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We all have always known spices and herbs for their one benefit – adding flavor to our food. They help in improving the deliciousness of normally bland foods. But they do even more. They can be amazing digestive aids. They contain volatile oils that have therapeutic action on our digestive system and different organ systems. They have also been used for long as part of food preservation techniques like in pickling and drying because of their strong antimicrobial properties.
Both spices and herbs are often used together in cooking. But herbs are defined as the young stems and leaves of tender, herbaceous plants. You will come across many herbs to be having that typical spicy bite, but that doesn’t mean that all of them are true spices. The ‘spices’ label is something that is associated with dried plants and not leaves.
So you will see that pepper is a berry, cardamom is fruit, young flower buds form cloves, and the skin from the cinnamon tree is what we know as cinnamon spice.
You will find most of the spices to be growing naturally in the subtropical and tropical parts. That is not the case with herbs. It is quite difficult to cultivate them in the temperate parts. You would see the challenge when you realize that some spices are sourced from mature trees. But you will be surprised to know that you can actually grow some low-growing spices within the heated environment of your home. Turmeric and ginger are two of the best examples.
So which are the spices that you can grow within your home? Here is a list to help you with.
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Also called ginger root, ginger is the fleshy stem (rhizome) of the plant that grows underground. It is a perennial plant known as Zingiber officinale. It has its origins in South China, from where it came to the tropical parts of the world like India and West Africa. From these parts it made its way to Britain and various European nations.
Ginger is widely used in the preparation of savory curries, baked goods and confectionery. Its use in herbal teas has both medicinal and flavor value.
Growing Ginger in Your Home
Before you grow it in your home, remember that its rhizome branches out and sends fresh shoots when it grows and spreads. You can propagate this plant from just 1-2 inch pieces of its rhizome having at least a single ‘eye’, also called the growing bud.
- Take a large tub and fill with rich and well-draining potting mix.
- Take several pieces of ginger and lay 6 inches apart on its surface.
- Cover using 1-inch sand and give a firm press down.
- Put this tub in an area that is well lit (or under grow lights).
- Make sure to water it whenever the soil becomes dry.
- Also feed the soil with general purpose fertilizer once in 2 weeks.
When ginger is grown indoors in tubs, you can treat it as a perennial. When it’s ready, just dig in and break off the required amount of rhizome, not more.
You can also grow ginger outdoors if you are in the USDA zones 10 or higher. You should be choosing a location that is partially sunny. It should also have constant supply of water and have good drainage. Plant in early spring and the plant keeps sending up aerial stems through the summer. The leaves could become yellow through the fall. If you grow ginger in your garden (outdoors), it should be treated like an annual. Remember frost could easily rot the rhizomes.
When the ginger is ready, you should dig out the plant and remove the soil. The rhizome can be harvested by removing the aerial stems.
You can harvest the ginger, and preserve it for future use. You can pickle, candy or dry it to preserve.
Dried Ginger – Boil water and lanch its rhizomes in it. Then skin and slice and then dry in shade. The dried slices should be stored in airtight jars. You may also grind them to make ginger powder. The powder can be used in cookies and various baked goods. Mix powdered ginger and honey to make highly effective remedy for cough.
Candied/Pickled Ginger – Candied ginger is prepared in sugar syrup and pickled ginger in vinegar. You can use them in small amounts for improving your digestion or controlling nausea.
Turmeric is not much distant from ginger, as it is called one of its relatives, but it’s colored. It is known for its golden yellow color. It is also used for adding spicy flavor to curries and condiments. Its scientific name is Curcuma longa. It is native to India and you can also grow it indoors similar to ginger. If you are not already inspired to use it in cooking because of its anti-tumor and anti-microbial properties, growing it in your home must really inspire you to start using it more.
Growing Turmeric in Your Home
You will be amazed to learn that it can be difficult to find the planting material for turmeric. There’s good reason for that -- it’s more often sold and used in dried form. But all you have to do is find just few pieces of its rhizome. They multiply annually and in a short time you will have lots of them.
- Take tubs or pots and stick turmeric pieces into properly draining potting mix.
- Then cover under 1 inch soil and water properly.
- Make sure it gets lots of light to give lush green appearance to the leaves.
You can grow turmeric outdoors if you are in at least USDA zone 9. Make sure the beds are double tilled. This will help ensure good drainage and root run. You can harvest turmeric in the fall when you see the leaves starting to wilt.
You will want to dry and preserve it for future use. Boil the turmeric rhizomes for 35-45 minutes. Dry it and its color will improve. This is going to increase its shelf life. You can store dried stems just like that or make turmeric powder.
You can use it for adding color to mustard or various homemade sauces. You may also add it to healthy batters when it comes to deep frying.
You can also apply a pinch of turmeric to mouth ulcers. It will speed up healing.
Coriander can refer to both a spice and herb. The plant is called Coriandrum sativum and its leaves are known as Chinese parsley or cilantro, which is used widely in Chinese, Mexican and Indian cuisine. You will get spice from this plant in the form of its dried seeds. It has quite different taste.
Growing Coriander in Home
Coriander is an annual plant that grows fast. You can grow it indoors any time.
You can grow the plant from its seeds.
- Take the globose coriander seeds in your hand and rub them between your palms so that they break into halves.
- Sow 3 or 4 of them in large pots.
- Make sure the soil is kept evenly moist.
You will see that the initial group of true leaves have uneven edges. When the plant matures, you will see properly divided lacy leaves. Cover the bases of the seedlings that fall over with soil.
Remember, coriander requires cool weather. You should sow it in properly prepared beds in early spring. If you are living in an area having milder climates, you may also sow it in fall.
If you want to grow it outdoors, it can thrive as an herb in the cool season. As the temperature increases, it will send long stem with the flowers that form coriander seeds. You can induce bolting in your indoor plants through withdrawal of water.
When all the flowers turn into green globular fruits, wait for them to change color. Then cut the full stems and put them in large brown paper cover for drying. This will help in getting the fruits detached. You can sun-dry them before storing in dry jars. Toast them to get a nutty flavor, or else grind them to get its powder. Garam masala is a popular spice mixture and coriander is an important part of it.
Cuminum cyminum is a native plant from the Mediterranean. It is a widely used spice all across the world. You can grow it outdoors easily if you are in the USDA zones 5-10. You may think of growing it indoors only if you don’t have enough outdoor gardening space.
Growing Cumin in Your Home
- You can sow cumin seeds in large pots (if indoors), or in the garden in a sunny place.
- Make sure the soil is moist with good drainage.
- It will take 4 to 5 months to sprout and be ready for harvesting (it can grow faster due to heat and drought).
- If you see the small flowers turning to clusters of small elongated fruits, you should harvest them in time prior to falling off.
Put the flower heads into large paper bags for drying. Keep them in the bags until the fruits come off. Then dry off under sun before cleaning through winnowing.
You can use dried cumin as whole for tempering mixtures. You can also grind them to form powder. Roast the cumin before grinding to help improve the flavor. You may use them both ways in your curries.
You can easily grow garlic bulbs in your home or outdoors. Growing Allium sativum involves separation of the cloves and then sticking them into properly draining, moist soil.
Growing Garlic in Your Home
The bulbs can be planted indoors during any time. Outdoor beds are best planted in fall. Because they have long growing season, garlic plants get enough time for growing large sized bulbs. You should ensure even moisture in the soil, but don’t allow water logging. It can rot the bulb.
You can use the garlic leaves as herb. Don’t snip them regularly because this can have an impact on the size of the bulb.
You can harvest the mature bulbs when you see that the leaves are beginning to wilt during the summer. Harvesting involves digging up all the bulbs. You should dry the bulbs up to the stage when the outer cover becomes papery. You can braid the leaves together and hang them in your panty of saving storage space.
Dry the thinly sliced, skinned garlic cloves in food dehydrator or the sun and make garlic powder. You may also pickle skinned garlic cloves in vinegar.
You may argue that onions are vegetables, but when you dry onion and powder them, they become wonderful spice. They can be added to different types of dishes. Allium cepa belongs to the family leeks and garlic.
Growing Onion in Your Home
The good thing about onions is that they can be grown from their sets or seeds. You should be planting the sets or seeds in shallow tubs filled with rich potting soils. The soil should be always moist, but avoid excess wetness. When the bulbs grow underground, you will see them pushing through the soil’s surface. Let the leaves to wilt and the bulbs should reach their largest size.
Then you can pull out the onions. Dry them by hanging the onions. The outer layer will crinkle like paper when it is dry. You can then slice them thin before drying in food dehydrator. Then powder the dried slices and store in airtight bottles.
Saffron is among the most expensive spices you can find. It is sourced from the drying of stigmas from mountain crocus, also called Crocus sativus. You will be saving big by growing your own. Because crocus bulbs can easily rot in wet weather, you should grow them indoors.
Growing Saffron in Your Home
With saffron, the plating material is the crocus corms. They can be found with reputed nurseries.
- Fill sand/gravel at the bottom of the pots. They help with good drainage.
- Then put properly draining and rich potting mix on top of this sand/gravel layer.
- Take 2-3 crocus corms and push them into the soil. Cover the corms with the soil and sand mix.
- Make sure that the crocus pots are kept in an unheated room.
- The pots should get direct sun for few hours or put them under bright grow lights.
- The crocus plants growing out of the bulbs wilt after some time.
- Then move the pots into a warmer room, and this will prompt flowering.
- Take a piece of parchment paper and then remove 3 red stigmas from each flower and put in this paper for drying.
- Keep them in dry containers.
You can then use few strands every time you prepare rice-based dishes for adding both color and flavor.
Paprika or capsicum annum is a colorful and mildly hot spice. It is obtained by drying and powdering skin from mild chili peppers. The commonly used bell peppers which are used as veggies are not best for preparing paprika. They are excessively fleshy. You can grow peppers at home that have thin skin for making your own paprika.
Growing Paprika in Home
Choose an area in your home that gets lots of bright sunlight. You can sow its seeds directly into rich soil that is well draining or into seed starting trays.
Ideally, you should grow one plant in one pot. You are going to need many plants to make even a handful of this powdered spice.
The chilies should be harvested when you see them becoming bright red and ripe. They should be dried first. Hang them in bunches. Spread them in one layer in a semi-shade area so that they become brittle.
Grind the chilies to get coarse or smooth powder. Dry again on paper mat. Avoid any dampness because it can result in mold. Dry chilies and paprika should be stored in air-tight jars.
Fennel is a wonderful spice known for its sweet taste. Foeniculum vulgare dulce can be grown in your home if you have lots of space. It is enough to grow just few plants. They can give you the required amount of seeds. However, keep in mind that its plants grow large and tall.
Growing Fennel in Your Home
You must sow fennel seeds directly into the pots because it doesn’t like to be transplanted. You should press 2 to 3 seeds into well draining and rich potting mix in a single pot. Both the fennel leaves and the bulb-like, swollen bases are consumed. You should however allow the plants to flower and have seeds for the spice.
It is not going to take long. It takes just 6 weeks for the flowers to appear and the fruits don’t take long to ripen. Cover the plant in a paper bag to collect the fruits. Then cut off the stem. The spice should be dried in shade and then stored in airtight containers.
You can chew fennel as a mouth freshener. You can also prepare tea to give soothing effect for upset stomach. You can also use the sweet spice with confectionery and curries.
You can easily grow mustard at home. You can prepare mustard sauce using the spice. There are so many species of mustard plant -- B. juncea, Brassica nigra and B. alba. They are part of the cabbage family. You can raise the plants from the seeds.
Growing Mustard in Your Home
- Take a shallow tray and start mustard seeds.
- Transplant them into pots when you see that the plants are developing into 2 sets of true leaves.
- You can use the young leaves and the seedlings as greens. They can be thinned out as required.
- Make sure the pots are kept in sunny area and get regular water.
- There will be many seeds in the long and thin seed pods that come after the flowers
- You should harvest these pods before they burst.
- You should cut the stalks when they are green.
- Dry in a sack in the shade.
- Winnowing will be required for cleaning the seeds.
Whole seeds should be used for tempering. You can also grind the seeds with vinegar for preparing mustard sauce.
You can find almost all the spices at the local grocery. But there are many benefits of growing them in your home. They will have unique flavor and great medicinal benefits.