By Nathan Chambers, Recent Arizona State University Nutrition Student
For Christmas last year we got two kittens. If you’ve ever adopted a new pet, you know that your child is going to make you buy things that you simply do not need for the animal. Our cats have harnesses. Who walks their cat?
One item that became of particular interest to my daughter– the kittens didn’t care about it at all– was the pet grass. She checked on it every day, measuring the new height of each rapidly growing blade. It got me thinking… how can I turn this into a profit?
Just kidding. But by growing your own herb garden, you could save a few bucks on grocery trips! And if you can get your kid to do the maintenance work, hey free labor.
We wanted to pick plants that could be grown indoors with relatively little care, but we also wanted things that we might actually use.
Starting small, we chose three plants:
- Red Chili Pepper— Okay, so this isn’t an herb… but it can be a relatively prolific provider! Or so I’ve read. Ours has yet to produce, but it is a beautiful plant. Also, my wife loves spicy foods, so we were anxious to get some home grown peppers.
Like most indoor plants, you want to place your chili pepper plant near a window that receives ample light. Water when the soil begins to dry out, but don’t keep it soaked all the time, or you risk rotten roots.
- Peppermint-– Here is an herb for you! We picked mint based on its ease of care and the pleasant scent the plant gives off.
To my knowledge, our daughter never had any particular affinity for mint, but now that she is in charge of its care, she loves adding a few leaves to her lemon water.
Care for the peppermint plant is the same as for the chili pepper. Though mint does tend to do better in cooler weather than the pepper.
- Basil— Another herb and another one picked because it is easy to care for. Basil will also give off a pleasant scent.
Our favorite use for basil is in a Caprese salad. Though my daughter doesn’t particularly care for this use, she will eat all the mozzarella if I turn my back on her!
There is nothing to the care of this plant either. Water when the soil becomes dry, keep near a sunny window and make sure that the air around it is free of pollutants.
These plants are very easy to keep, even for someone without a green thumb.
I have found this to be an amazing tool to teach our daughter the importance of responsibility: if you don’t water your plants, and turn them occasionally, and don’t forget that they need to be fertilized… if you don’t do these things your plant will die. No more mint water!
When the plants are big and fruitful enough to produce, it is also a great way to introduce her to working in the kitchen. By giving her some basic prep work, washing the basil and gathering the supplies, for example, she learns how much work it takes to cook a meal. She is developing an appreciation for the kitchen.
If you decide to go out and buy yourself and your child, a basil plant (or five– you really need a few if you’re going to have enough to actually use), you will probably want my Caprese salad recipe.
I’ve seen Caprese salad served with just olive oil, as a literal bowl of salad with pieces of mozzarella, and as a heap of cheese balls, basil, and cherry tomatoes. This is how I like to prepare it:
1 vine-ripe tomato, sliced into ¼ inch discs
½ pound of mozzarella, sliced into ¼ inch discs
10-15 fresh leaves of basil
Olive oil for drizzling
Balsamic vinegar for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste
Layer the sliced tomato, mozzarella, and leaves of basil alternating between the three ingredients. Drizzle the salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Lightly salt and pepper.
That’s it! A colorful starter for your meal.