sprig of just-clipped parsley or a few fresh basil leaves? Sure, dried herbs work in a pinch, but they just don’t pack the same punch—in fact, some leafy herbs, such as dill, parsley, and basil, even change flavor once dried. Plus, those old jars in your pantry have probably lost whatever potency they once had.
And while you could purchase containers of fresh herbs from the grocery store, these typically come in small quantities that are shockingly expensive and—between transportation and storage—have already been sitting around for far too long to be considered peak freshness.
The solution? Growing your own—but that doesn’t mean you need to start a time-intensive or backbreaking garden. Hydroponic gardening, which substitutes water for soil, helps solve many of the downsides of traditional gardening and can help you realize the dream of your own indoor herb garden:
1. Indoor herb gardens conserve water.
According to the National Park Service, hydroponic systems use as much as 10 times less water than traditional garden watering methods because the water is captured and reused, making an indoor herb garden a more eco-friendly option.
2. They maximize space.
Most hydroponic systems have a very small footprint, because the roots don’t have to spread out as much to reach nutrients and moisture. This means you can grow more plants in less space.
3. They require less labor and knowledge.
Who has the time or energy for toiling away in the soil every day? Hydroponics typically requires very little work, and usually only a couple times a week. Plus, with an indoor herb garden, you don’t have to learn anything about crop rotation, digging, or weeding. Phew!
4. They’re available any season.
When you bring your herb garden indoors, the climate outside no longer dictates when you can grow your favorite herbs.
2 Must-Try Hydroponic Systems for Indoor Herb Gardens
If you’re ready to take the plunge into indoor gardening, consider one of these easy-to-use products:
You’ll be harvesting your own herbs (and even salad greens, too) in no time, thanks to the nearly “set it and forget it” nature of an AeroGarden. This product is a great way to dip your toe into the hydroponic gardening waters. Simply order whichever size garden best suits your needs (most fit right on your kitchen counter) and seed kits based on your culinary preferences. Top off the water and liquid nutrients when the smart system alerts you, and the built-in LED lights will take care of the rest.
If you want to move beyond a simple indoor herb garden and grow a larger variety of produce, a Tower Garden might be the right fit. This vertical aeroponics system (aeroponics is an advanced form of hydroponics that grows plants in a misting environment) comes with seeds, nutrients and all the supplies you’ll need. If you’d like to speed the process up, you can buy seedlings instead of waiting for germination. There’s a low-wattage pump that delivers oxygen, water and nutrients to the plants, and LED lights for indoor growing.
What to Grow in Your Indoor Herb Garden
“I always tell customers to focus on growing the herbs they’re going to use in the things they love to cook,” says Troy Albright, owner of Mesa, Arizona-based True Garden, a solar-powered food farm and CSA featuring 470 Tower Gardens used to produce year-round crops despite the brutally hot climate. “Once you get started, your herbs will keep growing, and growing and growing. They’ll just keep producing for you and you’ll have an endless supply of fresh elements for your dishes and drinks.”
Of course, aside from adding more complex flavors and fresh notes to a dish, herbs also have a few noteworthy health-boosting properties. Florida-based food and nutrition expert Lee Cotton, RDN says the following herbs are particularly beneficial (and they all work especially well in an indoor herb garden):
Perfect for any indoor herb garden, this versatile botanical is high in vitamin K, antioxidants, and minerals—plus, it contains apingenin, an antioxidant that aids in free radical damage. Parsley adds flavors to stocks and stews, is a staple in tabbouleh and salsa verde, and can be juiced and added to smoothies.
Cilantro is derived from the Coriander plant, and has been linked to binding the body of heavy metals. It contains vitamins A, C, and K. Add cilantro to salad dressings, rice, stir-fries, soups, and Mexican cuisine.
There are several varieties of this aromatic herb to add to your indoor herb garden (sweet basil is common in cooking). Top salads, mozzarella slices, and even yogurt with a few leaves or make a pesto sauce.
Mint’s pungent flavor is cooling, making it beneficial to the digestive system and freshening breath. Add mint to chocolate desserts, vegetables dishes, or tea.
If you’ve ever reached for oregano oil while under the weather, you know this herb is an antioxidant that also has antimicrobial properties. Oregano spices up Greek and Italian dishes, such as pastas, pizzas, and soups.
Dill is rich in vitamins A, C and K, but the flavor can be diminished with high heat. When cooking with it, add it late in the process. Dill pairs well with many Scandinavian-type dishes, such as fish, eggs, and salads.
The unmistakable sharp aroma and earthy taste of sage becomes more potent when dried. Sage, which contains vitamin K, pairs well with savory dishes, such as gravies and bean dishes.