10 Culinary Herbs to Grow
10 popular culinary herbs for a herb garden with steps on how to grow, care for, harvest and enjoy these herbs.
Herbs have been used by people throughout history, as medicines, perfumes and of course as flavourings for food.
Growing a herb garden of your own is easy and rewarding. It gives you that garden-fresh taste that is incomparable to anything bought at a grocery store and for only a fraction of the cost.
A herb garden can be grown outside or in a container on the windowsill. Wherever you grow them they generally need well fertilised soil (use a fertiliser that is not high in nitrogen), a sunny spot and good drainage. There is a huge range of different herbs, each with its own varieties.
Here are 10 popular culinary herbs for a herb garden with steps on how to grow, care for, harvest and enjoy these herbs.
Basil has a warm, spicy flavour. It is a herb most commonly used in Italian dishes. It’s a great accompaniment to tomato sauces, pesto, vinegar and mozzarella. When fresh try sprinkling some over a salad, pizza or in a summer soup. Tearing the bigger leaves and not chopping helps to bring out the flavour. Basil leaves can also be frozen; covering them in a little olive oil is a great trick to preserving the flavour.
Basil is very susceptible to cold and blackening at the slightest hint of frost, so it is best to grow in a warm, sunny spot.
If growing from seed, its best to start sowing towards the end of spring, keeping the seedlings well protected from the cold. When they reach around 6 inches tall remove the shoot tip, this ensures better growth and a bushy plant.
If buying basil in pots, look for bushy plants with no flowering and lots of side shoots.
Ensure your basil plant is kept in a warm, sunny spot, although even basil plants don’t mind a little shade. Water sparingly and if flowers appear, remove them.
To harvest your basil plant, pick off the larger leaves and the top leaves. Try to harvest as much as you can in one go, then fertilise the plant and wait for it to grow again.
Coriander has a fragrant flavour. It is most commonly used in Indian, Asian and South-American cooking. Coriander can be used is all types of curries, soups, salsa, pickles and sauces. It can be sprinkled over a salad, on flatbread, or used as a garnish. It’s a great way to freshen up a stir-fry, or bland vegetables like spinach and to make marinades.
Coriander is a plant that doesn’t like being unsettled. It’s best grown in a warm, sunny spot and good drainage is essential.
If growing from seed, coriander doesn’t like being moved or unsettled. Sow directly into the ground or larger pot you ultimately intend to use at the end of spring. It is best to sow little and often since coriander tends to flower early, giving you a more constant supply.
If buying coriander in pots, watch out for plants with fine, feathery leaves as this suggest the plant is about to flower.
Ensure your coriander plant is kept in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Water sparingly and continue to sow little and often.
Coriander leaves can be picked as and when you need them, try to pick the more mature leaves first. Cropping regularly can also help to delay flowering. When the plants begin to flower, allow to seed. When the seeds stop smelling unpleasant, they are ripe. They can then be used to sow more plants, or directly in cooking.
Parsley is probably the most widely used herb in cooking. It has a fresh and mildly bitter flavour. It is largely used like a seasoning to balance the taste of savoury dishes, including potatoes, pastas, rice and grains. Parsley can also be used in stocks and gravies, mince dishes, creamy soups and sauces. Parsley can be stuffed in fish and chicken dishes before being grilled or roasted and it is a great accompaniment for seafood.
Parsley is known as painfully slow when germinating, normally taking around three to four weeks to sprout. This one takes a little patience.
If growing from seed, it is best to sow directly into the ground or a larger pot in the early summer. Parsley can be sown from around the middle of spring if kept inside. It prefers being kept in a shaded area with damp soil.
If buying parsley in pots cut back to within around 3 inches of the base and re-pot in a larger pot or in the garden.
Ensure your parsley plants have plenty of shade; also make sure they are kept well watered. Slugs and carrot flies love parsley and if you begin to have problems, then you can cover your plants with a fine mesh. This normally suffices.
Parsley leaves can be picked as and when you need them, although I’d recommend picking a big bunch at a time. You can use what you need and freeze the rest for winter. This promotes new growth and keeps the plant tasting fresher.
Mint has a refreshing, cool flavour and is often quite sweet. Spearmint is more preferred when cooking, since it has a milder flavour than its counterparts. It is a great accompaniment to roast lamb, whether as a marinade or sauce or used as a yoghurt dressing or dip. It can be used with peas and green beans, add to curries, soups, rice and couscous. It can freshen up a drink. It is also a favourite when it comes to dessert, adding to chocolate sauces, cakes, biscuits or simply used as a garnish.
Mint is a highly evasive plant and will quickly overtaking the rest of your herb garden. For this reason it is best to keep it on its own in a separate pot. Even when planting different varieties of mint it is best to keep them in separate pots as some varieties are more aggressive than others.
When growing mint from seed it will rarely resemble its parent so it is best to buy in pots in late spring. Alternatively you could take cuttings if you have access to mint already. Simply cut a sprig from the existing plant, pop the end in water for a couple of days. Roots should appear then plant in a large pot.
Ensure your mint plants are kept in damp soil, and in a spot where they get a little sun and a little shade. Keep well-watered and feed with a diluted fertiliser. If flowers appear, remove to prevent seeding.
Mint leaves can be picked as and when you need them. Before flowering sets in, pick a large bunch and freeze in an air-tight container.
Thyme has a warm, peppery flavour with a hint of cloves. It is often used dried and most commonly used in Southern Europe, in particular France. It is a great accompaniment to a variety of dishes especially when used with other herbs, like rosemary, bay and parsley. It can be rubbed into beef, lamb, pork and veal when roasting. It is also used with potatoes, vegetables, stuffing, stews, soups and stocks to give them a ‘herby’ flavour.
Thyme is a dwarf shrub, so rather than planting from seed it is best bought in pots and planted in spring.
Alternatively you could take cuttings if you have access to thyme already. Simply cut a sprig from the existing plant, pop the end in water for a couple of days. Roots should appear then plant in a large pot.
Ensure your thyme is kept in a warm, sunny spot. Ensure it also has well-drained soil that is low in nutrients. A chalky soil is perfect; you could even add some grit to the soil. If you trim your thyme occasionally it helps to promote new growth.
Thyme can be used as and when you need it, simply cut off a twig and strip the leaves off. Thyme can also be dried and stored. Probably the easiest way is to cut off a larger amount of thyme, hang it up to dry then store in an air-tight container.
Rosemary has a very aromatic flavour, slightly peppery and a bit woody. It has a very strong flavour so should be used sparingly. It is most commonly used in Mediterranean cooking. It is a great accompaniment to lamb and pork dishes, especially when used with thyme. It can also be used with chicken, fish, soups, tomato-based sauces and stuffing. It can be sprinkled over an omelette, on eggs or simply on toast with a little olive oil.
Rosemary is also best bought in pots and planted in spring.
Alternatively you could take cuttings if you have access to rosemary already. Simply cut a sprig from the existing plant, pop the end in water for a couple of days. Roots should appear then plant in a large pot.
Despite its hardy appearance, rosemary is actually quite tender and needs a sunny, sheltered spot to grow. Ensure it has well-drained soil and be careful not to over water. It thrives in chalky soil: you could even add some grit to the soil.
Rosemary harvests all year round, although a little slower in the winter. Therefore you can use as and when you need it, simply cutting off a twig and stripping the leaves off. If you plan to use a lot of rosemary over the winter, rosemary can also be dried and stored. Probably the easiest way is to cut off a larger amount of rosemary, hang it up to dry and store in an air-tight container.
Sage has a strong, warm, woody flavour. It is a great accompaniment to a variety of poultry dishes, cheese, tomatoes and apples and is traditionally used in sage and onion stuffing. It can also be used in sausage mixes and stews, soups, tomato-based sauces or in breads. It is great when used in macaroni cheese or fried in butter to make a pasta sauce. It can also be sprinkled over a cheese and tomato salad or on a pizza.
Sage comes in a range of green and coloured varieties. It has long thin leaves with a velvety texture and it a hardy plant.
If growing from seed, it is best to plant inside in a warm spot in early spring. When the plant is a couple of weeks old, the plant can be transferred into a larger pot or outside.
If buying in pots, there is a variety of sages widely available. Alternatively you could take cuttings if you have access to sage already. Sage cuttings are among some of the easiest to root. Simply cut a sprig from the existing plant and pop the end in water. Roots should appear in around four weeks, then plant in a small pot until the plant is a couple of weeks old.
Ensure your sage plant is in a sunny spot with well-fertilised and well-drained soil. You could add a little grit to the soil to help with drainage if necessary. Cut plants back in late spring and if you have any stringy plants get rid of them or replace them.
You should be able to harvest sage all year round, although often the winter is too cold for sage to grow anything substantial. Pick as and when you need it. If you plan to use a lot of sage over the winter it can also be dried and stored. Probably the easiest way is to cut off a few leaves, leave in a tin or bowl to dry and store in an air-tight container.
Chives have a mild onion flavour with a hint of garlic. Chives are most commonly used in European and North American cooking. It is a perfect accompaniment to egg and cheese dishes. It is best used at the end of cooking to keep the most flavour. It can be used in sauces, mayonnaise and spreads. It can be sprinkled over a salad, on a sandwich or on eggs when cooking. It can be used with potatoes or to make marinades. It is great when melted with butter to make a sauce for grilled fish or poultry.
Chives are so easy to grow and are ideal for pots or containers.
If growing from seed, sow directly into the ground or pots in spring. When chives begin to grow, thin out.
If buying in pots look for brighter colours, indicating a fuller flavour.
Ensure chives are planted in a sunny spot. Ensure they have rich, moist soil and are well-watered. Often in the winter chives will die right back, although if kept on a sunny window sill inside it is possible to keep an all year round supply.
Chives can be used as and when you want them. With some sharp scissors simply cut the chives around ½ inch away from the ground. The pompom flowers that are produced in summer are also edible.
Dill has a warm, aniseed flavour, sometimes with a hint of lemon. It is most commonly used in Eastern European cooking. It is a great accompaniment to most types of fish dishes, especially smoked salmon, and potato salads. It can be used in soups, stews and casseroles especially those containing fish. It can be sprinkled over a salad or used to make a dressing. It can also be added to mashed potato, sandwiches and cream cheeses. It is also used to pickle vegetables like cucumber and cauliflower.
Dill is a plant that doesn’t like being unsettled. It’s best grown in a warm, sunny spot and good drainage is essential.
If growing from seed, it is essential you find a warm, sunny spot with well-drained soil. Dill will not succeed in wet or cold conditions. It doesn’t like being moved or unsettled so sow directly into the ground or larger pot you ultimately intend to use in spring. It is best to sow little and often, giving you a more constant supply.
If buying dill in pots, watch out for plants with fine, feathery leaves as this suggest the plant is about to flower.
If you are growing fennel, keep separate from dill as the two can cross-pollinate.
Ensure your dill plants are protected from strong winds by supporting them with small canes or cages. Water sparingly and when the end of summer is approaching, move into a greenhouse or inside if not already to continue production.
Dill can be used as and when you want it. You can simply pick off the leaves or you can use the seeds. Probably the easiest way is to use the seeds is to cut off the flower heads and pop in a paper bag. Leave in a warm place for about a week and the seeds should fall from the husks. They can then be stored in a jar or air-tight container.
Oregano has a highly aromatic and pungent flavour with a combination of sweet and savoury hints. It is most commonly used in European and South American cooking. It is a great accompaniment when sprinkled over almost any Greek or Italian dish. It can be used in bologneses, sprinkled on a pizza, or in a Greek or tomato salad. It can also be used when roasting chicken, beef, lamb or pork, especially when used with thyme. It is also used in stuffing or with roast vegetables.
Oregano is also known as marjoram and is one of the few herbs that are great when dried since it keeps the majority of its flavour and nutrients.
If growing from seed, it is best to grow indoors in a warm, sunny spot, using well-fertilised soil. Sow at the end of spring making sure you use relatively deep pots since oregano has relatively long roots. As the oregano plants grow, water less.
Alternatively you can sow directly outdoors, with the same conditions, from the beginning of the summer.
If buying in pots, look for smaller plants, well established plants.
Ensure your oregano plants are planted in a warm, sunny spot. When grown water sparingly and after flowering cut back and feed with ideally a liquid fertiliser.
Oregano leaves can be picked as when you want them. Oregano can also be dried and stored. Probably the easiest way is to cut off a larger amount of oregano, hang it up to dry then store in an air-tight container.
There you have it, 10 popular culinary herbs for a herb garden, from seed to plate.
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