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A critical herb for cuisines around the world and a favorite pairing for tomatoes, basil is easy to grow indoors. Pinch off individual leaves and add to salads, sandwiches and sauce. Make your own pesto. Plant seeds or purchase small plants and pot them in rich, organic potting soil. Basil loves heat and bright light, so give it a southern or western window or use a grow light. Avoid cool, drafty spots, especially in the winter. Basil is not a long-term houseplant. You can expect to keep and use it for several weeks, until the stems start to grow woody. To ensure a steady supply, plant a new batch of seeds every few weeks.
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The thick, flavorful leaves of this Mediterranean shrub are essential ingredients for soups and stews. Pick individual leaves as needed or harvest a few from larger plants and dry them for storage. The oldest leaves have the strongest flavor. Plant in fast-draining soil, and place in a bright east- or west-facing window. Good air circulation helps prevent disease. Watch for shield-like scale insects on leaves and stems. Be ready with neem oil to control outbreaks.
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One of the four herbs used to make the traditional French fines herbes blend, chervil is an annual with an anise-parsley flavor. It's an essential ingredient in Béarnaise sauce and pairs well with fish, potatoes, steamed carrots and eggs. Snip fresh leaves for salads, steep in white wine vinegar for dressings, or add them at the end of cooking to retain their flavor. Start chervil seeds in moist potting soil in deep pots to give their tap roots room to grow. After sprouting, keep plants cool (60 to 70 degrees F) and give them moderate sun. Replant every few weeks to keep plenty of fresh young leaves on hand.
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The spiky leaves of this onion-flavored herb add a mild kick to eggs, soups, and salads, and make pretty garnishes. Use scissors to snip off individual leaves or give the whole plant a "crew cut" to keep floppy leaves tidy. Leave at least 2" of growth so that plants can resprout. Start with a purchased plant and pot it in rich, organic soil. Chives grow best in bright light, such as a south-facing window.
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With dozens of flavorful varieties available, you could devote an entire garden to mint. Choose from peppermint, spearmint, chocolate, orange, apple, banana and more. Snip leaves and sprigs for tea and mixed drinks, salads and desserts. Mint plants usually grow rambunctiously and their trailing, fragrant stems make them attractive houseplants. Keep the soil moist and give them moderate to strong light. Most are hardy perennials that can tolerate temperatures into the 30s.
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A must for Italian, Mexican, Central American and Middle Eastern cuisines, oregano is member of the mint family. Strip the leaves from snipped stems and add to tomato sauces, meat, casseroles, soups and stews. The dried leaves are more pungent than fresh. Grow oregano as you would other mints. Water when the surface of the soil is dry, but don't let it dry out. Give the plants moderate to strong light.
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Choose curly or flat-leaf, but do give one a place in your kitchen garden. More than just a garnish, parsley adds bright color and flavor to soups, salads and fresh sauces. It's essential in tabbouleh, and delicious in pesto, stuffing, chicken, fish and vegetable dishes. Harvest individual leaves by pinching stems off near the base. Grow in a deep pot with rich, organic potting soil and provide strong light.
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On a cold, wintry day, the earthy fragrance from a few crushed rosemary leaves can transport you to warmer climes. The needled leaves are among the must-add herbs to chicken, pork, lamb, soups, potatoes and olive oil. It's also delicious in tomato and cream sauces. Snip 1-4" sprigs and toss into soups, or strip the leaves and mince. Rosemary tolerates hot, sunny, dry locations in the summer months, but prefers cooler temperatures (40 to 65 degrees F) in the winter, as long as the light is strong.
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The versatile flavor of thyme — and its many varieties — make it a key ingredient in nearly every cuisine of the world. Its tiny leaves and trailing stems give it natural houseplant appeal, too. Pot thyme in a fast-draining soil mix and place it in a warm, sunny window. Water when the surface of the soil is dry, but don't let it wilt.
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