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. View a list of herbs by common name or scientific name below.
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You just can't overdo sage in the garden. This perennial herb earns its keep with fast-growing ways, beautiful blooms, and a flavor deer find distasteful. Once established, plants shrug off drought, although it's wise to keep plants well-hydrated through the hottest parts of summer if you want a steady supply of supple foliage.
Some gardeners pinch out flower buds to keep leaves forming, but the blooms are beautiful. If you choose to let plants flower, when blossoms fade, cut plants back to beneath where flower buds formed. Don't cut back to woody stems that have no leaves; those most likely won't sprout again. Sage plants typically require replacing every 3-4 years, as plants become woody and produce fewer leaves.
The uses of sage are beyond measure. Besides its popular use as a culinary herb, sage is also commonly pressed into service in cosmetics, perfumes, and soaps. Some naturalists rub it on their skin as an insect repellent. Hanging dried leaves among woolen clothing deters moths. Burning sage removes unpleasant odors, such as lingering cigarette smoke or cooked fish smells.
There are few gardens that don't have at least one salvia growing in them. Whether you have sun or shade, a dry garden or lots of rainfall, there's an annual salvia that you'll find indispensable. All attract hummingbirds, especially the red ones, and are great picks for hot, dry sites where you want tons of color all season. Most salvias don't like cool weather, so plant them outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.
Every dish you make with summer savory will find your family savoring a flavor similar to dill with a hint of thyme. The delicate spice of summer savory has made it a favorite in kitchens, especially when teamed with early crops of green beans and new potatoes. An easy-growing herb, summer savory thrives in typical well-drained garden soil, starting quickly from seed. Regular harvesting encourages new growth and yields bushy plants. Summer savory foliage is fine textured, pairing nicely with the broader leaves of bush beans, beets, basil, or Swiss chard. Dried savory shines when combined with rosemary, thyme, lavender, and bay leaf, the basic foundation for Herbes de Provence, to which other herbs, such as marjoram, basil, and fennel are added.
With fragrances of fruits, flowers, spices, and even chocolate, scented geraniums delight the senses. The plant's tactile leaves -- some fuzzy, some smooth -- come in a wide range of shapes and hues. They have been favorites of herb and indoor gardeners since Victorian times. They are hardy in Zones 10-11 and warmer parts of Zone 9 but can be grown as annuals or houseplants in colder regions. Most scented geranium flowers are smaller and less showy than annual bedding geraniums, but they can create an attractive bonus to the fragrant foliage. Plants grow up to 3 feet tall and wide.
Think of shiso like a coleus for sun. In fact, it's closely related to coleus and serves the same role -- to add colorful foliage and an exotic feel to beds, borders, and containers. Some varieties of this plant, though, are treated as an herb and eaten. Others are grown as colorful ornamentals that thrive in both shade and sun. It can be difficult to find in some garden centers, but is becoming more commonly available. Some types of shiso will self-seed in the garden.
Sorrel begins growth in early spring, providing salad greens when few other edibles are available. The plant thrives in full sun or partial shade, and it prefers moist soil. Some types can be grown in shallow water. Sorrel develops a mound of foliage that grows 12-18 inches tall, and it sends up a flower stalk with green flowers that mature to reddish-brown seeds. Remove seed stalks to prevent the plant from self-sowing.
Stevia develops sweet-tasting foliage that's an excellent alternative to sugar or artificial sweeteners. Given enough moisture, this tropical plant thrives in containers or in the landscape. Just be sure to plant it where the soil drains well; stevia will not thrive in constantly wet soil and resents heavy clay. Avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers. In northern climates, move stevia indoors before frost hits and treat it like a houseplant.
Sweet cicely is one of the few herbs that thrives in the shade. It prefers moist soil and cool temperatures. All parts of sweet cicely are edible and impart a slight anise flavor to recipes. Use the leaves either fresh or dried in salads. Seeds are sometimes substituted for caraway; roots may be peeled, boiled, and eaten as a vegetable. The plant grows 3 feet tall and wide with fernlike foliage. In late spring, sweet cicely bears clusters of attractive white flowers.
Also called holygrass or bisongrass, sweetgrass is a native prairie grass prized for its fresh scent. It grows naturally in meadows and along stream banks. Native American tribes have long used sweetgrass for making smudge sticks as well as for weaving baskets. The plant spreads up to 2 feet wide annually, so plant it where it can be confined. It eventually forms a thick mat of foliage that tends to flop over unless cut back.
Sweet woodruff makes a big statement in the shade garden. In spring, the plants are smothered with white flowers and the foliage has a sweet, haylike fragrance. It makes a great groundcover for hard-to-plant dark corners of the landscape. Sweet woodruff can become invasive if given the right conditions. Plant it where you can control it easily. It does not tolerate drought.
French tarragon creates a shrubby presence in the garden border, combining fine texture with wonderful green-to-gray foliage. Leaves dish up a sweet anise flavor used to create traditional Bearnaise sauce and the fines herbes blend vital to French cooking. In rich soil, plants practically jump out of the ground, thriving with little care. For best growth, remove flowering stems. With a sunny window and rich soil, you can raise French tarragon indoors. If light isn't strong enough, stems will likely sprawl and leaf flavor will diminish, but you'll still be able to savor the licorice taste. In the garden, pair French tarragon with bearded iris, burgundy-toned shrubs, or lilies for an eye-pleasing scene. In coldest zones, cut plants back in fall and mulch after the ground freezes.
Introduce scenery from the Greek Isles to your garden with lush plantings of thyme. This sun-loving, drought-tolerant herb carpets hillsides in Greece, thriving in well-drained soil. Drought conditions concentrate the aromatic oils in thyme, so the drier your growing conditions, the better. In your garden, tucking plants into raised beds or mulching them with gravel will give thyme the conditions that cause it to thrive and be flavorful.
The flowers beckon honeybees, so add thyme near vegetable gardens to assure an ample supply of pollinators. Shear plants back after bloom, cutting off about a third of stems. With dainty proportions, thyme suits containers or the tight growing quarters between stepping stones.
Thyme introduces a savory flavor to dishes, such as roasted vegetables, soups, and sauces. It is also a key ingredient in bouquet garni, fines herbes, and herbes de Provence. Use thyme to enhance poultry, beef, pork, or seafood. This herb also adds a kick to cheese and egg creations. Thyme's oils take time to be infused into dishes; add thyme early in the cooking process to release the greatest flavor.
This upright perennial herb, also called garden heliotrope, is topped with white to pinkish-white fragrant flowers in midsummer. The blooms were once used in perfume production. Cats also find the plant attractive and may rub against the foliage as they do with catnip. Valerian attracts butterflies to the garden. Remove spent flowers to prevent the plant from self-sowing.
This Southeast Asian native is often used as a coriander substitute in Vietnamese cuisine. It adds a lemony coriander flavor to fresh salads, summer rolls, soups, and salads. In Zones 10 and 11, it can be grown outdoors in a moist, semishaded location as a perennial. Elsewhere, grow it as an annual or in a container to bring indoors over winter. The silvery leaves often develop a maroon blotch that makes the plant quite ornamental.