Getting Started with Basic Herbs

Essential herbs for the garden

Even if you aren't an experienced gardener, or haven't an abundance of space for gardening, growing a few choice herbs is rewarding, economical, and enhances your cooking projects with a minimum of effort. Basic herbs include the following:

Herb Planting Info Use
Basil Variety of different types. Annual; gets fairly large on a woody stem. Pinch flowers back to prevent bolting. Slightly stressed basil has better flavor. Leaves chopped are common in tomato-based recipes like spaghetti sauces or soups. Pesto. Very common in Italian recipes.
Chives Small, grasslike blades grow in clumps. Pretty, round flowers. Oniony flavor. Mince leaves in salads, cottage and goat cheeses, eggs.
Dill Annual that produces both feathery foliage and oval, flat seeds. Plant from seed. Don't transplant. Susceptible to aphids and white flies, but worth the hassle.

Very popular in Scandanavian and German cooking. Used in meat, egg, and fish dishes, sauces, and pickling cabbage, beets, and cucumbers.
Mints Many varieties including lemon and chocolate. Easy to grow, often invasive. Plant it in pots or locations where it can be contained. Tough conditions make it taste mintier. Leaves are used in Mediterranean cooking, desserts, and teas. Rarely used in French cooking, though the English like it with lamb. Oil is used in soap.
Oregano Also called wild marjoram, it's a perennial and grows well in the ground or containers. Gets woody after a couple years and benefits from dividing and replanting. Chopped leaves are commonly added to Italian dishes like spaghetti and pizza, soups and stews.
Parsley This could be the most common herb used. There is the common curly parsley and the flat Italian type. Both are easy to grow. Parsley is a biennial which lives two seasons, then blooms and dies. Plant from seed or small starts. Minced leaves in soup, stews, eggs, meats, and savory breads. Common in North American and Northern European dishes. Whole leaf used as a garnish.
Rosemary Perennial with pungent needle-like leaves. Prefers a lot of sun. Bring it in during the winter where winters are freezing. Leaves used sauces, soups and stews, eggs, meats (especially chicken and lamb). Also used in baking savory breads.
Sage Hardy perennial available in different varieties. Woolly leaves. Stuffings and bread dressings for poultry and baked fish.
Tarragon Long narrow leaves on woody stems. Perennial. Distinctive anise-like flavor. Commonly used in French cooking, especially with eggs and in salad dressings.
Thyme Tiny grey green leaves on wiry stems. Easy to grow perennial, but benefits by dividing and replanting, or replacing every couple years. Leaves used sauces, soups and stews, eggs, meats (especially chicken and lamb). Also common in stuffings and bread dressings.


Most herbs are relatively easiy to grow and carefree. They generally attract few pests and can be somewhat neglected. Some like mint and borage will attempt to take over your garden. Others will just produce, year after year, as long as they get sun and rain.


Most herbs can just be trimmed and incorporated into your cooking projects as needed, however, if you want to preserve herbs for winter use, harvest them just before flowering when the leaves have the most oil. Each herb flowers at a different time, so schedule your herb harvest accordingly.

To dry, cut stems from mature plants. Remove leaves that are dead or damaged. Shake out bugs. Rinse stems in cool water, then spin dry in salad spinner or dry gently with towel. Hang stems upside down in a dry attic or other warm location. Leave undisturbed for several weeks.When completely dry, store in light-proof, airtight container. Throw out any herb that shows signs of mold.

Woody, perennial herbs like sage, thyme, oregano, and rosemary can be tied in bunches and dried upside down in a dust-free location. High moisture herbs like basil, tarragon, and mints need to be dried quickly. A dehydrator can be used or dry in an attic where temperatures are higher. Flavor is diminished by drying in temperatures of more than 100 degrees. Dry fast, but not too hot. Make bunches smaller to prevent mold.

Some herbs, like tarragon, can be added to vinegar for an infusion to be used in salad dressings.

Depending on your climate, many herbs will produce all winter.

Once you've experienced the benefits of growing fresh herbs, you'll want to expand. Fortunately, there are dozens of herbs to grow and dozens of ways to use them.

Related topics

Use herbs to landscape your yard. A qualified landscape pro at UpdateRenovate can help with the heavy lifting.

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