It’s finally summertime in the windy city, and that means long walks along the lakefront, sunny days on the beach, nights filled with live music, but most importantly it’s peak growing season for produce in Chicago! After a long winter, sunlight and time outdoors is needed more than ever, and there is no better way to get in touch with the outdoors than to take up gardening.

Pass on grocery store produce this summer and transform your backyard, patio, kitchen window or rooftop into a growing space that ensures quality and freshness of herbs and vegetables. Growing your own food benefits your health by increasing your fruit and vegetable intake while saving cash and reducing food waste since you can pick at the peak of ripeness. As an added bonus, growing your own produce ensures that you’re getting the quality you want like 100% organic, non-GMO or pesticide free.

Eating locally is also a great way to live sustainably and reduce your carbon footprint. The fruits and vegetables sold at grocery stores are mass produced and transported country-wide via trucks and industrialized systems. Growing locally reduces transportation costs and energy, and also increases the freshness of the crop. This explains why the produce at your local farmer’s markets always seem more crisp and flavorful since it’s given more time to ripen on the vine.

Get your garden started this summer with these easy herbs, fruits and veggies!  


Fresh Herbs and Spices:  Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor and antioxidants to a dish while also reducing the need for added sodium in shelf stable sauces and condiments.

Basil

Basil is a common kitchen staple and adds a sweet, aromatic flavor to whatever it’s paired with. In addition to its great flavor, this herb is very nutrient-dense and reaps many health benefits. Basil has long been used for its anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and immune boosting properties and is a great addition to a healthy diet.

Cilantro and Coriander

Cilantro and coriander come from the same plant, Corandium sativum, but have different flavor profiles and benefits. Coriander comes from the seeds of the plant, which are dried and used as a cooking spice. Cilantro refers to the green leaves of the plant. Coriander has a nutty, citrus taste while the taste of cilantro is more bold and versatile. The plant is efficient in ridding the body from metals and other toxins, lowering blood sugar, and settles a sour stomach.  These herbs are also a great source of vitamin A and K!

Dill

Dill, commonly used to flavor pickles, is beneficial for both mental and physical health. This herb is a great source of vitamins A and C, and the minerals manganese, iron, calcium. Studies have shown that Dill is effective in reducing menstrual cramps, lowering cholesterol levels, boosting energy levels, while also aiding in digestion. If you are feeling adventurous, dill oil can also serve as a natural bug repellant.

Mint

Many of us know mint as a popular cocktail ingredient or garnish, but it’s also great for cooking and brings a brightness and fresh flavor to any dish! Mint adds a cooling sensation to whatever it is paired with and is great in both dried and fresh form. This herb is a great digestive aid and is known to combat nausea, bloating, and indigestion. The properties of mint make it a great remedy for those who are diagnosed with IBS. As if this weren’t enough, the benefits of mint go beyond eating including aroma therapy. Take a look here to learn more!

Thyme

Thyme has a subtle, aromatic taste with a long list of benefits that have earned the herb the title of a medicinal healer.  To start, thyme has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties and is an active ingredient in products like Listerine mouthwash and Vic’s vapor rub.

Thyme is great in promoting healthy immune responses by fighting sore throats, lowering cholesterol levels, and boosting mood by increasing dopamine and serotonin levels.

Fruits and Vegetables:  Fruits and vegetables are great for snacking, roasting, mixing into juices or smoothies, and are a great source of essential vitamins and minerals.

Bell Peppers

This versatile and refreshing vegetable is high in vitamins C, B6, folate, and packed with antioxidants. Watch your peppers grow and turn from green to yellow to red and pick when it reaches your desired color. This is a great vegetable to grow at home since it’s commonly on the dirty dozen list each year.

Spinach

This dark, leafy green is a nutritional powerhouse when it comes to vitamins and minerals. Spinach is a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate (B9) and is rich in minerals like calcium and iron. Spinach is commonly found on the dirty dozen list, so it is smart to grow and buy it local and organic.

Summer Squash

Summer squash, commonly referred to as yellow squash, provides a wide variety of health benefits. This vegetable contains high levels of vitamins A, B6, and C, potassium, manganese, riboflavin, and magnesium. Take full advantage of this produce’s peak growing season!

Tomato

Whether you chose to grow heirloom tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, the red “fruit” is a major source of the antioxidant, Lycopene, which contains whole body health benefits. Tomatoes are packed with vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, K, folate (B9), and potassium. Adding tomatoes into your diet is a great way to prevent heart disease, improve skin health, and lower cancer risk. Tomatoes are almost always found on the dirty dozen list, so growing at home is a must!

Berries

Berries are perfect to grow in a small space, especially everyone’s favorites: blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. Berries are potent anti-inflammatories and help fight off infection, injury, and stress. They’re also high in antioxidants and fiber, and contain a low glycemic load, meaning they won’t spike your blood sugar and result in a sugar-rush or crash.  Since berries are low-glycemic, they can be consumed on a wide variety of diets including Whole30 and ketogenic diet.