Cumin is a very popular herb that gets used in Mexican and Indian dishes. The cumin plant has very fragrant foliage that you can add to salad mixes and it resembles dill. Although the foliage looks like the dill plant, cumin is actually a part of the parsley family. Along with being added as foliage for salads, cumin seeds are very popular for seasoning agents. Cumin will also grow pink or white flowers in midsummer, and they can get up to 24 inches high. But, how do you grow the cumin plant? We’ll outline the process for you below.
The cumin plant has a very lacy look to it that is very similar to dill, and it comes with a very strong flavor profile.
The cumin plant is a tender flowering annual that is part of the parsley family, and you grow it for the seeds. Many different cultures use it in their cuisine, and it’s one of the most popular spices in the world. The seed offers a very earthy, warm flavor that is slightly bitter and can enhance various dishes. It’s very popular in Mediterranean, Indian, North Africa, Middle Eastern, and Mexican dishes.
The cumin plant will top out at one to two feet tall, and it produces umbels of white and pink fragrant flowers that bloom in midsummer with feathery dill-like foliage that you can add to salads. The flowers get followed by the seeds, and they mature after roughly 120 days. Along with the flavorful seeds, the flowers attract beneficial insects like predatory wasps, lacewings, and ladybugs. Planting it in your garden crops as a companion plant can help to keep the pests under control.
Cumin Plant History and Cultivation
Native to parts of the Middle East, eastern Mediterranean, and India, the cumin plant is a very popular aromatic herb that has a long history of being used as a culinary spice and for medicinal properties. In ancient Egypt, the seeds were used as a preservative in mummification and as a spice. The Ancient Greeks kept cumin in shakers on the table, very similar to how you use black pepper today. It also has medicinal properties, and the ancient Greeks and Romans used it as a popular women’s reproductive aid. It has cuminaldehyde as a popular ingredient, and this is a volatile oil with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and carminative properties.
Today, the cumin plant still has medicinal uses, particularly among Ayurvedic tradition practitioners. It’s commonly made into a tea to help relieve bloating, improve digestion, and help assimilate fats into your body. Since you can adapt the cumin plant to a broad range of climates, it’s grown in a range of different places, but the majority of it comes from India.
Cumin Plant Overview
|Attracts:||Ladybugs, lacewings, and predatory wasps|
|Companion Planting:||Beets, brassicas, potatoes, and cucumbers|
|Hardiness Zones:||5 to 10|
|Height:||One to two feet|
|Native To:||Middle East and Mediterranean|
|Pests and Diseases:||Alternaria blight, aphids, root rot, fusarium wilt, and powdery mildew|
|Planting Depth:||¼ inch|
|Plant Type:||Flowering annual herb|
|Soil pH:||7 to 7.5|
|Soil Type:||Sandy loam|
|Spacing:||6 to 18 inches|
|Spread:||2 to 6 inches|
|Time to Mature:||110 to 140 days|
How to Grow Cumin Plants
It’s easy to grow cumin plants inside or outside, and they need you to water them every one to three days. You can harvest your cumin seeds after four months of growth. Cumin is one of the most beginner friendly plants to add in your garden.
Starting Cumin Seeds Inside
When you have six to eight weeks before the final frost date, start your cumin plant seeds. Growing this plant from seeds is the cheapest and easiest method, and you’ll need a few weeks to start them. Plant the seeds indoors so they have time to mature by the time spring comes around in your planting zone. You can buy seeds at most garden supply stories, nurseries, or online. You can also search online to find a frost date calculator.
Soak the Seeds
Roughly eight hours before you sow them, soak the seeds in water. Put the seeds into a medium-sized bowl and pour between two and five cups of water into the bowl so it covers the seeds. After eight hours, carefully pour the water out and put the seeds on a clean paper towel until you’re ready to plant them. The seeds will start to germinate when they get wet, and this will help them sprout quicker when you plant them.
Plant the Seeds
Plant your cumin seeds in containers that are between two and three feet wide. Get a big pot or container so you can put several cumin plants in it. Pick a pot that has at least two holes so the liquid can drain. While cumin can easily grow inside, it does best outside.
Fill the container with a loam-based soil, making sure you keep rough an inch on top. Pour your loam soil into the container using a spade. Continue filling the container until you almost reach the top. Get a fertile, well-drained, sandy loam for the best growth. You can also use a plastic cup to fill it if you don’t have the right garden tools.
Next, make a hole roughly ¼ inch deep into the soil. Cumin plants don’t develop large root systems. Remove a small amount of dirt with your fingers so you can place the seed inside of your hole. Make a point to leave four to eight inches between each hole. Each seed should be a minimum of four inches away from the next one. The seeds will support each other as they grow, and this means you won’t have to put in additional support.
Once you get one seed in each hole, you’ll cover them with the loamy soil. After you dig the holes, take your seeds from the paper towel and put them into the holes. Sprinkle a bit of loam soil over the top, to roughly ½ inch.
Put the Seeds in a Sunny Spot
Put your newly planted seeds in a south-facing window if you live in a sunny climate. Cumin plants require direct sunshine for a large part of the day. Find a south-facing window and put your plants on the windowsills or in a plant stand next to it. This way, your plants will get good sunlight even if you want to grow them inside.
Set up grow lights if you live in a gray, cloudy climate. You can buy T5 high output fluorescent plant lights from a garden center and put them a foot above your plants. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding how to build the specific lights, and leave them on for 10 to 12 hours a day.
Cumin needs a lot of light to grow strong, and it’ll get weak and leggy if you don’t give it at least 12 hours of sun every day.
Ventilate the Area
Put an oscillating fan five to eight feet away from your plants. To help with airflow and ventilation, let the fan run for a minimum of two hours a day. Angel your fan so the air flow is in the direction of your plants as this helps stimulate them and encourages them to grow strong.
Transplanting the Seedlings Outdoors
Figure out your hardiness zone and see if the cumin plant grows in your area. You can search for a hardiness zone calculator online and put in your zip code. You’ll get a number back, and the cumin plant does well in zones 5 to 10. They prefer to be in dry, warm weather. If you live outside of the recommended planting zones, grow them inside.
If you’re starting in the spring, grow your cumin from seedlings. If you don’t have time to use seeds, you can buy starter plants or seedlings from your local nursery or garden center. Not every garden center has these plants, so you may have to shop online.
Pick a spot where your cumin plants will get full sun for 12 hours a day. No matter if you’re growing them inside or outside, they require ample light. Pick a spot in your yard or by a big window where you can give your cumin plants direct sunlight. If you’re planning on growing the plants indoors, you can put them next to a south or west-facing window. Plant them in a garden bed one to two weeks after the last frost of the season if you want to have them outside. They’ll grow nicely virtually anywhere in your garden as long as the temperature is consistently warm at around 60 degrees. They also do well in raised boxes.
To plant them, dig a hole roughly ¼ inch deep. Both cumin plants and seedlings don’t have big root systems, so you’ll only need a small hole. Leave four to eight inches between your plants. For the best results, your plants have to be spaced at least four inches apart. You also want to space each row roughly 18 inches apart so the plants can develop. This is close enough for them to support each other without competing.
Put your cumin plant or seedling into the hole and fill it with potting soil. Use a fertile, well-drained, sandy loam for the best results. Put the cumin plant in the middle of the hole and scoop your soil into it until the hole is full to the top. Cumin plants are sturdy, and they can adjust to a range of soil conditions.
Caring for Cumin Plants
Water your plants one to three times a week to keep the soil damp. Using a watering can or hose, give your plants a drink without for 30 to 60 seconds. Make a point to not overwater the plants. If it’s very dry or hot outside, mist your plants using a spray bottle. Cumin plants don’t like long stretches of dry heat, so you want to keep them hydrated. During the summer months, it can get very arid and dry, so fill your spray bottle with water and saturated each cumin plant. Do this once a week, and you can spray the stalks, tips, and roots.
Avoid overwatering the plants so they don’t develop root rot or mildew. Before you water them again, wait until the soil is dry to the touch. Then, you’ll soak the soil thoroughly. If you keep watering the soil when it’s wet, your plants can start to rot or grow mildew.
Make a point to treat your cumin plants with natural pesticides if you spot aphids. Aphids are a very common threat to these plants. There are many natural remedies to help you get rid of them. You can spray them with a garden hose, or put garlic and onions around your plants in a companion planting setup to help ward them away. Mixing four or five drops of clove, peppermint, thyme, and rosemary oils into a water-filled spray bottle and spraying the plants will keep the pests away.
Cumin plants are very beginner-friendly with low maintenance needs, and this makes them perfect for new gardeners.
Harvesting and Preserving the Cumin Plant
Your plants will start to produce roughly 120 days after you plant them, but this can vary from 100 to 150 days. Keep a close eye on your cumin plants as your growing season goes on. If you miss the harvesting period, the seeds will dry out very fast and scatter in the wind. Also, all of your plants won’t ripen at once, so you may have to harvest a small amount several times over a few days. The seeds are ready to harvest when the flowers finish blooming and they turn a brown color and dry out. This usually happens in the fall months.
To harvest your cumin plants, you’ll cut the stems close to the ground and put the seed clusters into paper bags. Tie the stems together and hang the bags upside down in a dry, warm location to allow the seeds time to dry. After a week or when the pods are 100% dry, rub them between your fingers to coax the seeds out of the pods. You can hit the bag against a hard surface to release the seeds from the pods too.
Once you remove the seeds from the pods, sift them through mesh cloth or a sieve to remove any debris. Store your seeds in a dark, dry, cool place. They store well in mason jars with tight lids in a dark cupboard by your oven to give you easy access when you cook. You can also save a few to plant next year, and the seeds will last for up to two years. You can use the seeds ground up or whole, but you shouldn’t grind them until you’re ready to use them as they’ll stay more aromatic and fresher if you do.
Cumin Plant Uses
Cumin’s first notes are zesty, sharp, and bitter, being very similar to a carrot skin or parsley. Cumin’s base notes are earthy, pungent, and nutty. It’s a warming spice, but if you crush the whole seed between your teeth, you’ll get a slight hint of menthol that is a lot like caraway or fennel seed. Cumin and caraway are very commonly mixed up due to their taste and appearance.
The strong savory base flavors of cumin go very well with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, clove, allspice, fennel, oregano, fenugreek, nutmeg, coriander, thyme leaves, sumac, cilantro, and mint. Some people find this stronger flavor off putting, and they like to give it to the birds. Chicken farmers will feed their flock cumin as part of their diet.
Cooking With Cumin
Cumin is an important spice in chutneys or Indian curries. The spice also works very well in several different stews, rice dishes, pickles, breads, soups, and barbecue sauces, as well in chili con carne recipes. You want to be very conservative when you cook with the cumin plant because the flavor can easily overpower the dish. It’s easy to add more later if it’s not strong enough. Cumin is very popular with vegan and vegetarian cooks because it works to lend a meaty, savory quality to any dishes you add it to.
If you want to cook with whole cumin seeds, you should toast them first to bring out the flavor of the oils. Toasted seeds go well mixed into salads or on top of steamed rice. Frying your cumin seeds in oil is the first thing you do in several curry recipes before mixing in the tomato and diced onions.
Also, cumin is a part of the carrot family, so it makes sense that you would use it in carrot-based dishes like carrot soup. The spice also goes very well with parsnip, cabbage, onions, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, dates, pomegranate, lentils, beans, rice, chicken, beef, venison, and lamb. The famous Turkish doner kebab is another popular recipe that calls for the cumin plant. American and Greek cooks may know this dish as the gyro, where oregano, garlic, and cumin are the biggest flavors. For a Turkish spin, add allspice, cloves, and sumac with cumin.
Cumin is very popular in a large range of dishes, but you want to use it very sparingly as it can easily overpower your dish.
Managing Pests and Disease
Along to using it as a culinary herb, growing the cumin plant has the added bonus of attracting good insects to your garden. Lacewings, predatory wasps, and ladybugs are among the ones that you’ll find drawn to the fragrant flowers, and they’ll be happy to help get rid of pests like caterpillars or aphids. In turn, they’ll reduce your pest population.
Even though cumin itself is a nice plant to use for natural pest control, cumin also has issues with a few pests and diseases. Knowing what they are allows you to keep and eye out and treat them as soon as possible.
Aphids attach themselves to the foliage on your cumin plant and puncture the leaves and shoots to suck out the sap. This can cause a lot of damage to younger plants like yellowing foliage, stunted growth, or curling leaves. They may even kill the plants if they get too out of control.
Aphids also secrete a very sticky substance called honeydew, and this encourages sooty mold to grow on the plants. You can spray the cumin plants with a strong blast of water from your hose to remove the bugs. You do want to wait until a sunny, warm day comes around to give your plants time to dry after you spray them, especially if they’re close together. To treat more serious infestations, you may need an insecticidal soap. You can make one by mixing a small amount of dish soap into a gallon of water and spritzing your plants with it.
There are a few fungal diseases, like powdery mildew and blight that can cause problems for your cumin plants. Generally speaking, keeping an eye on your plants and avoiding giving them too much water will reduce the chances of developing issues with diseases.
This fungus is very common in humid, warm conditions that happen around the flowering stage and prevents the seeds from fully maturing. It causes the plant’s seeds to shrivel up and blow away. You can prevent this by weeding around your plants to improve air circulation, avoid overwatering, and use drip irrigation.
Fusarium wilt is a fungal disease that causes foliage discoloration or wilting. It lives in the soil and seeds and it can spread through the soil using water or by the wind. Harvesting your seeds soon after they ripen will help reduce the risks of this disease spreading to your other cumin plants.
This powdery, white fungus will develop on your plant’s foliage and it can slow down or stop seed formation, or it can cause the developing seeds to be discolored and small. If mildew appears on your plants, you can remove and dispose of the affected leaves as soon as you see them. You can also apply neem oil to stop the mildew from spreading to other plants. You can also make a homemade spray using oil, baking soda, and soap. Combine a teaspoon of horticultural oil with a tablespoon of baking soda and a teaspoon of liquid dish soap into a gallon of water. Spray this mix on your cumin plants as a preventative treatment or in the very early stages of the disease to stop it.
The cumin plant is a very beginner-friendly option to add to your garden, and you can easily dry the seeds and store them for up to two years to use them in various dishes. We outlined how to grow and maintain these plants, and you can take this information and use it to get healthy, thriving cumin plants in your garden.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.