I love my herb and spice cabinet because it allows me to whip up a tasty meal any time. I buy some of the herbs, especially if they are dried and I need them in bulk, but we all know fresh herbs cost a pretty penny at the store! Good news: itâ€™s incredibly easy to start an herb garden and start growing herbs just steps from your front door.
In fact, an herb garden is exactly where a beginning gardener may want to start since most herbs are hardy, inexpensive, and low maintenance.
Planting an herb garden is a great way to have fresh herbs available just outside your doorstep. Herbs lose their potency the older they are so for the best nutrient profile and medicinal properties growing your own herbs is best.
You can also dry any herbs that you canâ€™t use fresh and save them for a time when your outdoor herb garden is not growing.
p.s. If you rent or donâ€™t have much yard for a garden, donâ€™t rule out growing herbs quite yet! You can plant an indoor herb garden in any number of patio containers or grow herbs inside as long as you have a window that gets at least 6-8 hours of sun a day (or use a grow light).
Indoor herb gardens are great, but if you want to grow more herbs than what will fit in your window, an outdoor herb garden is a must.
Here are the basic steps for getting started:
While the above are basic steps for starting your garden, each herb has slightly different needs. Choose the herbs that you will use most frequently, and then learn a bit about their individual needs.
Choosing which herbs to grow can be overwhelming! Here are my favorite culinary herbs to grow in my garden (many are medicinal too!).
Sage is native to the Mediterranean and can be described as having a pine and citrus flavor that we tend to associate with the Thanksgiving meal. Sage has many uses:
Sage grows easily from seed so you can sow directly in the ground assuming your growing season is long enough. It can also be grown from cuttings. Sage is a drought-tolerant plant so it can survive with minimal watering. A good rule of thumb is to let it dry out and then water well.
If you are just cutting enough sage for a dish, you can pinch off as many leaves as you need. If you are harvesting more than that, you can cut an entire stem or more. Just keep in mind that if you are in an area where sage is a perennial herb (zone 5+) and you harvest a large amount, you need to give the plant some time to recover before the first frost (at least a few weeks).
Another Mediterranean herb, oregano is great in tomato sauces and Italian or Greek food in general. Oregano can be used in many ways:
Oregano can be grown from seed but also from cuttings. This herb is also drought tolerant so should be allowed to dry out before watering again.
Let the plants grow to at least 4-8 inches tall and then cut the stems. Never cut more than shoot of the plant at one time. The best flavor is when flower buds are just forming.
Rosemary is a woody herb that has a distinctive pine flavor. It is one of the herbs that holds its flavor relatively well after being dried. Roast some potatoes with rosemary for an easy side and it will also make your house smell incredible.
Other uses for rosemary include:
Rosemary is also a Mediterranean herb that is drought tolerant. But this herb is best started indoors rather than direct sowed. Rosemary grows to four feet high and wide, so give it plenty of space to spread out.
Cut young stems and leaves for the best taste (but prune the old ones for a healthier plant). Donâ€™t cut more than shoot of the plant at a time.
Thyme has a subtle floral, herbaceous, and piney or slightly minty flavor. Itâ€™s best known as a poultry seasoning but can be delicious with lamb, fish, and egg dishes too.
Thyme is hard to germinate from seed so itâ€™s best to buy a plant or grab a cutting from another plant (or ask a friend!). Thyme can be planted 2-3 weeks before the last frost date.
Harvest leaves and sprigs as you need them. Thyme keeps its flavor throughout the growing season so can be harvested at any time.
This flavorful herb has a bright and easily recognizable taste.
Mint is hard to grow from seed and wonâ€™t grow true-to-type because many mint varieties (including peppermint) are hybrids. The best thing to do is to buy a plant or get a cutting. It spreads really easily so grow it in a container (in potting soil) or plant it in a bottomless container directly in the ground.
Mint can be harvested all season but if you want to pick extra for storage, harvest just before the flowers bloom.
This summer-thriving herb is a must for Italian food or Thai food. And when you are overflowing with end-of-the-summer basil, you can always make pesto and freeze it for a later date.
Basil is really easy to grow and can be started from seed. If starting from seed, set seeds 6-8 weeks before last spring frost. Basil likes sun, lots of water, and fertile soil.
Pinch off leaves just above a leaf pair and start from the top to encourage bushing out. For a larger harvest be careful not to take more than shoot of the plant at one time (and allow time for recovery).
This herb is a summertime favorite. It has a distinct taste that adds dimension to cold dishes. Dill seed can be used like a bay leaf in stocks and stews or in flavoring fermented foods. Dill has many uses:
Dill doesnâ€™t transplant well so direct sow the seeds after the risk of frost is over.
When the plant has at least four leaves you can start harvesting the leaves (dill weed). In summer when the dill flowers, you can cut the dill heads and use those for fermentation. Dill seed can be harvested after the plant bolts (goes to seed).
If thereâ€™s an herb thatâ€™s good in everything, this is it. Parsley is a versatile herb with a mild taste most seem to enjoy. Parsley has many uses:
Parsley takes a long time to germinate so itâ€™s important to start it indoors about 10-12 weeks before the last spring frost. It can be planted outside 2-4 weeks before the last frost date for your area.
Parsley is ready to be harvested when the leaf stems have three segments. Cut parsley on the outer part of the plant and about 2 inches from the ground.
Cilantro is delicious and a necessity in various kinds of ethnic food like guacamole or spring rolls. It has a complex citrusy flavor that people tend to love or hate. Cilantro uses include:
Cilantro grows fast and bolts (goes to seed) just as quickly, especially in hot conditions. Plant small plots of seeds a few weeks apart and water and harvest regularly so you have a continuous supply of cilantro. The best time is after risk of frost but before really hot weather.
Trim the plant about a quarter of the way down. The part thatâ€™s left can grow more cilantro. You can also save the seeds (coriander) and use those in some recipes.
Growing your own herb garden is a great way to guarantee you will have access to healthy, fresh herbs throughout the growing season. If youâ€™re just starting out and feel overwhelmed, choose 3-5 herbs to start with and learn all about them. As you gain confidence, you can expand your garden to include more culinary herbs (and maybe some medicinal ones too!).
Do you grow herbs? Whatâ€™s your favorite herb to grow and use?