How to Grow Organic Herbs

Consider the health benefits of growing herbs organically.
Plants on Windowsill

Plants on Windowsill

Keeping herbs in the kitchen is a luxury any chef can appreciate.

Keeping herbs in the kitchen is a luxury any chef can appreciate.

Cultivation of herbs is nearly as old as recorded history itself. Four thousand years ago, basil was considered sacred in Indian culture. Ancient Romans used dill as an air purifier. Ancient Greeks treated stomach ailments with parsley and in ancient Egypt cumin was employed both in food preparation and mummification.  

It is estimated that 80% of the world’s population uses herbs in some form for medical purposes and they are, of course, commonly grown for culinary purposes, both commercially and by the home gardener.

Herbs grown at home can thrive in a variety of settings. They can be planted in a traditional garden space, or cultivated in pots or seasonally transplanted. Used for cooking, traditional medical uses or simply enjoyed for their aroma or beauty, herbs can live all year long in any sunny indoor space.

O'Toole's Herb Farm is a certified organic herb grower located in Madison, FL. They have been growing herbs for wholesale and retail distribution for over twenty years and for owner Betty “B” O’Toole, organic herbs are a way of life.

“The most obvious reason for growing your herbs organically is for the health benefits,” says B. “And of course they taste better. But to me it is almost a spiritual or psychological shift. You become much more balanced.”

Supporting grassroots efforts to reduce the potential of exposure to toxic chemicals, a 2010 report from the President's Cancer Panel called Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, What We Can Do Now encourages the consumption of foods grown without chemical pesticides, fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics.

Further supporting B’s claims regarding organic farming is a 2010 comparative study done at Washington State University. Findings revealed organically grown strawberries contain higher levels of antioxidants and blind testers reported better flavor than those grown with the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Growing organically promotes biodiversity and a USDA study suggests that growing organically is a step in the right direction for controlling soil erosion, minimizing water pollution and conserving energy. The growing awareness of these benefits has led to increased interest in organic gardening and the availability of certified organic products.

While the availability of organic fertilizers and pesticides is now widespread, a lighter touch may be more effective when treating plants organically, whether they are maintained indoors or out.

“When you’re growing herbs organically, you keep your eyes open and take care of the specific problems,” advises B. “Chemical fertilizers cast a large net. They knock out the chewing insect, which is good, but they also end up killing the good guys like the bees or the earthworms.”

Environmental issues are all but nonexistent when cultivating herbs indoors and diseased plants are easily isolated. Problems may still occur, but a plant resting on the kitchen windowsill is easily monitored for potential problems.

Tips for Growing Herbs Indoors

Selecting herbs: Choose plants that will thrive indoors and that you are likely to use or appreciate aesthetically. 

Containers: Herbs grown indoors can enhance the ambiance of any space. Find containers that reflect the style of their surroundings.

Planting: Medium Soil brought in from the garden may bring with it disease or pests. A few inches of organically rated potting mix is all plants need to flourish.

Natural light: Most do well with at least six to eight hours of regular sunlight. Find locations with ample natural light to keep plants happy. 

Water: Herbs like humidity and regular watering, but too much water can be destructive. Containers with adequate drainage are recommended. 

Picking: Harvesting herbs regularly is actually good for plants and will encourage plant heartiness and growth.

Online Resources for the Organic Gardener

Bountiful Gardens - Dedicated to the distribution of untreated open-pollinated non-GMO seed offering many varieties as Certified Organic seeds for the organic gardener.

Local Harvest –  For the home grower, buying through trustworthy local farms can ensure plants have been grown organically.

The Natural Gardening Company - The first certified organic nursery in the United States. A good source for buying organic herb plants when shopping locally is not an option.

Seeds of Change - All products are grown organically on their own certified organic research facilities or certified organic family farms.

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