Whether you're tossing a few sprigs of rosemary in with your roast, adding some basil to your tomato sauce, or serving your tortelloni in sage butter... there's nothing more satisfying than knowing you grew the herbs yourself.
Many of us dream of owning our very own vegetable patch, but with more and more people living in city flats, our green-thumbed dreams often seem a lifetime away. If you don't have the time or space for a garden, you can still make it work, even in the most urban of settings.
Here's a quick guide on some herbs you can grow from the comfort of your own home. With the right care and a little patience, even the tinest of windowsills can become a slice of green paradise... and it's easier than you might think.
Here are 5 herbs that you can start growing today!
When it comes to containers, you can use almost anything... as long as it provides for good drainage. Most herbs don’t have large root systems, so smaller containers are usually fine. When your plant gets bigger, you will need to transfer it to a larger pot, so the roots have enough space.
First of all, drainage is key. Herbs are not happy when sitting in wet soil. Make sure each container has drainage holes in the base, and keep them on a saucers. That way, the water won't leak through to the surface underneath your herbs.
Water your herb plants only when they need it. You can test to see if the containers need water by poking your finger into the soil. If it feels dry an inch or two below the surface, it's time to water. If not, you can wait a little while. Herbs are pretty low-maintenance - if they look fine and the soil isn't bone dry, just leave them be.
Always try and water your herbs until the excess drains out of the bottom of the container into the saucer, so you're giving the roots a good drink. If you repeatedly give your indoor plants just a splash of water, the salts in the water can build-up in the soil and affect your plants. (If this does happen, you'll start to see a white film on the outside of the pot). That's why it's better to give your plants the water they need all in one go.
Don't be scared to cut your herbs back if they start getting too leggy. It's best to trim them regularly, as this will stimulate growth and help them to become robust and bushy.
Your herbs will need plenty of sunshine, so a sunny windowsill or balcony is an ideal spot for an urban herb garden. Make sure you rotate them every couple of weeks so make sure they grow evenly, as they tend to grow towards the sunshine.
Botanical name: ocimum basilicum
Italian name: Basilico (ba-zee-li-ko)
One of Italy’s most prized herbs, its name derives from the Greek basileus, meaning “king”. In many regions of southern Italy, it is known as "vasinicola" (the pronunciation varies from place to place!) which means "Nicholas' Vase".
A classic basil recipe is pesto alla genovese. Freeze it in ice cube trays to use later. Heat in a pan and toss with pasta when you need it. So quick and delicious! It's often paired with tomatoes, it's also worth trying with fruits like lemon, strawberries and raspberries.
Don't let your basil flower (even though it looks pretty) because the leaves will start to lose their size and flavour. Prune regularly to keep it bushy and stimulate leaf production.
Botanical name: Rosmarinus officinalis
Italian name: Rosmarino (roz-mah-ree-no)
Rosemary is a woody evergreen herb that is native to the Mediterranean, but can also flourish in colder climates. It has a resinous and strong aroma, so you can use it sparingly and release fantastic flavours.
Rosemary works well with lamb, beef, pork, chicken, peppers, lentils, olives, onions... and, surprisingly, dark chocolate! It's also lovely with roast potatoes.
It's easy to grow rosemary from cuttings. It will be happy in a sunny spot and needs regular pruning so it doesn't become leggy.
Botanical name: Origanum vulgare
Italian name: Oregano (o-reh-ga-no)
Unmissable in Italian cuisine, especially in the southern regions. It is usually dried, stored carefully in an air-tight jar that releases a waft of delightful aroma every time you open it.
Oregano can grow up to around 2000 metres above sea level... In fact, it is often known as 'Joy of the Mountain', as its name is said to derive from the Green 'oros' (mountain) and 'ganos' (joy).
Wonderful in sauces and marinades, and will liven up any tomato salad. Works well with chicken, lamb, fish, chickpeas, carrots, butternut squash, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, lemon...
As it's a Mediterranean herb, grow your oregano in well-drained soil with plenty of sunshine.
Botanical name: Salvia officinalis
Italian name: Salvia (sal-via)
The name sage derives from the Latin salvus, meaning "healthy", so it's a good idea to have this herb to hand! The green-grey hue of its rough leaves is a beautiful addition to any kitchen garden.
In Italian cuisine, you'll find sage everywhere. It is often paired with fatty foods as it adds balance and is believed to aid digestion. Its leaves are sizzled in butter and served with tortelloni, or skewered onto the Roman saltimbocca. Some cooks deep fry the leaves in batter as an appetiser.
Sage works with white meats, onion, potatoes, squash, apples, polenta
Sage is happiest in warm soil that is on the drier side. It doesn't need much water, so make sure the soil is well-drained so it gets the best out of occasional watering.
Botanial name: Mentha species
Italian name: Menta (men-ta)
Mint is lively and fresh. There are so many varieties to choose from, but the most common variety for culinary use is peppermint (Mentha piperita).
In Italian cuisine, mint is often dried and used in fried foods. It's an unmissable element of Palermo's 'panelle', a delicious chickpea flour fritter usually served in bread with a squeeze of lemon and a crack of black pepper. It also works well with fruit or sweet-tasting vegetables.
It is also a staple in refreshing summer drinks such as mint julep and mojito. Fried food, sweet stuff, cocktails... Mint is the perfect partner for every treat!
Try mint with peas, buttered potatoes, cucumber, tomatoes, strawberries, figs, chocolate, couscous, carrots, squash...
In the right conditions, mint will grow vigorously and will want to spread. Chop it back regularly, and don't be afraid to harvest the smallest leaves - they're actually the mintiest!
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