The health benefits of spices are indisputable. Aside from improving the taste of our food, spices are rich in volatile oils which improve digestion and also support other systems in the body. Plus, they have antimicrobial properties and have long been used in food preservation methods like drying and pickling.
Spices often go hand in hand with herbs. The difference between the two is that herbs are leaves and young stems of plants, while spices are the dried plant plants other than leaves. It’s true that many herbs have a spicy taste, but they are not true spices. In other words, pepper is a berry, cloves are young flower buds, cardamom is a fruit and cinnamon is made from the bark of the cinnamon tree.
Nothing like herbs, spices typically grow in the tropical and subtropical regions, which makes it rather difficult to grow them in continental climates. What makes the entire idea even more challenging is the fact that some spices come from mature trees. On the plus side, some low growing spices, such as ginger and turmeric, can actually thrive in the heated interiors of our homes.
Below we provide useful tips on how to grow some spices at home.
Ginger is the ample stem or rhizome of a perennial plant, Zingiber officinale, although we commonly refer to it as ginger root. It first appeared in South China, and soon afterwards in other tropical regions, such as West Africa and India. From here, it spread to Britain and other European countries. Today, ginger is commonly used in everything from savory curries to confectionery and baked goods. Many use it in herbal teas as well because of its strong therapeutic effects.
How to grow ginger
To start with, get several 1-2” pieces of ginger root that contains, at least, one ‘eye’ or growing bud. The new root will grow from this.
Next, fill a large tub with rich, well-draining potting mix then lay the ginger pieces 6” apart on top of the tub. Cover them with an inch of sand pressing down firmly. You should keep the tub in a well-lit area or under grow lights. The rhizomes should be watered regularly once the soil dries and fertilized once in two weeks. A general purpose fertilizer will do.
If you grow ginger indoors, you can treat it as a perennial. Each time you need some ginger, simply dig into the soil and break off only as much of the rhizome as you need.
Ginger can also be grown outdoors, but for this you need a very sunny location. Regular water supply and proper drainage are also very important. If planted in early spring, it sends up aerial stems throughout the summer. However, the leaves will probably start to yellow in fall. Ginger grown outdoors is best defined as an annual because winter frost will rot the rhizomes. What you do is dig up the entire plant, shake off the soil, and harvest the rhizome by removing the aerial stems.
What you can do with the harvested ginger is dry, candy or pickle it for future use.
Dried ginger is easily made dipping the rhizomes in boiling water, skinning and slicing them before letting them dry in the shade. You store the dried pieces of ginger in airtight jars or grind them into ginger powder which can easily use for baking goods. You can also effectively treat cough with a mixture of ginger powder and honey.
You need syrup to make candied ginger, and vinegar for pickled one. When consumed in small quantities, both candies and pickled ginger can relieve nausea and improve digestion.
Aside from its golden yellow color, turmeric also adds a spicy flavor to condiments and curries. Native to India, Curcuma longa, can be grown indoors similarly to ginger. This spice has powerful antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties, which should be a good enough reason for you to consider growing it at home.
How to grow turmeric
Finding planting material for turmeric can be quite hard, as this spice is commonly sold as a powder. But, if you can get several pieces of the rhizome just to start with, they will grow every year, leaving you with an abundance of the root.
As with ginger, stick pieces of turmeric into tubs or pots of the well-draining potting mix. Cover these with an inch of soil and water well. Turmeric requires a lot of light in order for the large emerging leaves to have a lush green look.
You can also grow turmeric outdoors. Ideally, you should double till the beds to enable good root run and drainage. The best time for harvest is the fall, when the leaves start to wither.
Once you harvest the rhizomes, boil them for 35 to 45 minutes then dry. This doesn’t only intensify the color, but also increases turmeric shelf life. You can simply store the dried stems or crush them into powder.
Turmeric can add color to your mustard and other homemade sauces. You can also use it for deep frying. If you are dealing with mouth ulcers, a pinch of turmeric applied topically will speed up healing.
Coriander can refer to both a herb and a spice. Chinese, Indian and Mexican cuisines use the leaves of the Coriandrum sativum plant or Chinese parsley in abundance. The spice is made of the dried seeds of the same plant. It’s very different in taste though.
How to grow coriander
This plant grows very quickly and you can grow it indoors at any time of year. If you want to grow it from seeds, start by rubbing the coriander seeds between the palms of the hand so as to break them into halves. You can plant 3-4 of these in large pots. Make sure the soil is evenly moist. There will be simple leaves with uneven edges at first, but as the plant grows, finely divided lacy leaves will appear. When the seedlings fall over, just cover their bases with more soil and pat down.
Coriander thrives in cool weather, so you can plant it early in spring or even in fall where climates are milder. If you grow it outdoors, it thrives only during the cool temperatures. When temperatures rise, the plant bolts and sends up a long stem that carries the flowers which would eventually turn into coriander seeds. You can also stimulate bolting in the indoor plants by diminishing water.
The flowers will then develop into green globular fruits. You harvest these by cutting the entire stem and placing them in a large brown paper cover to dry. The fruits will eventually detach. The next step is drying them in the sun then storing them in dry jars. Grind the dry coriander seeds into powder. You can also toast them lightly to get a nutty flavor.