Houseplants are growing increasingly popular and we are not one to argue with that. In a previous blog we talked about growing culinary herbs indoors, but is it a more unusual idea to consider herbs more generally as houseplants?! Herbs would provide both the aesthetics of a houseplant yet with the added benefits of either a culinary or medicinal use; it seems to provide the best of both worlds to us.
In this blog we explore ten herbs that we grow here at Jekka’s which some of the team are keeping as houseplants. For each we describe their culinary & medicinal uses and how to care for them.
Aloe is a member of the Asphodelacea family; it originates from the Arabian Peninsula but now grows wild in tropical, semi-tropical, and arid climates around the world. Due in part to its striking geometric leaf shape it has become a popular plant to have in the home.
Aloes are very easy to care for; they want minimal water which means allowing the soil to dry out almost completely in between watering. Position your plant in a nice bright spot in the home without too much direct sun or the leaves will scorch and turn brown. Aloe produces off shoots of little babies which, when large enough, you can carefully remove and propagate.
Jekka’s top tip: always water your plants in the morning. Many of them do not like to go to bed with wet roots.
Aloe has been widely used in herbal medicine and the gel has cooling and moisturising properties that provides relief from sunburn, minor burns, cuts and insect bites, making it an essential plant to keep as part of an herbal first aid kit. It can be used straight from the plant or made into a gel and applied straight to the skin. Read more in Jekka’s Blog “Grow your own herbal first aid kit”
To harvest; cut the leaf from the top of the plant – the older the plant the more active ingredients it will have - and simply apply to the affected area.
Alternatively you can make a Aloe soothing gel as follows:
Aloe soothing gel
- 1 aloe vera leaf
- A drops of lavender or tea tree oil
- Sterilised glass jar
- Peel the tough outer skin from the leaf.
- Extract the clear gelatinous gel and place in blender.
- For every 50ml of gel add 4 drops of essential oil. Blend thoroughly.
- Store in a glass jar, seal and label. Keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.
Sweet Aztec plant is part of the Verbenaceae family and native to Mexico and parts of Central America. This is perhaps the prettiest of all the herbs on this list and has a naturally sweet flavour to it.
This plant needs lots of sunlight, so find a spot that gets the most amount of light through the winter. Water when the top of the soil looks dry.
As the name suggests this has been used throughout history as a natural sweetener, the chemicals in the sweet Aztec have been tested and found to be 1200 times sweeter than sugar. Before using, taste a leaf so you can get an idea of just how sweet it is. Use in desserts, fruit salad or even tea.
Warning: this plant also contains Camphor which can be toxic to the nervous system so it’s wise to consult a physician before consuming large amounts.
The Caper plant is from the family Capparaceae and is native to Mediterranean regions. It is remarkably adaptable to harsh environments making this the houseplant for you if you need one that is low maintenance.
Caper plants have delicate, ovate shaped leaves and beautiful flowers that can span 2-3 inches. However, it is not a guarantee that these will flower if kept inside all year. It is a drought tolerant plant that requires minimal watering and prefers to be kept dry. It needs a good sunny position and can survive to -5 Deg C.
The Mediterranean shrub is well known for its edible flower buds and fruit which are most commonly pickled. You should be able to pick capers from May to September, from the third year onwards after sowing from seed. Harvest the flower buds when they are still tight. This usually means picking them early in the morning before they start to open in the heat of the day.
Medicinally Capers have a range of properties and are high in vitamins and minerals.
Cardamom is a member of the Zingiberacea family, which also contains ginger and turmeric. It is indigenous to South India where it grows abundantly under the forest canopy. It was known as Queen of the spices, with black pepper being known as King.
Cardamom is a subtropical evergreen perennial with smooth lance shaped aromatic dark green leaves and a thick branching rhizome. It does not flower in cold climates and therefore, will not set seeds in the UK; however, the seed pods are freely available and there are numerous recipes that involve them.
In the UK, it is the leaves that can be grown and used; they do not smell the same as the seed and have a warm sweet aromatic scent. They can be used to wrap around fish, rice or vegetables to add flavour during cooking. When used with fish, they keep it beautifully moist. The leaves can also be used to infuse custards.
The medicinal properties of cardamon are found in the seed which are believed to have pain-reliving, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties.
Cuban Oregano has many different names such as Jamacian Broad Leaf Thyme, Mexican Mint and Indian Borage (Check out Jekka's recent Instagram post). It is a member of the Lamiaceae family, native to Southern and Eastern Africa. It is an interesting looking plant with thick fluffy leaves and will be quite happy as a houseplant in the UK.
Cuban Oregano will thrive best in partial sun to shade and should only be watered when the top 5cm feel dry. This is a creeping fast-growing plant which grows well from cuttings – take these in the Spring before the new growth begins.
It is commonly used as a culinary plant. The leaves are edible and have a peppery oregano-like aroma, which when cooked become sweet. Harvesting is easy; pick the leaves and finely chop into your dish. Well paired with stuffing of meat and poultry or to mask the strong odours of fish. Alternatively simply enjoy as an ornamental plant.
Less is known about this plant medicinally however, if drunk as tea, it is thought to help with sore throats, headaches and coughs.
Gotu Kola, also known as Indian Pennywort and Tiger Gras, is native to Asia and is from the Apiaceae family. With bright, kidney shaped leaves, it is a beautiful plant to have in the home.
This plant wants lots of water as, in its natural environment, it would be found in swamp like conditions. It also prefers being kept out of direct sunlight. They make attractive hanging plants with their long tendrils. Jekka advises to regularly remove the leaves to promote new growth and to encourage the plant to spread.
The Gotu Kola leaves can be harvested like a salad leaf, eaten raw or cooked into dishes. However, it’s best not to heat them as it can damage their important phytochemicals. The stem contain lots of nutrients and can be eaten as well as the leaves. Typically, the leaves of Gotu Kola can be added to salads, pestos and sauces.
This herb has numerous traditional and contemporary uses. Traditionally known as a protective nerve, skin and digestive tonic; it is now gaining popularity for skin care with high antioxidant properties.
East Indian Lemongrass is from the family Poaceae and usually found growing in tropical regions. It has been successfully grown in temperate climates however, as it won’t tolerate temperatures below 8 degrees, it makes a great option for a houseplant. The long linear leaves can grow to 1.5m and provide an interesting architectural structure.
This plant will go dormant in the lower light months so reduce the watering to a minimum. In spring, when new shoots are produced you can cut back all dead growth and stalks to 5cm and then check weekly for watering. To harvest simply cut the leaves from the lower 10cm of the plant
The Lemongrass leaf is traditionally used in cooking in the Far East whereas, in the UK, we have easier access to the root due to import restrictions. By growing your own plant you can harvest the leaf to infuse in hot water and make a wonderful tisane. For a more intense lemon flavour, cut the stems at ground level. Read Jekka's Guide to Herbal Infusions for some more herbal tea ideas.
Medicinally, the leaves can be harvested to make tea for a stomach and gut relaxant and the essential oil is believed to be antiseptic and deodorising.
The Mushroom Plant is from the family Acanthaceae and originates from Papua New Guinea. This is a tender, evergreen, tropical perennial that will work well as a houseplant due to its preference for warm conditions with partial shade. It is relatively drought tolerant however it will be happiest with regular watering.
As the name suggests, it is a wonderful culinary herb that can be eaten as a salad leaf or added to any dish for it’s mild mushroom like flavour. If adding to hot dishes, add at the last minute to protect its colour and nutrients.
The leaves of the Mushroom Plant contain more protein than mushrooms as well as calcium, vitamin C, iron and other vitamins and minerals. It is high in Chlorophyll, a pigment found in most green vegetables, which has long been used as a health supplement for a variety of reasons.
Pelargonium ‘Mabel Grey’ is from the Geraniaceae family and is native to Africa. The Mabel Grey foliage has a lovely and distinct aromatic lemon flavour to it, making this a plant that is not only aesthetically pleasing but will also make the house smell wonderful. The leaves will also keep their scent when dried.
Water sparingly allowing the soil enough time to dry out in-between watering - particularly in the winter months, less is more. It needs a decent amount of light without too much direct sun. This is a relatively easy plant to propagate from cuttings and will do very well in the right growing conditions.
As a culinary herb, the leaves and flowers of scented Pelargonium are edible and can be used to flavour cakes and other desserts.
This herb has a long list of medicinal uses with its primary uses being for intestinal problems and respiratory ailments. The oil of the Pelargonium is considered a relaxant.
Jekkas top tip: bright indirect light is often the preferred light condition for many plants when kept inside the home, but what does this mean? A room that gets lots of sunlight, at least 6 hours, but not direct sunlight as this can scorch and damage the leaves.
Vietnamese coriander is from the Polygonaceae family which is collectively known as ‘knotweed’ or ‘smartweed’ indicating that they are incredibly easy to propagate. It is indigenous throughout the tropics and subtropics of South and Eastern Asia, where it is used in the kitchen and as a herbal remedy.
Keep on a sunny windowsill and water regularly as it does not want to dry out as, if it does, it will begin to wilt. It grows well in summer in a non-tropical environment so could be put outside, but it will need to be brought inside for the winter.
This is a tender perennial with a spicy coriander like taste and it will be far more generous putting out leaves through the winter season than regular coriander. Used most widely in Southeast Asian cooking as a salad leaf or added to soups and stews. Use this herb fresh for the best flavour; add to salads, spring rolls and Asian inspired dishes. The older the leaves the spicier they become.
Medicinally it is said to treat indigestion, flatulence and stomach aches. It is also reputedly eaten by Buddhist monks to suppress sexual urges.
Want to know more?
Check out Jekka's blog on indoor herb gardening for some advice.
For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter. Together they form the basis of Jekka’s guide on how to grow herbs.
Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days (first days in 2021 are the 3th and 4th April) or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar). Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us (firstname.lastname@example.org). We no longer offer a general mail order service for our plants but we do offer a limited selection of Jekka's Culinary Herb Boxes.
As with all alternative medicines and plants with purported medicinal benefits it is important to inform your doctor or health care provider that you are using them; this helps to ensure safe and coordinated care. We can accept no liability for any side effect or adverse reaction from any allergy or any other cause of harm that may arise. It is important that you consult a licensed medical expert before making any changes to your diet.