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Growing herbs is a simple way to add edible plants to your garden. Most herbs are very versatile, and grow well in the ground or in containers. Herbs, which generally are annuals except in very warm climates, make a great addition to a traditional flower garden, and are also a pretty, practical accent to windowboxes or containers near a grill or outside a kitchen door. If you're unfamiliar with growing herbs, or simply want to find out how to tend less-familiar varieties of these edible plants, the Herbs section of the Better Homes and Gardens Plant Encyclopedia includes details on growing requirements for each herb, such as sunlight or shade, water preferences, and USDA Hardiness Zones. You'll also learn expert tips for growing the most delicious herbs possible, as well as ideas for using herbs in your favorite recipes.
Basil dishes up classic Italian flavor in eye-catching bushy plants suitable for garden beds or containers. Grow this tasty beauty in a sunny spot, and you'll reap rewards of flavorful foliage in shades of green, purple, or bronze. Basil lends a distinctive taste to salads, pizza, and pasta dishes. Use small leaves whole; chop larger leaves. Add leaves to dishes just before serving for greatest taste and aroma. Basil plants are exceedingly sensitive to cold; start seeds indoors or sow outside after all danger of frost has passed.
Sparkling periwinkle-blue blooms dance atop borage's fuzzy stems and leaves. A beauty in the garden, annual borage faithfully comes back from seed each year, quickly filling in a space. Harvest edible flowers to beautify salads, summer drinks, or desserts. Toss blooms onto fanned tomato and mozzarella slices for a festive Fourth of July feast. Freeze flowers in ice cubes to decorate drinks with cool color. Borage will flower indoors in containers if given heat and plenty of light. In the garden, pull seedlings judiciously in spring.
Catmint is an easy-to-grow perennial grown primarily for its fragrant foliage that is attractive to cats. A vigorous herb, catmint can be grown indoors on a sunny windowsill or in a bright location outdoors. Because catnip spreads quickly in the garden, be sure to plant it in a location where it is easily controlled. And remove the flower heads before they mature and set seeds. Harvest catnip leaves at any time as a treat for your favorite feline. You also can dry the leaves and stuff them into kitty toys.
Chamomile's dainty daisylike blooms glisten when dew-spangled and glow in moonlight. Carpet a garden path or patio with Roman chamomile, a flowering groundcover that releases a delicate fragrance when crushed underfoot. Use this herbal groundcover in the garden to edge beds with a feathery, fast-spreading quilt or to cascade artfully over the rim of containers. German chamomile is a bushy beauty that's a favorite among bees and butterflies. Tucked into flower beds, it offers season-long color. Chamomile blooms brew a soothing tea. Toss fresh blossoms over salad, or use fresh or dried leaves to season butter, cream sauce, or sour cream.
Punch up the flavor of springtime dishes with the low-calorie, big taste of chervil. This fuss-free herb thrives in garden beds or containers, growing easily from seed. Snip chervil to give an herbal boost to salmon, asparagus, new potatoes, cream sauces, and baby lettuce salads. Leaves blend a sweet, grassy taste with a hint of licorice. Chervil prefers moist soil and shaded roots. Plants don't transplant well; sow seeds where you want them to grow. Scatter seeds in beds or containers several times throughout the growing season for continuous harvest. In the garden, let a few flower stalks set and drop seed to enjoy continued chervil crops.
Chives grace the garden with bright green stems and pinkish-purple pom-pom blooms -- all of which offer a distinctly mild onion flavor. Versatile and easy-growing, chives thrive in containers and also form an eye-catching edging in planting beds. Place chives with convenient harvest in mind; a pot near the kitchen door keeps garden-fresh flavors close at hand. After chives flower, cut plants to encourage new growth, trimming a portion of the clump at a time. In wintry regions, as the growing season winds down, dig up a few bulbs to tuck in a pot for on a sunny windowsill.
With bright green, fern-textured stems, cilantro holds its own in beds or pots, forming a clump of sturdy, flavorful stems. Every part of cilantro promises a taste treat: spicy leaves, pungent seeds (known as coriander), and tangy roots. Most gardeners grow cilantro for the foliage, which boasts a citrusy bite that enlivens Mexican and Thai cooking. You might see this herb called Chinese parsley.
Once flowers form, leaf flavor disappears. Pinch plants frequently to keep flowers at bay. Cilantro tends to bloom as summer heat settles in; growing plants in partial shade and adding mulch can stave off flower shoots -- but not indefinitely. To ensure a season-long supply of leaves, sow seeds every 2-4 weeks. If plants set seed, dry seeds for use as coriander, and save a few for sowing. Allow flowers to drop seeds in the garden and you may be rewarded with a second crop.
For versatility in the garden, it's hard to beat beautiful, easy-grows-it dill. This herb fills a planting area with a fountain of graceful, delicate foliage. Flat flower heads beckon butterflies, bees, and other good bugs. Snip tasty foliage to flavor home-cooked fare, from potatoes, to soups, to egg dishes. Save seeds for seasoning bread, stews, root vegetable dishes, and pickles. Dill thrives in dry, sunny spots, and plants self-seed to keep the crop coming year after year. To ensure a steady supply of foliage for snipping, sow seeds every four weeks during the growing season.
Green lacewings, an aphid predator, frequent dill plantings, making dill a great companion for roses and other aphid favorites. Black swallowtail butterflies lay eggs on dill. Look for black, green, and yellow striped caterpillars munching their way along stems.
Dress up your garden with a textural masterpiece: fennel. With graceful, fernlike foliage, this herb brings beauty to any setting with an airy form that's a butterfly magnet. Tuck fennel in a sunny spot amid a border where its towering flowers can weave between other plants. Sow seeds where you want them to grow; established plants don't transplant well. Flowers lure a host of beneficial, beautiful bugs -- from butterflies and ladybird beetles to bees and hoverflies.
Green lacewings, aphid predators, frequent fennel, making the herb a great companion for roses and other aphid favorites. Black swallowtail butterflies lay eggs on fennel. Look for black, green, and yellow striped caterpillars munching their way along stems.
Garlic chives add a mild zing to soups, meats, and other dishes. The herb tastes a bit more like garlic than chives or onions, making it a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. It's also ideal for the garden; the upright, grassy foliage looks great tucked in with other perennials or in container gardens. Grow this tough perennial in a sunny spot and you'll be able to enjoy the tasty leaves all season long. You can also cook with the clusters of white flowers that appear in late summer or fall.
This plant can self-sow vigorously in the garden, so cut off all the flower stalks as they fade.
Lavender fills the early-summer garden with sensory delights: beautiful purple-tone blooms atop foliage that oozes fragrance on a sunny afternoon. Every part of the plant is infused with aromatic oil, making this a choice herb to place along pathways or near outdoor seating areas so you can savor the fragrance. Lavender varieties abound: The darker the flower, the more intense the aroma -- and the flavor in cooking.
Drought-, heat-, and wind-tolerant, lavender doesn't like poor drainage, waterlogged soil, or high humidity. Raised beds can enhance drainage; surrounding plants with a gravel mulch can help increase heat around roots. After flowering, shear plants to induce bushiness and subsequent bloom. Avoid cutting plants back to the ground. Dried blooms retain fragrance for a long time; crush dried flowers to release aromatic oils anew.
Lemon balm's quilted green leaves release a delicious lemony aroma when brushed, making it the perfect fragrant addition to plantings near patios and garden benches. Low-maintenance lemon balm thrives in beds or containers, as long as roots sink into well-drained soil. Bees can't resist this bushy beauty, so be sure to tuck it in a garden where you grow vegetables and fruits that need pollinating. Trim plants after flowering to limit seeds and subsequent self-sown volunteers. Take advantage of lemon balm's scent as an insect deterrent -- toss a few stems onto a hot grill to drive away mosquitoes.
If you love lemon flavor, make room for lemon verbena in your garden. Grown in a pot, this fragrant beauty will maintain a tidy size. In the ground, it forms a luxuriously lemony shrub. Packed with delicious citrus flavor, thinly sliced leaves add zest and aroma to fish, salads, and steamed vegetables. Stuff a jar with lemon verbena leaves, fill it with water, and sit it in the sun to brew a refreshing tea for summer sipping. For hot tea by the cup, steep 1/2 cup of leaves in 1 cup hot water. Transform cookies or cakes into lemony treats by mixing bruised lemon verbena leaves into sugar the night before baking. Strain out leaves prior to mixing recipe.
In the garden, lemon verbena benefits from formative pruning. In spring and as needed throughout the growing season, snip branch tips and entire stems to keep the plant shaped and in bounds. Grow plants in light shade in southernmost gardens.
Grow a touch of the tropics by tucking a clump of lemongrass into a pot or garden bed. This herb brings the textural beauty and movement of an ornamental grass to the garden, along with one additional feature: lemony leaves with a hint of ginger. Lemongrass leaps out of the ground when warm nights arrive. Watch for fresh stalks to emerge -- combine lemongrass with cilantro, chile peppers, and garlic for the makings of Thai and Asian cuisine. In cold regions, dig a side stalk in late summer and plunk it into a pot to grow indoors through winter.
Happy and carefree in the garden, marjoram packages a spicy-sweet flavor in its bright green leaves. Plants quickly cover well-drained, fertile soil with flavorful foliage. Marjoram thrives in containers and hanging baskets, which showcase trailing stems nicely. Give plants a little shade during the hottest parts of the day in the warmest zones. In regions where marjoram won't survive winter, grow this spicy herb in pots, or dig and pot a portion of an in-ground plant before hard frosts threaten. Frequent harvests throughout the growing season produce a bushy plant. In the kitchen, brew a relaxing tea by combining 1/2 cup each marjoram and mint with 1 cup hot water. Steep, strain, and sip.
Plant a patch of cooling, refreshing fragrance by adding mint to your garden. Undemanding and easy to grow, mint boasts a hearty constitution, often growing where other plants fail. Fragrance varies with variety, as does taste. Use mint fresh or dried to season a range of culinary creations including soups, beverages, vegetables, meats, and desserts.
Mint quickly scrambles to cover garden real estate; tuck mint where you don't mind its wandering ways, or corral its rambles by planting it in a raised bed or a pot sunk into soil. Plants readily cross-pollinate; keep your patch pure by planting mixed varieties as far apart as possible. This herb releases scent when you crush or bruise leaves. Place it near garden paths or benches so you can savor the fragrance frequently. All mint varieties thrive in containers.
Savor true Italian flavor with garden-fresh oregano. This sprawling herb pumps up the taste in tomato sauces, pizza, and Mediterranean cuisine. An easy-growing perennial, oregano thrives in planting beds or containers. Plant it in a pot with rosemary, sage, and thyme for a flavorful quartet you can place near the kitchen door, handy for snipping and sprinkling into dishes. In the ground, plants will flower and set seed, which shortens the harvest season. Pinch flowers from stems to keep plants in top snipping form.
Perk up your garden and your mealtimes by adding parsley to your growing roster. The only maintenance this fuss-free herb requires is planting and harvesting. Give plants evenly moist, well-drained soil, and you'll enjoy fresh green flavors in no time. Curly leaf parsley brings a crisp taste to salads, vegetables, and herb butters, and it's a key ingredient in bouquet garni and fines herbes, an herb blend used in French cuisine. Flat-leaf Italian parsley boasts a stronger flavor that holds up well in cooking, earning this herb a place in soups, stews, and sauces.
In the garden, both parsleys thrive in beds or containers. Curly leaf parsley makes a handsome edging for planting beds, particularly when paired with a contrasting foliage texture, such as upright chives or fat-leaf basil. Black swallowtail butterflies lay eggs on curly parsley. Look for black, green, and yellow striped caterpillars munching their way along stems.
Patchouli is a tender tropical that grows easily indoors in a spot that receives bright, indirect light. It does not like direct sun and prefers a slightly moist soil and high humidity levels. You can harvest the fragrant leaves and use them in potpourri or sachets or tuck them between stored linens. During the summer, you can move patchouli outdoors to a shady spot after frost danger has passed.
Known as a symbol of remembrance and friendship, rosemary fills a garden with aroma, flavor, and activity -- busily pollinating bees love the blooms. This herb comes in various forms, from stiff and upright, ideal for a hedge planting, to mounded and spreading, perfect for scrambling along a slope or wall. The secret to beautiful rosemary is to give plants a hot, dry footing. Grow plants in well-drained soil or a raised bed and surround them gravel mulch for best results. Rosemary thrives in containers, too.
In coldest zones, overwinter rosemary in an unheated room with a fan. Protect overwintering plants from extreme humidity. Too low humidity can cause plants to drop leaves; too high can favor powdery mildew.
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