If you love spices, then you probably have a well-stocked spice rack in your kitchen. But have you ever thought of growing your own spices?
Growing herbs has always been popular, but spices have fallen a little behind.
Why is this?
Well, technically, spices come from the bark, berries, flowers, roots, or seeds of a plant.
Herbs are usually the leaf of the plant. For many people, it probably feels “easier” to just pick a few leaves from a plant than to dry the seeds or harvest the roots. Spices also tend to originate from more tropical plants that require warmer temperatures.1
However, growing spices from scratch is no more difficult than growing herbs from scratch, if you have the know-how. (You can even grow spices if you live in an apartment building.)
The best part about growing your own spices is the incredible health benefits you’ll have at your fingertips. For example — ginger, cumin, and cloves all have a long history in folk medicine, and they’ve been linked to potential weight loss benefits by modern researchers.
Let’s take a look at how to grow these three great spices!
You can never go wrong with ginger. Whether you’re adding it to hot tea, tasty desserts, or a delicious stir fry, ginger adds a flavorful “zing” to any dish.
Ginger is actually the chunky underground stem — or more accurately, the “rhizome” — of the ginger plant. Although the leaves of the plant can also deliver a gingery hit… it’s just a lot milder.
Ginger grows best in the warmer months of the year. It is considered a “perennial,” meaning it will grow back each year, even if it seems to have been dormant over the cooler months.
All you need to get started is a chunk of ginger from the grocery store. This rhizome will need some shoots first, however, so keep it in a warm, bright spot for a couple of weeks until it starts shooting.
In a large tub, plant the ginger rhizome (with the buds, or shoots pointing upwards) in some potting soil. Ensure that the pot is at least 12 inches in depth, and plant the ginger about 2 inches down. If you plant more than one rhizome, make sure there is at least 6 inches of space between them.
The great thing about growing ginger is that it loves water. You really can’t overwater it. In fact, don’t let it dry out at all. Keep the soil moist in a well-lit area, and every couple of weeks, feed it some fertilizer.
Ginger can start out a little slow in spring, but as the climate warms up, look for yellowing leaves on your new plant. This indicates that the new rhizomes are ready to be harvested. Just dig down into the soil, and break off only as much as you need.
Ginger has long been a key spice in Eastern medicine to help soothe digestion, boost the immune system, ease joint pain, and soothe migraines. It’s still a popular remedy for all types of nausea: from sea sickness to morning sickness.2
In modern medicine, ginger has shown itself to be capable of influencing blood sugar. One study found that 2 grams of ginger powder per day was able to significantly lower participants’ fasting blood sugar.3
Cumin is a staple ingredient in Indian curries, baked beans, barbecue sauces, and marinades. It has an earthy, nutty taste, and it adds a lovely, orangish-brown hue to dishes.
Cumin seeds come from the fruit (pod) of the cumin plant. The cumin plant needs heat to thrive, so cumin should be grown in the summer months. Just before the start of spring, begin to sow the seeds indoors. This is because the plants can take 4 -5 months from the sprouting phase through to harvesting – though the process may be faster in warmer climates.
Sow three cumin seeds very shallow – about ¼ inch below the surface – in large pots (about 6 inches wide x 4 inches deep). Plant seeds in moist soil, and keep the soil damp during this phase.
Once the seeds sprout through the soil, they will need lots of light. If you don’t have enough natural indoor light, you can also use fluorescent lamps. You will also want to move your seedlings into separate pots at this time.
If you want to grow your cumin outside, you will need to wait until night-time lows reach 60°F. And though cumin loves warmth, it doesn’t like to be dry – so regularly mist your plants if you live in a hot, dry climate.
Your cumin plants will flower and those flowers will turn into seed pods. The pods are ready to harvest when they turn brown and crack open easily. Once you have a few pods, pick them and leave them somewhere warm to dry for several days. Once dry, rub the pods to remove the seeds.
Cumin seeds can be used as is, but you’ll find that dry roasting them brings out the greatest aroma and flavor. You can also dry roast them if you plan on grinding them into cumin powder.
Studies have shown cumin to be one of the key spices for weight management, with potential benefits for metabolism, Body Mass Index (BMI), and weight loss. One study even showed that cumin had notable effects in inhibiting the absorption of dietary fats.4
Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of the evergreen clove tree. These buds turn bright red when they’re ripe for the picking, and they turn a deep brown color when dried.
Cloves have been used traditionally in Asian, African, South American, and Middle Eastern cuisine for flavoring curries, sauces, meats, and desserts. Today, they even help to flavor that ever-so-popular pumpkin spice latte.
You can grow clove from cuttings or seeds. But seeds must be fresh and not yet dried. Plant the seeds immediately, but don’t bury them. Let them sit just on top of the soil. Then, cover the pot with a plastic sheet to keep in the humidity.
This seed germination period can take up to six weeks, and a constant humid temperature above 50°F will produce the best results. Cloves do not like full sunlight. If planting indoors, you will need to maintain this humidity and temperature. If you reside in a humid climate, a balcony would be a good choice for your seedlings pot.
Cloves require regular watering, and you should never re-pot them until they’re about 9 inches high, which may take up to 6 months in some cases.
Clove flowers are usually picked just before they turn pink (though this is mostly because opened flowers aren’t seen as valuable on the market). The buds are then dried in the sun until they turn a dark brown color and have lost their “water weight.”
Then, they’re reading to add to your cooking, or they can be crushed into a powder.
Part of what we know as the clove “flavor” comes from the oil eugenol, which has been used for centuries to soothe body aches. Even today, people still turn to clove oil to relieve toothaches, and modern studies are showing that this natural ingredient is very powerful.5
In Ayurvedic medicine, clove oil is also thought to help to increase circulation, especially in the stomach, which may aid in fat loss.6
Spice Up Your Life!
It’s time to stop giving herbs all the limelight in your garden!
Growing spices at home may feel a little more difficult, especially at first, but “real gardening” is rewarding because it takes work. Your health and taste buds will thank you for it!
6.The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs: The Most Complete Guide to Natural Healing and Health with Traditional Ayurvedic Herbalism, Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Michael Tierra, pg. 123