By Charmaine Peters, Farm Director at Arden
For centuries, herbs and spices have been kitchen staples — transforming simple ingredients into extraordinary culinary experiences. Herbs have also been popular additions to gardens, with approximately 33% of U.S. households growing herbs like rosemary, thyme, or dill in their backyard each year. You might be surprised to know that you can also grow a variety of spices in your home too!
You don’t even need a backyard or gardening experience to grow spices at home. Here are five spices you can easily plant indoors for year-round flavor.
Coriander is the dry seed from the cilantro herb. These seeds are used whole, usually toasted, or ground as a spice in European, Asian, Latin, and Indian cuisine. It has a citrus flavor and floral aroma, perfect for dishes like curry. It can be grown indoors as it prefers cool weather and does not need full sun. After soaking the seeds overnight, sow them in a container about 3 to 4 inches apart, then water them thoroughly when the soil is dry. Make sure the soil is moist and not soaked. Coriander can take three weeks to sprout and 40 to 45 days to mature. Harvest the seeds and dry them on a paper towel or coffee filter for a week. When seeds are dry, roast the seeds in a pan on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Lightly press them; if they crack, they are ready to spice up your dish now. You can also grind them to use Coriander powder in other recipes or store it in a tightly sealed container to use at another time.
Mustard is one of the world’s most widely grown and used spices. Whether ground or whole, it offers various health benefits and a unique zing to your dishes. The plant is bright yellow with seeds that have a mild, earthy aroma and a hot, sharp flavor that strengthens when wet. Mustard is a cool-season plant that can be grown indoors any time of the year. Start with six seeds in every container and expect them to sprout in one or two days under the right conditions. Move them into a bigger container when the seedlings are about 3 inches tall and wait for about 40 days. When ready for harvest, snip the stock carefully and rub the seed pods off. Use a colander as you harvest the seeds to separate them from unwanted leaves or stems. Grind the seeds until powdered. You can use this powder right away, or mix it with water, wine, vinegar, or champagne, then refrigerate it to make it more like a spread for your next sandwich or burger. Keep this refrigerated to use for up to 2 weeks, or pop it in the freezer to extend its use for a full year.
True to its reputation, Paprika can spice up any dish. It comes from dried and ground sweet bell peppers or chili peppers. Its hot, sweet, and smoky flavor depends on the pepper used, and its color can vary in shades of red. It brings spicy flavor, vibrant color, and a boost of Vitamin C to dishes. Peppers are sun-loving vegetables, so pick a sunny spot with about 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily. Scatter the seeds over the moist soil and lightly cover them with more potting mix. The seedlings should appear within two weeks; if the sprout is leggy, which means it has long, thin stalks, it needs more sunlight. Once it has around five to eight leaves and roots poking at the drainage holes, it’s time to transplant them into bigger pots. Wait for 80 days then only harvest the ripest peppers for a richer flavor. Remove the green top and the seeds, slice the peppers, and let them completely dry. When ready, grind, and use to top off your next barbecue or save for later.
Growing cumin seeds indoors will need some patience as its growing cycle is about 120 days. Whole cumin seeds are often used in Indian recipes, while ground cumin is more common in Mexican and Middle Eastern dishes. It has a warm, earthy flavor and tangy, musky aroma. Cumin grows best in warm climates and needs full sunlight for 6 to 8 hours daily. After soaking the seeds for 8 hours, sow them in well-drained soil. Seeds should germinate in approximately 7 to 14 days. It’s time to harvest when the seed clusters turn brown and dry out. Cut the stalks and place them in a paper bag. Tie and hang them upside down; the seeds should fall naturally into the bag within 10 days. Roast the harvested seeds in a pan, on medium heat, while stirring for 1 to 2 minutes before grinding them. Cumin is great to use right away in soups and vegetable dishes. It’s best to make this in small batches to help retain the flavor for a month.
Turmeric (pictured above), a relative of ginger, is known for its vibrant golden-orange color and pleasantly earthy, bitter taste. This medicinal herb is often used for treating pain and inflammation. For cooking, this ground-dried spice adds color and kick to your dish, even to cakes and desserts. Its excellent benefits are worth the 9 to 10-month wait before harvest. Start by soaking the turmeric rhizome for 24 hours, then pre-sprout it in a moist, sterile potting mix. Cover the container to keep it humid and maintain moisture as needed. Using a heat mat can help in maintaining a more constant temperature. Sprouts should appear within a month; then you can transplant them into deeper containers. It’s time to harvest when the leaves turn yellow and dry out. Carefully dig the entire plant and remove the soil. To replant, cut the stalk off and replant the rhizome you set aside. To make the spice, clean and peel the rhizome, then slice them thinly to dry them faster. Once brittle, they are ready to be pulverized. Turmeric is great for tea and marinating foods. It keeps for up to two weeks in the fridge and 6 months in the freezer.
Homegrown and home-ground spices are the freshest way to bring the heat to your kitchen and keep a little to use later. With patience, they can flourish in the smallest spaces and transform the cozy corners of your home into a living spice rack in a pot. This journey of nurturing seeds to harvesting the fruits of your labor will make your dish even more memorable.