Herbs are so versatile: they are beautiful, long lasting, easy to grow, fragrant, and edible. You can use herbs fresh in your cooking or for tea, or you can dry them and enjoy herbs all year long. For these reasons, I have planted an herb garden in every place I have ever lived in (even for a 3 month temporary residence!). In addition to being delicious, many of them can be used for therapeutic applications like homemade body care products and infused bath water.
Grow culinary herbs and use them fresh or dried to enhance flavors of food. Learn which herbs pair well with certain foods.
Herbs will successfully grow for you in a garden, patio pots, or in a light window box as long as they have good soil and sunlight. Get them as seedlings from a nursery, farmer’s markets, or transplant a part of sprawling herbs from a friend’s garden. Some herbs seem to do best being planted from seed, including cilantro, basil, dill, and parsley. Keep herbs uniformly moist.
Bay Laurel, Chives, Fennel, Lavender, Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Tarragon, Thyme and Winter Savory
Basil, Chervil, Cilantro (Coriander), Dill, Sweet Marjoram, Summer Savory, Parsley (actually a biennial that lasts 2 years, but most people grow it as an annual)
Harvest and Dry Herbs
When: Harvest herbs in the early morning after the dew had dried but before the mid-day heat.
Fresh perennial herbs: Let the bushes mature, and then pick leaves or stems as needed for cooking. Try to pick from different parts of the plant to avoid over-picking.
Dry perennial herbs: Harvest all but the central tuft of the mature plant in the late summer or fall, when the leaves are full and before they produce flowers. Tie up small bunches of herbs from their stems with rubber bands or twine and hang them upside down in a warm, shaded location to dry, under a tree or inside. You can tie a small paper bag around individual bunches if they are drying in a dusty area or to catch the leaves as they dry. Alternately, place stems or just the leaves in a single layer over stretched burlap or screen material. Chives should be chopped while fresh and then dried. When fully dry, run your fingers down the stem to free the leaves and crumble lightly into a bowl. Store in an airtight container away from heat and light sources.
Fresh annual herbs: Pick individual stems or leaves as needed for cooking. If you have grown a lot of herbs, pick an entire bunch by cutting it two inches up from the soil.
Dry annual herbs: Follow directions for harvesting perennial herbs to dry. If harvesting for the seeds, wait until flowers turn to seed head, then pick and use the paper bag drying method to catch the seeds.
Cook with Herbs
Here is a list of herbs and foods that classically pair well with that herb. See A-Z Vegetable Preparation Guide for a list of vegetables and herbs that pair with them.
Basil: pesto, tofu, salads, tomato dishes, sauces, dressings, pasta, Italian, Thai
Bay Laurel: soup, stews, beans, sauces, curry powders
Chervil: fish, eggs, French cuisine
Chives: eggs, garnishes, dips, soups, dumplings
Cilantro: curries, stir fries, salsas, dressings, salads, black beans, Mexican, Asian
Dill: fish, eggs, dairy, salads, dressing, beets, pickles, soup, bread, crackers
Fennel: fish, soup, salad, eggs
Lavender: butter, beverages, ice cream
Marjoram: meats, soups, vegetables, beans
Mint: yogurt, dressings, lamb, grain salads, cold soups, drinks, ice cream, fruit
Oregano: meats, vegetables, soups, salads, dressing, Mexican, Italian, Greek
Parsley: grains, salads, dressings, vegetables, pastas, garnishes
Rosemary: meats, fish, root vegetables, soups, bread, crackers, stuffing
Sage: meats, cheeses, stuffing, potatoes, soups, polenta, white beans
Savory: beans, salads, vegetables, meats, eggs, fish, soups
Tarragon: eggs, meats, seafood, vinegar, dressings, sauces, cheese, butter
Thyme: poultry, lentils, potatoes, soups, sauces, fish, Italian
- Bay Laurel is a tree or a large shrub. If you want to grow it in a pot, use a large pot and fertilize and prune your bay once a year to keep it small.
- Lavender: Culinary herbs are grown for their leaves or seeds with the exception of lavender which is harvested for its flowers. Wait until the second year after being outside to begin harvesting lavender flowers.
- Parsley: Soaking parsley seeds overnight before planting will speed the unusually long germination time. Place seeds in a glass jar and cover with water by one inch. Leave on a counter overnight, uncovered. Drain and plant the next morning. Parsley takes two years to form seeds.
- Mint: Never plant peppermint or spearmint in an herb bed! They are highly invasive and will take over, choking out all the other herbs, despite your efforts to eradicate them. Give mint plants their own special bed to spread out or plant them in pots. Peppermint is best for teas as it is very strong and spearmint is best for cooking and eating raw.
- Stems: Except for bay leaf and lavender, the stems of most herbs can be utilized too as long as it is tender and not “woody” or fibrous. For example the fresh shoots of rosemary and thyme are very tender, but further down the plant they become like twig or branch consistency, from which you would use only the leaves.
- Drying: Hanging herbs upside down from their stems to dry, sends the oils and flavors down into the leaves and gives you extra fresh tasting dry herbs.