Grow herbs on your windowsill

“What could be better than eating fresh produce right from your balcony garden,” asks Chef Ajay Chopra, who admits to being heavily inspired by Jamie Oliver. “I’ve been watching his shows for the past decade or so and I completely agree with his logic of using fresh foods,” adds Chopra, the executive chef at The Westin Mumbai Garden City. The hotel has a flourishing kitchen garden, which Chopra enjoys using. But the chef also grows baby tomatoes, radishes, coriander and chillies at home.

Not everyone has the luxury of space, however. So while an ideal situation could have you grow all that you eat, you could begin by growing herbs on your windowsill. While Indian plants such as curry leaves, mint and tulsi are easily available and often found in Indian households; here are some more options that are just as simple to grow.

Cooking tip: The germ shoot of wheat is known as wheatgrass, explains Chopra. “It is full of magnesium and potassium and is extremely healthy.” Chopra suggests you grind fresh wheatgrass and consume the juice. “You could drink it as is, or mix it with aloe vera or amla.”

How to grow: According to Mohan, you can sow whole-wheat grains to get wheat grass. “Use the unpolished wheat grains which you will find in most provision stores. Soak a handful of grains in water, overnight. Sow these soaked grains in a pot of soil the next day and water regularly as needed. Repeat this process every day till you have about 7-10 pots of wheatgrass growing. Once the grass is about 6-7 inches tall, it can be harvested by cutting it about half/ one inch above the base or surface of the soil,” says Sunita Mohan, who writes a blog on urban gardening.

Best time to grow: All year long

Cooking tip: Most Indians use lemongrass to infuse flavour into their teas, but it can be also be used with kaffir lime leaves to make curry-flavoured pasta sauce, suggests Olive Chef Mayank Tiwari. The herb can also be used to make marinade for chicken or prawn. Just combine it with burnt garlic, either fresh or roasted peppers, salt and some lime, and grill!” he says.

How to grow: “You can grow lemongrass by rooting a market-bought stalk. Keep it in full sun. You can also get divisions from a clump of lemongrass if a friend has a healthy, mature plant,” advises Sunita Mohan, who maintains a blog on urban gardening.

Best time to grow: All year long

Mustard cress
Cooking tip: “This is the sarso before the sarso ka saag,” says Chopra with a laugh. “I love it for the sharp, pungent taste it adds to the food. I just chop it up and use it to garnish kebabs or bring fresh flavour to a salad.” Never cook this delicate herb, he warns—“it would be like dunking a baby in boiling water!”

How to grow: Mustard cress is grown with mustard seeds and needs sunlight through the day. “Do not let direct heat hit the pot. It needs just a sprinkle of water every day,” advises Chopra.

Best time to grow: Winter, needs a moderate climatic ambience

Betel nut leaf
Cooking tip: Blogger and urban gardener Preeti Patil, who has a balcony-full of fruits and vegetables, loves using chopped up betel nut leaves in salads and soups. “It adds a lovely mild flavour to the food,” she says.

How to grow: “Betel nut grows as a creeper. It is propagated through a cutting of a stem, and must be grown in cool, shaded areas,” advises Patil.

Best time to grow: All year longĀ 

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