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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.
The spiky green foliage of aloe vera is splotched in white and contains a gel-like sap often used to soothe burns and moisturize skin. This succulent perennial herb is at home in frost-free, sunny, well-drained sites. Native to hot, dry regions of Africa, it has been traced to early Egypt, where it was used for its healing properties. Aloe makes a great houseplant, especially in colder Zones where it cannot be grown outdoors all year. Aloe vera is also sometimes called Barbados aloe and true aloe.
Angelica is a tall, hardy biennial herb with dramatic stalks that can be candied and used on cakes or cookies. The first year, the plant produces beautiful frilly green foliage. The second year, angelica sends up flower stalks and then produces seeds. The flowers and foliage make a dramatic back-of-the-border accent in perennial beds. The celery-flavor stems may be eaten raw or candied for use in baking. Use the dried root in tea. Plants might self-sow, but plant new angelica each year to ensure a constant supply. Grow it in full sun or dappled shade in rich, organic soil.
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 basil seeds indoors or plant basil outside after all danger of frost has passed.
Bayberry forms a beautiful semi-evergreen shrub that tolerates either wet or dry soils. The shrub also withstands salt spray, making it a good choice for coastal landscapes. Plants gradually spread from underground suckers, eventually forming a thicket. Pruning is rarely necessary.
Bayberry has long been prized for its fragrant, waxy gray berries, which can be used to make candles. Plants are either male or female; to ensure berry production, plant several shrubs in the same landscape. The berries are also attractive to a wide range of songbirds.
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.
Calamint is dotted with masses of tiny flowers that attract butterflies from midsummer until frost. The small white or pale lavender blooms make a good substitute for baby's breath. Calamint is a member of the mint family, but it doesn't spread by runners, so it usually remains well behaved in the garden. However, it can self-seed and occasionally pops up elsewhere in the landscape. Grow calamint in a location with good drainage for a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant perennial with airy texture.
This biennial develops ferny foliage its first year in the garden and bears white flowers and seeds the second year. The seeds are most commonly used to flavor rye and other breads, but all parts of the plant are edible. Caraway prefers a sunny location with rich, well-drained soil. Although the plant tolerates drought, don't let the soil dry out completely.
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.
Comfrey leaves are full of nutrients that make a natural high-potassium fertilizer or addition to compost. This perennial herb sends down deep roots that pull nutrients into the plant's large, hairy leaves. It grows best in moist sites high in organic matter. Common comfrey, Symphytum officinale, is a vigorous plant that can grow up to 4 feet tall. The plant spreads by rhizomes and can become invasive.
Cuban oregano could be called an herbal smorgasbord. Other common names for it include Mexican mint, Spanish thyme, and Indian mint -- an indication of its complex flavor. Cuban oregano has fuzzy succulent leaves on a plant that grows 12-18 inches tall and wide. It doesn’t survive freezing temperatures, but it is easy to start from cuttings. Plants can be taken indoors over winter and treated as houseplants. Cuban oregano is not a true mint, but rather is more closely related to Swedish ivy.
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.
Epazote is a pungent tender perennial most commonly used in Mexican cooking. Use the leaves fresh or dried in bean dishes and soups. Epazote blends well with oregano, cumin, and chiles, but on its own it has a strong flavor that some compare to kerosene.
Mature plants grow 2-3 feet tall. Epazote prefers a dry, sunny site, but isn't particular about growing conditions. In fact, it readily spreads throughout the garden unless you contain it and remove flower stalks before they set seed.
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.
Common cooking ginger is a tropical plant that can be grown outdoors year-round in Zones 8-11, or in a container to bring indoors over winter. Ginger prefers moist soil and part shade. If you take the plant indoors over winter, reduce the amount of moisture and light to slow growth. You can start plants from gingerroot (actually rhizomes) sold in grocery stores. The plant has little ornamental value, so it's not often sold in nurseries.
Horehound is a hardy member of the mint family. It has fuzzy gray-green foliage and small white flowers. Like mint, this plant can become invasive. Horehound is not fussy about growing conditions but prefers full sun and good drainage. Neither deer nor rabbits eat horehound unless they are extremely hungry. Plant the herb to deter these pests if they are a problem in your neighborhood. Horehound has traditionally been used as a cough suppressant or to make candy.
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