Fresh herbs add delightful flavor and fragrance to foods. You can’t get any fresher than snipping leaves and springs from your own homegrown plants right before meal preparation.
Herbs are a great addition to the garden and can be grown in a designated herb plot, among your other vegetables, intermingled in your flowerbed, or even in containers. The blooms are also beautiful and attract butterflies and other beneficial insects to the garden.
Growing herbs is easy because once the plants are established, they require very little maintenance and produce a generous supply for harvests as needed and enough to dry and fill your spice jars. Here are some of my favorite culinary herbs to grow year after year:
7 Easy Culinary Herbs to Start from Seed
Italian Genovese Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a tender annual herb that grows as an attractive bushy, upright plant with broad, smooth, shiny green leaves. Also called “Sweet Basil” as it has a sweet and delicate flavor that blends well with tomato dishes as well as pesto. Sun: At least 6 hours. Size: 24 inches tall, 10 inches wide. Days to Germinate: 5-10. How to Grow: Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date for your area or sow outside after danger of frost has past. Cover seeds with 1/4-inch of soil and keep warm and moist. Transplant hardened-off seedlings into the garden after all danger of frost has past. Plant 12-18 inches apart. Soil: Basil prefers well-drained loamy soil rich in organic matter. Keep soil evenly moist making sure water reaches the roots. Basil is extremely sensitive to frost, so wait to transplant to the garden until all danger of frost is past. Harvest: The younger leaves have more flavor. Harvest by pinching off stems above a pair of leaves as needed. This will encourage the plant to branch out. Keep the plant producing by pinching off the flower heads as they form. Buy Heirloom Seeds: Botanical Interest.
English Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a hearty perennial herb that grows as a woody shrub with small, oval, gray-green leaves on long, wiry stems. The savory flavor of Thyme complements most meats, including chicken, beef, pork, and game. Hardiness: Zones 4-9. Sun: At least 6 hours. Size: 6-12 inches tall and wide. Days to Germinate: 10-15. How to Grow: Start seeds indoors 8 weeks before average last frost date or sow outside 1 to 2 weeks after average last frost. Thyme has a reputation for being difficult to germinate but will succeed with these tips: Sprinkle a pinch of the small seeds on the soil surface and mist lightly. Thyme needs light to germinate so do not cover seeds. Keep surface moist by frequently misting the soil surface. Be patient, thyme takes a long time to sprout. Transplant hardened-off seedlings to the garden after all danger of frost has past. Plant 10-12 inches apart. Soil: Thyme prefers a sandy, dry soil. Thyme is not a heavy feeder, so soil should only receive a moderate amount of organic fertilizer at planting time. Thyme is relatively drought tolerant once established. Harvest: Cut foliage as needed leaving at least 3-inch (7.5 cm) stems to continue growing. Buy Heirloom Seeds: Botanical Interest.
Greek Oregano (Origanum heracleoticum) is a hardy perennial that is easy to grow. Oregano is widely used in Italian and Greek food and complements many other dishes such as stews, grilled meats, pizza, salads, and soups. Hardiness: Zones 4-9 Sun: At least 6 hours. Size: 24 inches tall and wide. Days to Germinate: 7-14. How to Grow: Start seeds 6-8 weeks before average last frost date or sow outside 2 to 4 weeks after average last frost. Sprinkle a pinch of the small seeds on the soil surface and mist lightly. Oregano seeds require some light to germinate so do not cover seeds. Keep surface moist by frequently misting the soil surface. Transplant hardened-off seedlings into the garden after all danger of frost has past. Plant 18-22 inches apart. Soil: Oregano prefers a loamy soil that drains well. Water occasionally until plants become established after transplanting. Oregano should not be fertilized because it reduces the plant’s flavor. Oregano tends to spread both by rhizomes and self-sowing. Harvest: Once the plant reaches 6-inches; begin snipping leaves and stems as needed throughout the growing season. Clipping stems will allow the plant to bush out. Harvest before the plant blooms for the strongest flavor. Buy Heirloom Seeds: Botanical Interest.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a shrubby perennial herb with woody stems, gray-green leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It has a savory, slightly peppery flavor that compliments sausage, stuffing, pork, poultry, game, and vegetables. Hardiness: Zones 4-8. Sun: At least 6 hours. Size: 24 inches high, 36 inches wide. Days to Germinate: 10-20. How to Grow: Start seeds 4-6 weeks before average last frost date or sow outside 1 to 2 weeks after average last frost. Transplant hardened-off seedlings into the garden after all danger of frost has past. Plant 12-18 inches apart. Soil: Sage prefers well-drained, sandy or loamy soil. Water young plants regularly until they are fully-grown. Once established, sage is pretty drought tolerant. Harvest: Allow plants to become established the first year. Once established, pick leaves as needed. Sage has the strongest flavor before they bloom, but I harvest and enjoy all season. Buy Heirloom Seeds: Botanical Interest.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are a hardy perennial herb that grows in spiky, grass like clumps. The mild onion flavored foliage compliments many dishes of different cuisines. The orb-shaped lavender blossoms that bloom in the summer are also edible and are attractive to beneficial insects. Hardiness: Zones 4-11. Sun: 4-6 hours. Size: 10-12 inches tall and wide. Days to Germinate: 10-20. How to Grow: Start seeds indoors 6 weeks before average last frost date or sow outside as soon as the ground can be worked. Transplant hardened-off seedlings to the garden after all danger of frost have passed. Chives grow in clumps, so there is no need for thinning. Soil: Chives grow best in rich, well-drained soil. Work in a slow-release fertilizer into the soil before planting. Water frequently when plants are young. Harvest: Allow new plants to become established for the first year by harvesting sparingly. Once the plant is 6 inches (15 cm) tall, select leaves from the outside of the clump and cut 2 inches (5 cm) from the soil. The plant will continue to grow. Trim back to 2-inches after blooms fade and the plant will produce fresh growth. Buy Heirloom Seeds: Botanical Interest.
Italian, Flat Leaf Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a biennial herb that is normally grown as an annual. It has a fresh flavor that complements and doesn’t overpower other flavors in a dish. Parsley pairs well with meats, salads, soups, and roasts. Sun: At least 6 hours. Size: 12-18 inches tall and wide. Days to Germinate: 14-28. How to Grow: Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date in your area or sow outside after danger of frost has past. Parsley takes a long time to sprout. To help speed up germination, soak seeds in warm water for up to 24-hours before planting. Cover seeds with 1/8-inch of soil and keep moist. Transplant hardened-off seedlings into the garden after all danger of frost has past. Plant 8 inches apart. Once established, parsley can withstand a light fall frost. Soil: Parsley prefers well-drained loamy soil rich in organic matter. Water young plants regularly until they are fully-grown. Water regularly and do not allow the plants to dry out completely. Harvest: Snip outer stalks from the base of the plant and trim off leaves as needed. Freeze stalks and use in making stalks and broths. Buy Heirloom Seeds: Botanical Interest.
Cilantro/Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is a cool season annual herb that grows and matures quickly. The leaves are called cilantro, and the seeds are called coriander. The leaves pair well with Mexican, Asian, and Indian foods while the crushed seeds add a mild earthy lemony flavor when added to curries, soups, and stews. Sun: At least 6 hours. Size: 12-24 inches tall. Days to Germinate: 10-15. How To Grow: Cilantro doesn’t respond well to transplanting and root disturbance will cause the plant to bolt or go to seed. Use soil blocks or direct sow seeds outdoors two weeks before average last frost date. Cover seeds with 1⁄2-inch of soil, keep moist, and thin to 4 inches apart once seedlings reach 2-inches high. Cilantro prefers to grow during cooler spring and fall seasons. It will mature quickly, often within 4-weeks or quicker if the weather turns warm. Succession sowing every 3 weeks will keep a steady supply growing. Cilantro frequently self sows. Allow seeds to mature for Coriander and let a few drop for new plants. Soil: Cilantro prefers well-drained loamy soil rich in organic matter. Water young plants frequently until mature. Water regularly as needed and do not allow the plants to dry out completely or they will go to seed prematurely. Harvest: Once plant is 4-inches high, snip fresh leaves from the outer edges allowing the center of the plant to continue to produce. After cilantro flowers, coriander seeds can be harvested green and frozen or allowed to dry and turn brown. Store coriander seeds whole in an airtight container. Crush when ready to use to release its flavors. Buy Heirloom Seeds: Botanical Interest.
Some Helpful Tips:
- Harvest herbs in the early morning when aromatic oil concentrations are highest for the greatest flavor. How to Harvest and Preserve Herbs for Storage.
- No yard or garden? No problem! Most herbs can grow in pots and containers that can be located on a deck, patio, or driveway. Potted herbs can be brought inside when the weather turns cool (see 5 Herbs that Thrive Inside All Winter).
- Want to learn how to use herbs as medicine? Check out the online courses at The Herbal Academy of New England: Introductory Herbal Course and Intermediate Herbal Course.
I have to admit, growing herbs can become addicting! These culinary herbs are only a small representation of varieties of herbs that can be added to your garden. There are so many herbs to explore and grow for food, tea, medicine, and to use in making bath and beauty products.
You May Also Enjoy These Recipes Using Fresh Herbs:
- Zucchini Garlic Bites
- Grilled Tomato Salsa
- Mason Jar Italian Salad Dressing
- Homemade Breakfast Sausage Patties
- Garden Fresh Zucchini Lasagna
- Seasoned Tomato Sauce for Home Canning
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