Growing herbs in water is an easy way to create an indoor herb garden on a windowsill or under a grow light. Herbs like basil, thyme, mint, and parsley add incredible flavor to food and most are easy to grow in water. Plus, it’s a mess-free and pest-free method to enjoy fresh herbs all year long. Keep reading to get tips on growing herbs in water and discover ten of the best kitchen herbs to grow this way.
Why consider growing herbs in water?
Herbs like basil, thyme, oregano, and parsley are essential in the kitchen. It’s easy to source dried herbs from supermarkets, but it can be trickier to find fresh herbs which have so much more flavor than dried. Keeping pots of herbs indoors on a sunny windowsill is a common solution for herb-loving cooks who want fresh plants, but keeping those plants happy can be a challenge. They need lots of light to thrive and the moist growing medium of potted herbs can attract pests like fungus gnats. Instead I prefer to fill my kitchen windowsill with herbs growing in water.
Here are 4 reasons for growing herbs in water:
- To have a convenient supply of fresh herbs in the kitchen. In spring, summer, and early autumn, my large vegetable garden is filled with my favorite culinary herbs. Yet when I’m in the middle of cooking, I don’t want to have to run up to the garden to harvest. Instead, I keep a steady supply of herbs like basil, thyme, oregano, and mint clipped in jars of water on my kitchen windowsill for convenience.
- To propagate herbs like basil, mint, and lemon balm. If you’ve ever placed an herb like mint in a glass of water on your kitchen counter, you may have noticed roots forming within a week or so. Many herbs can be propagated by planting stems in water. Depending on the type of herb it may just a few days or a month or more. Either way, it’s a fantastic method for increasing your herb plants.
- To enjoy a mess-free and pest-free harvest of indoor herbs. Keeping pots of herbs indoors can mean spilled potting mix, splashed water when irrigating, and fungus gnats flying around your home. Growing herbs in water is the solution to these issues as it’s a mess-free and pest-free growing technique.
- Many herbs can be grown for months in water. Fresh herbs like oregano, lemongrass, mint, and basil can be kept in water for weeks or months! In fact, many herbs thrive in water. You’ll learn about my 10 favorite herbs to grow this way below.
The best containers for growing herbs in water
You can use any type of clean container with no drainage holes that holds water, but I’m a big fan of mason jars and small drinking glasses. You can also use a narrow-mouthed container like a vase and your containers can be clear or opaque. Whatever you choose should be heavy and sturdy enough that it won’t topple over when the herb branches are added.
A how-to for growing herb plants in water
As I’ve mentioned, this is super easy and you don’t need a green thumb or years of gardening experience. Here are the 3 simple steps to successfully growing herbs in water.
- Step 1 – Using sharp garden scissors or garden shears, take 6 to 8 inch long cuttings from garden herbs. The best time to harvest herbs is in the morning when the plants are well hydrated. You can also buy pots of culinary herbs from a supermarket or garden centre and use these to clip fresh sprigs. Clip the stems below a set of leaf buds (also known as a leaf node) as this is where the new roots will emerge. Prep the cuttings by removing leaves on the bottom of the stem. You don’t want any leaves to be submerged in the water as they’ll rot.
- Step 2 – Fill mason jars or containers with water. I use filtered tap water which comes from my well. If you’re using chlorinated water, let it sit out for 24 hours first for the chlorine to evaporate. You can also buy bottles of spring water if you prefer. Or use rainwater if you have a clean and convenient source. I don’t use distilled water as it lacks nutrients.
- Step 3 – Place the herbs in the water-filled containers, checking to make sure no leaves are below the water surface. I usually place 4 to 5 stems in each jar. Place the containers in a sunny windowsill or beneath grow lights.
How to care for herbs growing in water
Once your indoor herb garden is set up, there are just a few tasks you need to do to ensure the sprigs of herbs remain fresh and healthy. The first is to change the water once or twice a week. This reduces the risk of algae and bacteria build up in the container.
Expect new growth to emerge once the branches of herbs have rooted. If any flowers appear at the tops of the stems, I clip these off with garden shears. Why? Allowing the plants to bloom slows the growth of fresh leaves for cooking.
How to harvest from herbs growing in water
There are several ways to harvest herbs grown in water. First, you can remove an entire stem or sprig from the jar and add it to whatever you are cooking. For example, I often use fresh thyme sprigs in soups, stews, and sauces. Another way to harvest from your herbs is to pluck individual leaves as needed. This works for herbs like parsley, basil, rosemary, and mint.
What should you do when the herbs root?
Some herbs can be kept fresh in water for weeks, while others like mint, lemon balm, and lemongrass last for many months. Even once they’ve filled the jar with their roots. If propagation is your goal you can encourage rooting by adding rooting hormone or small branch pieces from a willow tree or shrub to the water. These contain compounds that promote root growth.
Once the roots are a couple of inches long you can remove the cutting from the container and pot it up in a high quality potting mix. Potted herbs can be placed on a windowsill where they receive direct sunlight. Personally, my northern location means my windows don’t offer enough light from late autumn through late winter. I find it easier to keep potted herbs under grow lights left on for sixteen hours a day. If indoor herbs form roots in spring to mid-summer, they can be hardened off and moved outdoors to garden beds or containers.
Growing herbs in water: 10 delicious choices
Below you’ll find information on ten of the best herbs to grow in jars or containers of water.
The spicy-sweet, clove-like flavor of basil has made an essential kitchen herb. It’s also very easy to grow in water. In late summer I like to clip fresh stems of basil from my garden and place the slips in water. Many types of basil can be grown in water like Genovese, lemon, Tulsi, and Thai basils. The stems root in 2 to 3 weeks, and they can be left in water or transferred to pots of growing mix. Basil plants need a lot of light to thrive and grow best when placed beneath a grow light or under a spot grow light. I installed LED grow light strips under my kitchen counters so I could provide extra light to kitchen herbs, like basil, in winter.
I love the deeply fragrant and flavorful leaves of rosemary. This classic culinary herb is an evergreen shrub that originates from the Mediterranean region. It can be grown in water to supply months of aromatic leaves to your kitchen. After 4 to 6 weeks you may notice roots forming in the water. Roots form quickest on green stems, not those from woody growth. Continue to enjoy your rosemary in water or if you want to grow sizeable plants, pot up the rooted stems in potting mix.
Another woody herb, thyme is a low growing plant with tiny leaves. Try to cut sprigs of thyme at least 6 to 8 inches long and be sure to remove any leaves that would be under the water. I’ve grown lemon thyme and English thyme in water with the cuttings sprouting roots after about a month.
I grow two types of oregano in water – Greek oregano and Syrian oregano. I use Greek oregano in pasta sauces and on pizza, while our Syrian oregano plants are used to make za’atar spice mix. Delicious! Oregano plants have woody stems which can last for a few months in water. If you take green-stem cuttings in early to mid summer they’ll root in water and can be potted up if you wish.
Mint is an herb that is happy to live in water for months although it quickly sprouts roots that will fill the jar. There are many types of mint you can grow this way, and my favorites include peppermint and spearmint. If the sprigs of mint start to flower, clip the flower buds from the plant to encourage more leaves.
I love the fresh, bright flavor of curly and Italian parsley and always have handfuls of parsley growing in water on my kitchen windowsill. I’ve found that the sturdy stems and leaves of curly parsley do best when grown in water, as Italian parsley tends to wilt and only lasts a week or so. Curly parsley easily lasts a month or more and stays crisp and flavorful.
I grow lemongrass outside in my garden beds as well as in pots on my sunny back deck. The grassy plants have tall upright growth and I love the leaves and fleshy stem bases in stir-fries, curries, and tea. Lemongrass is a heat-loving herb and doesn’t survive my zone 5 winter. However if I dig up some rooted stems in autumn I can move them indoors and grow them in water. The roots continue to grow, and I leave the stems in water for months. Come spring, I pot them up and eventually move the plants back outdoors.
Like rosemary, oregano and thyme, lemon verbena is a woody shrub. It can grow 3 to 4 feet tall in a garden bed or big container and puts on plenty of growth during the summer months. It’s not cold tolerant so I either have to move the plant indoors for winter, dry all the leaves, let it die in the garden, or bring in some stems to grow in water on my windowsill. Because the plants get so big, I tend to dry most of my lemon verbena leaves for tea, but I also use garden shears to cut a half dozens stems to grow in water. If you place softwood (green) stems in water, they root after a few weeks. Hardwood (woody) stems take longer to root, sometimes months, but you can enjoy the intense lemon fragrance and flavor of the leaves all winter long.
Cilantro and coriander are often used interchangeably, but technically, cilantro describes the edible leaves of the plant and coriander the dried seeds. You can grow stems of cilantro in water for weeks of aromatic leaves perfect for salsas, wraps, and tacos. This herb isn’t meant for long-term growth in water and rarely roots, but it’s such an important herb in my kitchen I keep a supply of stems in a jar of water on my windowsill.
One of the most popular perennial herbs, sage plants have beautiful silvery-gray leaves that add a strong earthy flavor to dishes like stuffing. There are several types of sage you can grow outdoors in your garden as well as indoors in water with common sage the most popular. However, golden sage is also beautiful and delicious. Place 6 to 8 inch long sage stems in water and be sure none of the leaves are below the water level.
Other herbs to grow in water include lemon balm, rosemary, stevia, lavender, and dill.
For more information on growing herbs, be sure to check out these detailed articles:
- How to grow basil from cuttings
- How to overwinter lemongrass in cold climates
- How to grow rosemary in gardens or pots
- Tips on when and how to harvest herbs
Do you enjoy growing herbs in water in your kitchen?
Thanks for this column, I’m inspired. My wife water-roots basil but now I’ll be putting some of the more exotic herbs under my grow lights – move over sprouts!
Niki Jabbour says
Ha ha sorry sprouts!! But love it! 🙂
Very Educational on herbs.I love herbs in my Salad I eat in the Summer, now I can eat them in the Winter.