One area I’ve expanded each year is growing my own spices and herbs. In vegetable gardening, we start with growing what we eat, so why not add homegrown spices and herbs to the mix?
Today I’m going to share with you 10 best and easiest spices and herbs to grow yourself, even if you’re a beginner. Click below to listen to the full podcast episode, or continue reading.
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Simple & Herbs Spices to Grow
Most gardeners enjoy growing and using basil when it’s fresh, but having dried basil on hand is a must for year-round use in pasta sauces and other dishes. While the flavor does decline when dried, it’s still better than any jar you purchase of the grocery store shelf
How to Grow Basil
Basil is a warm-season crop that you will want to plant after the danger of frost has passed. It will not tolerate cool weather well (even the low 40s at night can damage delicate basil leaves), so think warm when you think about planting.
You can purchase a transplant and sow seeds directly in your garden. Basil is so easy to grow from seed that you can start the seeds indoors and transplant them yourselves for an earlier harvest.
If you’re thinking about basil as a spice in your cabinet, the variety you grow matters. You’ll likely want to grow a Green Italian Basil for your most basic dishes.
How to Harvest and Dry Basil
How do you harvest to use all season? Simply pinch basil leaves before they start to develop a flower. In the photos above, the diamond-shape cluster in the middle is what you want to watch for. Harvest before those grow any larger.
From there, you’ll need to dry the leaves. I prefer using a dehydrator. Dehydrate at 95 degrees (F). When the leaves are dry and brittle, crush or grind them (I use a mortar and pestle) and pack them into a jar with an airtight lid.
Basil goes to flower easily so harvest early and often. A tip I recommend is planting a second harvest in late summer so you get fresh basil for an extended period of time.
Dried oregano is a staple in many pantries, especially for spaghetti sauce and in other spice blends. Thankfully, it’s also easy to grow and harvest.
How to Grow Oregano
Oregano is a perennial plant in zones 5 and up. This means it returns each season on its own. I find it best and easiest to purchase a transplant and put it in a 10-12″ pot to give it room to grow. Oregano is difficult (though not impossible) to start from seed.
Keep in mind that oregano comes from the mint family and will expand; you may need to divide it or transfer it into a larger container in future seasons.
How to Harvest and Dry Oregano
You can eat oregano fresh pretty much anytime it’s established, but for dried oregano, harvest when the leaves are at the highest quality — in the spring before it flowers and in the fall when new growth has grown after flowering has finished. Clip the stems and dehydrate at 95F until the leaves are crisp. Then, separate leaves from the stem and grind with a mortar and pestle.
While fresh parsley is a welcome addition to many dishes, others dishes and spice mixes include dried parsley.
How to Grow Parsley
Parsley is a biennial. This means that in the first year it will produce leaves and then in the second year it will start to produce the flower stalks. The first year is when you want to harvest parsley for best results, before the center stalk begins developing the second year.
I recommend that you purchase a transplant in the spring (starting from seed can be done, but it can be difficult since they take a long time to germinate).
How to Harvest and Dry Parsley
Parlsey leaves can be harvested anytime after the plant is established, never harvesting more than 1/3 of the leaves at once. I recommend dehydrating parsley at 95 degrees and grinding it for your spice cabinet. You can also hang-dry it in a cool, dark location, and grind after it has dried completely.
Dill is not only for pickles! The dried herb is lovely in potato salads, omelets, and ranch dressing mixes.
How to Grow Dill
Dill likes milder weather so it grows well in the warm spring and fall. Dill is easy to direct sow seeds when the soil temperature has reached at least 60 degrees. I grow one planting in the early spring (planting a couple of weeks before the last frost has passed) and another in the late summer for a fall harvest.
How to Harvest and Dry Dill
Dill is used for both its leaves and its seeds. To harvest leaves, harvest before they start to develop a really tall umbrella-shaped seed stalk. Once they develop this stalk, they will drop seeds and will self sow. So more than likely, you will have a second harvest for you in the fall.
Dill leaves are easily dried by hanging in a cool and dark place, but you can also speed up the process in a 95F dehydrator for a few hours. To grind, you can usually simply crush with your fingers or use a mortar and pestle.
If you want to harvest dill seed, simply harvest those “umbrella heads” before the seeds drop but after they are nice and firm.
A staple in many Thanksgiving dressing (or stuffing) recipes, sage is one herb you want to have on hand.
How to Grow Sage
Sage is a perennial in zones 4-8. You will want to plant this via transplant in the spring (those in zones 9 and 10 can plant in the fall). Let your sage develop and grow all season long. You can pinch a few leaves here and there, but for a full harvest to dry, you’ll want to let it grow all season.
How to Harvest and Dry Sage
If sage is a perennial in your zone, harvest about a third of it in the fall. If it is not perennial and either dies in the winter or in the summer (depending on whether you’re in a cold or hot zone), harvest the entire plant at the end of the season.
From there, dry the leaves in the dehydrator at 95F. You can grind them with a mortar and pestle and store in a spice jar, or you can store the leaves whole and only dry a little at a time as needed for the freshest flavor.
It’s safe to say I use garlic powder more than any other seasoning, after salt and pepper. Since garlic is a staple in my garden as well, it’s an easy decision to make it part of my spice cabinet, too!
How to Grow Garlic
Garlic is planted in the fall, and you can find a tutorial on growing it here. For garlic powder, you can dehydrate the cloves anytime — right after harvest, toward the end of their storage life, or anytime in between.
How to Dry Garlic for Garlic Powder
To prepare garlic for dehydrating, peel the cloves and either slice or dice. Then, pop them in the dehydrator and dry at 105F. When dry, then take your dried cloves and store them in an air-tight container.
From there, grind the dried garlic a little at a time as needed with a coffee grinder that’s dedicated for spice use. I typically grind half a spice jar at a time. When we grind our own spices and herbs, we don’t have the anti-caking agents in them that store-bought spices and herbs do. This means if you grind too much and don’t use it fast enough, it will clump and harden. Plus, fresh-ground garlic powder is the most flavorful.
Onion powder is another staple in most of our pantries, and making it is simple. The good thing is you can use any onion bulb — even the onions that have bolted prematurely that won’t store well. You can also use onions that are nearing the end of their shelf-life.
How to Grow Onions
Since onion powder is made from bulbs (though many gardeners use green onions in this way, too), here’s a post about how to grow onions for bulbs.
How to Dry Onions for Onion Powder
The method to make your own powder is very similar to garlic powder. Roughly chop or slice onions to similar-size chunks (about 1/4″ wide). Dry at 155F until they are leathery. Store in an air-tight jar and only grind as needed for best flavor preservation. Similar to garlic powder, it can cake and clump, so I usually dry a half spice jar at a time.
Spices from Pepper Plants
Our last three spices are made from peppers. Peppers love to grow in the heat and in sunny spaces. For spice peppers, I haven’t noticed sunscald being an issue like with bell peppers, so the hotter and sunnier the better.
Planting a handful of plants in good soil should be more than enough to last you a year. Below are the options for what to grow for different pepper spices, and keep reading for specific instructions for harvesting and drying.
Cayenne Powder (or Ground/Crushed Red Pepper)
Any kind of cayenne pepper will work for cayenne powder or crushed red pepper flakes. When you buy seeds or plants, the word “cayenne” should be in the name.
I love growing peppers for paprika. Many seed companies offer options, and I usually grow Hungarian Paprika and Alma. The Alma peppers are very small but with thick fruit walls and the Hungarian produce large peppers with thin walls. Both produced about the same amount of final product, though I’ll continue testing.
True chili powder is a blend of peppers, and true chili pepper enthusiasts have their own recommendations, but as a home gardener, I keep it simple.
In 2021 I grew the Amazing Chili 2 from Johnny’s Seeds since it was listed as a good pepper for chili powder. They were right! This has been the most prolific pepper I’ve ever grown. I only planted 5 plants and I eventually just stopped harvesting because I had so many. With just those few plants, I harvested and dried enough to stock our family in chili powder for the year.
How to Harvest and Dry Peppers for Spice (Cayenne, Paprika, and Chili Powder)
Once your pepper plants are growing and the peppers have turned bright red, you can begin harvesting.
To dry peppers for spice, you have a few options. In areas of lower humidity, you can hang dry or let them sit on a counter. Once dry, use gloves to pinch off the top and empty out the seeds. Then pulse the peppers in a dedicated coffee grinder for spices until smooth.
In areas of higher humidity or if you don’t want to wait for them to naturally dry, you can use a dehydrator. For smaller peppers, you can dehydrate whole at 125 degrees and use the method above. For larger ones, with gloved hands, slice in half or in rings (just as long as the size is uniform) and remove seeds. Dehydrate at 125 until brittle and leathery.
Keep in mind that peppers are very hot, so always use gloves when handling them.
Tip: after you grind in the coffee grinder, let the lid stay on it for a while before you open it. Your eyes will thank you!
Below is a quick video on how I took my Amazing 2 chili peppers and made chili powder:
There are tons of ways to “spice” things up in your quest for your own herb and spice cabinet. I recommend starting small with a few of the easier herbs and spices and expanding as you get more confidence.
What about you? What homegrown herbs and spices do you grow?
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