Plant an Indoor Kitchen Garden If You Just Can’t Wait!

Indoor kitchen garden potted herbs

I know from Facebook comments on our garden planning post that there are at least a few of you who are really anxious to start gardening. I’m here to tell you that you can start right now. Plant a simple garden in your kitchen to give yourself year-round fresh ingredients for your meals.

A kitchen garden is generally the area of your outdoor garden dedicated to growing herbs and vegetables. Yes, do that, too, but I’m suggesting that you actually start gardening indoors.

You could keep this as simple as a few potted herbs on the window sill or as complicated as taking over a portion of your house with a structured area complete with grow lights. From simple to complex, here are a few ideas where you might start.


Herb Pots on the Window Sills

Scope out window sills to see how much sunny space you actually have. You will need at least five hours of sunlight a day to grow herbs well. Start with just 1-2 pots of the herbs you use or like the most. A lot of fresh food aisles in the grocery stores have herbs for sale in pots, but where is the fun in that? Buy soil-less potting mix or make your own from peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. (Bringing in soil from outdoors could mean bring in creatures you don’t want inside.) Especially with children, growing from seed gives you more of the experience of gardening that is likely to lead you toward a bigger garden.


Fill Your Window with Green

If you want to grow more than just a pot of herbs, you could build your own hydroponic window farm with a few recycled materials and a pump. This is a great way to grow lettuce and other greens.


Make Your Garden a Feature

If you are ready to embrace your gardening, why not make it a feature in your decor. If you move your garden away from the window, you will need grow lights. You can buy shelves with lights built in or get creative with the way you arrange the plants. Put your favorite plant at about nose height in an area you walk by frequently. Imagine yourself rubbing the sage or peppermint leaves for a little aromatic boost during your day. If you have curious toddlers, put the plants high enough that you won’t find them tipped out onto the floor.


Serious Indoor Gardening

Herbs and lettuce are easy, but what about vegetables? You can grow some vegetables indoors. Tomatoes, radishes, and beans can all be grown in pots, but you can also get very serious about your indoor gardening with a deep and wide shelving system complete with lights. These look similar to cafeteria tray holders, and you could build your own system from cafeteria shelving. When you are growing indoors, it’s a challenge to give your vegetables enough room for the roots. If you buy or build shelves, an adjustable system is ideal to accommodate large and small plants.

When your kitchen begins to look like a greenhouse, it might be time to actually build a greenhouse. For now, for the anxious late-winter gardener, survey the kitchenscape to see where you can plant your little patch of green.

Teaching Children about Herbs for Health

Wildcraft Herbal Adventure Game

In the spirit of taking every opportunity for learning, I gave my children a game over the holidays that I knew I intended to use for homeschool lessons: Wildcraft, an Herbal Adventure Game. It’s a cooperative board game that works even for non-readers.

Grandma needs huckleberries for a pie, and the players’ job is to work together to get the berries before nightfall. Along the way, we learn about 25 edible and medicinal plants as we gather those as well. We also land on trouble spots when we have to match illness or injury to the herb cards we’ve gathered. If the player doesn’t have the right card, other players can help if they have cooperation cards. As my family plays, we pause to talk about the herbs quite a bit. Movement on the board spirals around with occasional Chutes-and-Ladders-like moves across the spiral.

Along with the game, we received a videos, ebooks, and an herbal newsletter, so we’ve been working through all of these to learn basics about the plants introduced in the game.

We live near a mature golf course, and a rough area is just outside our back door. There are a lot of tall weeds and grasses around us, and deeper into the course are even more interesting plants (and animals, like deer and smaller creatures). As we venture out on daily dog walks, we have our own semi-cultivated mini wilderness to explore. Without specific knowledge of what we were seeing, the rough just looked like weeds before. Weeds, yes, but excellent weeds that have names and uses we are now learning. Walk time is time to test plant recognition and talk about uses.

We’ve also been applying our herbal knowledge as we create homemade cleaning solutions.

We haven’t come close to reading all of the materials that came with the book. Once we do, we will have a good foundation on which to build more in depth knowledge of natural health.

Wildcraft: An Herbal Adventure Game is made in USA by a small family business.

Old-fashioned Licorice with Fennel Flavor

Homemade licorice

Homemade licorice

Last Wednesday, I cleaned up my overgrown herb garden. I have a whole winter’s worth of mint tea, the fresh sage went into turkey dressing that I’ll be eating in about an hour, and the fennel seeds and leaves my children convinced me would make nice licorice.

My cleaned up fennel plants

My cleaned up fennel plants

Licorice is usually made with licorice root and anise seeds. Because of the potential side effects of actual licorice root (raised blood pressure, edema, and toxicity to liver and cardiovascular system), it made sense to me to use a substitute that has common culinary uses. Fennel seed is also used medicinally to prevent gas. A licorice-like fennel candy makes a nice after dinner treat.

Fennel is much more mild than licorice, so you will need to make a very strong infusion of fennel. I used both seeds (dried for a few days then crushed to release their oils) and leaves (crushed into powder). Next time, I’ll make it stronger.

Fennel seeds I picked last week

Fennel seeds I picked last week


Infusion of Fennel

1/4 c. fennel seeds, crushed
2 Tbs. fennel leaves, powdered
1 c. water

Pour boiling water over the seeds and leaves as for tea. Cover immediately and leave until room temperature. Strain.

I left the infusion overnight then boiled it down a bit to try to concentrate the flavor. Because I added the liquid to a syrup, I wish I had boiled it down more. The whole process would have been faster if I had concentrated the flavor in less liquid.


Fennel Syrup

1 c. blackstrap molasses
1/4 c. oil (I used canola/rapeseed)
1 c. liquid (my fennel infusion)
3/4 c flour, sifted

Makes about 12oz of licorice.

Mix molasses and oil in a heavy saucepan. Add liquid and mix. Use a candy thermometer to bring the mixture up to soft ball stage (~230-245 degrees F).

Long before the syrup reached soft ball stage

Long before the syrup reached soft ball stage

It took me about 40 minutes to bring the syrup to soft ball stage because of the amount of liquid I added. Reduce the liquid, and the process may be faster for you.

Once my slightly fennel-flavored molasses mixture held together in a ball when dropped in cold water, I removed from the heat.


Licorice Dough

Remove from heat. Add flour 1 tablespoon at a time but quickly. The longer the syrup is off the heat, the less time you will have to shape the candies.

The amount of flour you need may vary depending on humidity and temperature. When the mixture forms a thick dough that becomes difficult to stir, put a spoonful in your hand. (Be careful! It could still be quite hot.) If you can roll it in your hands without it sticking, it’s ready to roll out.

Mixing flour into licorice syrup

Mixing flour into licorice syrup

Now, move fast!

Use a heavy metal spatula to scrap all of the mixture onto your working surface before it can harden onto the pan. (I didn’t.) Break off a couple of tablespoons at a time and roll in your hands to make 1/4″-3/8″ wide ropes.

Licorice ropes about 4 to 6 inches long

Licorice ropes about 4 to 6 inches long

I had helpers, and we still lost about 5% of our mixture on the edges of the pan due to our slowness.

We used the candy stuck on the pan to try a version of the licorice water that my children have wanted to try from the Just William stories thinking might work better than the version with modern, store-bought licorice. Around the time of rationing during World War II, licorice was one of the few sweets that children could get, and they got creative in making sweet drinks. It was horrible, according to the children. I think they just don’t have a concept of how what is sweet has changed over time.

Once you have all of the licorice in ropes, use kitchen shears to snip them into ½” pieces. These look just like the licorice I used to buy as a child.

Cut homemade licorice

Cut homemade licorice


Reviews

My daughter very diplomatically asked if she could finish her fennel licorice later and said that it was probably a very adult taste. She’s probably right. The flavor is intense. This is not the hard gelatin goo that generally passes as licorice. With the only sweetener being reduced molasses, it is a bit bitter but it tastes great to me. My husband said it’s kitchen magic.

To make the flavor more palatable to a child, you may need to use sugar or some other sweetener. Many recipes recommend rolling licorice ropes in powdered sugar to keep them from sticking to one another, and that would lighten the flavor a bit.

Or, help your children develop a taste for less sweet treats. That’s my plan. One little piece of fennel licorice after dinner will seem like a treat. Both children have agreed that it would be easier to see a small piece as a flavorful treat.

As the season of horror and candy (and horrible candy) approaches, I’ll post a few ideas how to deal with the onslaught and avoid the sugar jitters.