Herbs are valued for their culinary and medicinal uses. Most are easy to grow. If you're not already growing herbs, you should think about adding some to your garden.
Herbs bring a lot of value to the home garden. Most are easy to grow, asking only for sunshine and well-drained soil. Some herbs are annuals. Other perennial varieties stay vibrant and productive for years. They work great as container plants, grown alone or mixed with other plants. The contrasting leaf shapes, textures, colors and sizes make herbs excellent ornamental plants. On the practical side, most herbs are drought-tolerant, making them great candidates for xeriscapes or rock gardens. Depending on the plant, the usable parts include roots, stems, bark, leaves, fruit, seeds and oils. There are hundreds of plants that are considered herbs. Here are just a few of the better-known members of the family.
Basil (Ocimum varieties) is a culinary favorite, especially for those who consider pesto a basic food group. Grown as an annual, basil's many varieties can have big or small leaves, upright or mounding form, and green or purple foliage. Basil likes the heat of summer. Keep the flower buds pinched back for maximum leaf production. Height is around 2 feet
Bay (Laurus nobilis) is another kitchen standard sometimes known as "bay tree." Reaching 50 feet in tree form, 10 feet is a more normal size to expect at maturity. Bay makes a dramatic statement when grown in a large container.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is indeed a favorite of felines. Its color, fragrance and form make it a great addition to any herb garden. Catnip or its smaller cousin catmint (Nepeta mussinii) ranges from 1 - 3 feet high.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) brings to mind tea, potpourri and bath products. Add some color to an often uncolorful herb garden with chamomile's delicate yellow and white daisy-like flowers. Chamomile grows up to 2 feet tall.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are appealing both for their grass-like appearance and distinctive pink flowers. The mild onion flavor is excellent for seasoning. Chives grow about 8 inches tall.
Cilantro and Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) gives you a two for one benefit from the same plant. Cilantro leaves are a must for fresh salsa. Coriander seeds are used in many recipes. The plants grow 1 - 2 feet tall.
Dill (Anethum graveolens) is much more than just pickles. Dill can also be used to season vegetable, meat and egg dishes. The tall feathery plants add contrast to the herb garden. Mature height can be 5 feet.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is also one of the taller herbs, growing up to 6 feet. Colors range from green to bronze. Stems, leaves and seeds are all used in the kitchen.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is perhaps the most noticeable of the onion family. The oft-maligned odor from its cloves is redeemed by the health benefits it offers. Garlic chives grow 18 - 36 inches tall and bear white flowers from late spring to early summer.
Geranium (scented Pelargonium varieties) invite you to stop and smell the foliage – that's where the aroma is. The blooms are also quite attractive. Scented geraniums vary greatly in size, color, leaf shape and scent.
Lavender (Lavendula varieties) is best known for its fragrance and is a favorite for drying. Lavender's popularity is proven by the fact that its very name also describes its color. Depending on the variety, the plants grow 1 - 3 feet tall.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has deliciously-scented foliage that is a treat in the garden. It looks like oversized mint and if not kept in check can quickly spread both by runners and seed. Lemon balm grows 2 - 3 feet in height.
Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citrates) Used as a culinary additive in Asian cooking, it also makes an attractive and aromatic ornamental plant. Lemon grass is fast-growing, but not cold-hardy. It can reach 4 feet in height in a season and is easily propagated by division.
Marjoram (Origanum varieties) is a very close relative of oregano. Sweet marjoram is a tasty salad additive and is also used in potpourri. Marjoram can reach 2 feet in height.
Oregano (Origanum varieties) is a staple in many Italian and Greek dishes. There are many varieties, some more flavorful than others. Expect most types to grow to 18 inches.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a great filler in the garden or window box. Do not relegate it to the corner of the dinner plate as a garnish, fresh parsley has a great flavor. Parsley grows to about 2 feet in one season.
Peppermint (Mentha varieties) can be invasive. With that bit of negative publicity out of the way, you should consider planting something from the mint family anyway. Spreading varieties can easily be controlled by planting in containers. Choose from dozens of flavors and varieties for cooking or aroma. Depending on the species, mints can reach 36 inches in height.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a favorite for seasoning pork and soups. It can reach a diameter of 4 feet when grown in a protected area. It blooms in late winter and early spring and has a savory, pine-like scent.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) leaves and flowers are used in cooking and salads. Can you imagine stuffing without sage? The plant's upright form also provides visual contrast in the herb garden. A sage plant can reach 3 feet in height.
Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is renowned for its sweetness. This native of South America is just finding its way into modern herb gardens. A mature stevia plant may reach 3 feet tall.
Summer Savory (Satureja hortenis) is not showy — more substance than style. Its peppery flavor makes an excellent seasoning for vegetables or meats. Grown as an annual, its cousin winter savory is a perennial herb.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) used sparingly (to avoid bitterness) is a great addition to meats, vegetables, vinegars and a must-have ingredient for Sauce Bernaise. The 2 - 3-foot upright plant also makes an attractive addition to the garden.
Thyme (Thymus varieties) can be found in hundreds of varieties, with just as many uses. Ranging in from 1 inch to 2 feet tall, forms include creeping (makes a great ground cover) to upright and bushy.
Whether you’re short on gardening space or just trying to make care and harvesting easier, containers offer a great way to grow edibles. Herbs in particular are a natural in pots. You can extend the season by bringing them inside in colder temperatures and you can keep them close at hand, where you’re most likely to use them.
If you have more room to work with, an herb garden can become both a focal point and a source of culinary inspiration. This circular herb garden plan will show you how.
Butterflies are fond of herb gardens, both for food and habitat. Lavender, mint, sage, dill, thyme, oregano, fennel and parsley are among their favorites.
Hydroponic gardening, sometimes called hydrogardening, is an alternative method of growing herbs that involves little or no soil, often in a blend such as peat or coco coir. Plants are grown in a carefully balanced nutrient-rich solution using artificial lighting. The hydrogardening technique can also be used to start seeds indoors, allowing you to replant herbs in your outdoor garden, or in containers, during the growing season. Self-contained hydrogardening kits are available and are ideal for herb growing, as multiple varieties can be grown within the same system. Shop Hydrogardening
Watch our Gardening Basics video: How Do I Start a Container Herb Garden?