Growing herbs is a great way to get into gardening – even if you don’t have much space. You can grow herbs in pots on your kitchen windowsill or out on the patio. If you have very limited space, try a fragrant hanging basket of herb plants for the back porch. A lot of herbs are so pretty that they also look great in your flowerbeds!
When I first started growing herbs, I bought started herb plants at the nursery for several dollars a plant. Later, I bought organic seeds from a seed catalogue that specializes in herbs. The price I paid back in the early 90s for those seeds would be almost $7.50 per packet today, with inflation. Even though prices are closer to $3 a packet today, it can add up. Growing herbs is like planting a garden to grow vegetables. Buying the seeds costs a fair bit of money!
If you want to be frugal when you start growing herbs at home, try gathering the seeds from your pantry! You may already have the seeds for a number of herbs in your spice cabinet or tea box. Using a handful of seeds from a spice jar or tea bag can save you a pile of money, compared to buying packets of seeds from a nursery or seed catalogue.
Note: For the purposes of this post, I’m taking a rather wide definition of “herbs.” Scallions and garlic aren’t technically herbs or spices. But we don’t generally eat them on their own, but rather use them as seasoning. We do eat fennel bulb and stalks as a vegetable. But this vegetable also provides seeds and fronds that we use more like herbs.
For the best results, buy organic or shop at your local farmers market. Non-organic grocery store produce may not sprout as well. And it may have been exposed to considerably more chemicals than your local produce.
Growing Herbs from Tea Bags
Herbal teas are a surprising source of seeds for your kitchen herb garden. Of course, you can’t just plant a mint tea bag and expect peppermint to grow in your garden! The tea bag has to contain seeds in order for this to work. Both chamomile and fennel teas are a good source of seeds for growing herbs. Just rip the tea bag open to access the seeds.
Chamomile is a flower in the aster family. It’s a pretty flower that looks like a small daisy. The flower is composite, in other words made of two distinct parts. Like a daisy, it is a yellow disk surrounded by white petals. That disk in the center of the flower contains the seeds. It’s also the main component in chamomile tea.
There are a number of different types of chamomile. The two most commonly used are German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla or Matricaria recutita) and English, or Roman, chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile or Anthemis nobilis.)
Unfortunately, a lot of the tea out there is labelled simply as “chamomile,” “chamomile flowers,” or “camomile.” Manufacturers often don’t tell you what kind of chamomile they’ve put in their tea bags. So growing herbs from a chamomile tea bag is going to be a bit of a surprise!
You should be able to figure out what type of chamomile you’re growing once you see them. The Roman chamomile leaves tend to be more grey-green, whereas German chamomile has a more vibrant green to its foliage. If you need help identifying what kind of chamomile you’re growing, check a field guide. If you still can’t figure it out, not to worry! Both Roman and German chamomile have similar properties, and they both make a lovely herbal tea!
A single tea bag can supply enough seeds for a whole bed of chamomile plants. And it only costs you pennies, compared to up to $4 for a packet of chamomile seeds. For the purpose of growing chamomile, be sure that the tea bags contain only pure chamomile. It shouldn’t hurt if you use a blended herbal tea or a chamomile and green tea mix, but you will get fewer chamomile seeds in the tea bag. And depending what’s in the tea, you might end up growing herbs you hadn’t planned on, in addition to the chamomile!
Fennel tea is often made with the seeds of the fennel plant. Check the box to see if this is the case with your preferred brand of tea. Or, simply rip the tea bag open and look at its contents. Fennel seeds are pretty easy to spot.
Again, for the purpose of growing herbs, your best option is to use a tea that contains just the fennel seed. But if you can separate out the fennel seeds from other ingredients, that will work just fine too.
Remember, the point of growing herbs this way is to save money. A few surprises may pop up in your herb garden – or some seeds may not germinate as well as you had hoped – but if you get at least a few of the desired plants you’ll have succeeded!
Growing Herbs from Seeds in Your Spice Cabinet
If you aren’t finding seeds in your herbal tea bags, check the jars in your spice cabinet. Dill, fennel, anise, cumin, coriander, caraway, and others are available in seed form. And yes, they are exactly the same seeds you get in the fancy packets from your seed supplier.
If you can find a $1 jar of dill seed at the dollar store, go for it! When I last grew dill, I started with seeds from a spice shop. They were probably close to ten years old, having been tucked away in a forgotten corner of the kitchen. I just broadcast a few handfuls of them onto prepared soil in the yard, figuring I wasn’t going to lose anything if they didn’t come up. I ended up with a whole border of lush, healthy dill plants within just a few weeks!
So if you have a lot of seeds in your spice cupboard and you want to try your hand at growing herbs, take a chance! It just takes a handful or two. And if they don’t germinate, no loss. But the chances are pretty good they will, unless the seeds were irradiated to prevent them sprouting.
Other Options for Growing Herbs
- Growing herbs from cuttings: Many herbs from the mint family can be rooted in water. This method works for basil, thyme, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, and savory. You could start a whole herb garden from just a few stems of grocery store herbs!
- Planting sprouted foods: If you have an onion or some garlic that sprouts before you can eat it, don’t throw it away! This is not food waste. In fact, some folks sprout these foods intentionally. They even grow ginger by sprouting.
- Growing herbs from extracted seeds: You may have tried seed saving with melons and squash, tomatoes, or even strawberries. There are a few herbs that you can grow the same way. If you like to make teas from juniper berries or rose hips, you can save the seeds and plant them as you would any other vegetable or herb. These plants aren’t likely to grow true to type (meaning the resulting plant will differ somewhat from the parent plant.) But it’s still fun growing herbs like this anyway, because they’ll turn into lovely shrubs for your yard.
- Regrowing herbs from kitchen scraps: You may have seen cool videos in which vegetables like celery or lettuce are regrown from the root end you’d normally throw away. You can do the same thing with herbs! Try this method with a thick slice from the bottom of a fennel bulb. Or if you have chives or scallions (green onions) with the bulb end intact, when you cut the onions, leave a little extra length to the root end. A piece a few inches long can be regrown and planted in your kitchen garden.
Growing Herbs for “Free”: The Bottom Line
Growing herbs using seeds purchased from a reputable seed catalogue comes with a better guarantee than growing herbs from seeds in a spice jar or tea bag. But it can be fun to hunt through your pantry to find “free” seeds! A great many herbs will also grow from cuttings or foods that sprout while in storage. You can plant them to grow onions, garlic, fennel, chamomile, and many other herbs for your cooking.
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Original content © 2018 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
Public domain images by Pixabay users congerdesign, Yulya98, Public Domain Pictures, PDPics, Kapa65, and stevepb
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