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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Aloe vera is an eye-catching perennial that displays lance-shape succulent leaves decorated with white spots and edged with small whitish teeth. The leaves are known for their gel-like sap often used to soothe burns and moisturize skin. Native to hot, dry regions of Africa, this herbaceous perennial prefers frost-free, sunny, well-drained sites where the night temperature never dips below 50 degrees F. Thankfully, adaptable aloe vera makes a great houseplant; use it on its own or let it add vertical interest to a container of vining houseplants, such as philodendron or ivy. Exceptionally easy to grow, aloe vera is a good choice for a new gardener.
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 sky-blue blooms dance atop the fuzzy stems and leaves of borage. A delicate beauty in the garden, annual borage faithfully comes back from seed each year, quickly filling in empty spaces. (Deadhead flowers or pull seedlings judiciously in spring if volunteers are not to your liking.) Harvest its edible flowers to beautify salads, summer drinks, or desserts. Toss borage 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. Use the leaves (which taste somewhat like cucumber) in salads and cold drinks. BTW: Borage will flower indoors in containers if given heat and plenty of light.
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.
Catnip is an easy-to-grow perennial grown primarily for its fragrant foliage that is extremely attractive to cats. A vigorous herb, catnip can be grown indoors on a sunny windowsill or in a bright location outdoors. As with many mints, it can become invasive. 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. The aromatic foliage also repels mosquitoes.
Chamomile (aka Roman chamomile) is an easy-to-grow, fragrant herb that is a favorite nectar stop for pollinators. This hard-working garden plant, which also boasts edible parts, grows well in most gardens and containers. Add chamomile to an herb garden, rock garden, or other growing space; it will produce a host of white flowers from early summer through fall.
German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a taller version of Roman chamomile often grown for its white flowers with showy yellow centers. The 1- to 2-foot-tall, clump-forming plant mixes well with herbs in a traditional herb garden. It also grows well alongside perennials in a mixed border or cascades artfully over the edges of containers.
The herb chervil is tough to find in the grocery store. Grow your own to eliminate the hunt for this deliciously delicate herb. Dainty leaves resemble parsley but the flavor is more like tarragon or basil with a touch of anise mixed in. Chervil brings wonderful flavor to salads, sauces, soups, and sautés. It is difficult to preserve chervil, so enjoy it fresh and plant a new crop about every 3 weeks for a continuous harvest.
Grown and known for its zippy onion taste, chives add fresh flavor to cuisines of all types. Its bright green stems and purple pom-pom flowers make it a multitasker. Plant it in perennial beds or along cottage garden walkways. Add a few plants to container gardens where they will produce fresh new foliage from spring to frost. Both the foliage and the flowers are edible and added to salads, potato dishes, and meat entrees. Chives are easy to grow and a great herb for beginning gardeners.
With bright green, fern-textured stems, cilantro holds its own in beds or pots. 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. Coriander is used in pastries, sausage, and pickling spice. Cilantro thrives in cool weather and grows best in spring and fall. Pick up a few transplants at the garden center or start your own plants from seed.
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.
With common names that include Mexican mint, Spanish thyme, and Indian borage, Cuban oregano plants leave many gardeners wondering Exactly what is this? when they encounter them at a garden center. Let’s start with what it is not. Cuban oregano isn’t oregano, mint, thyme, or borage. It is an herb that is perennial in tropical regions but most commonly grown as a container plant in all other regions. It has fragrant, velvety leaves edged in white, and trumpet-shape flowers in pink, white, and lavender. It’s nearly maintenance-free once it is established. It grows rapidly, creating a lush display in a container garden.
Dill is a feathery looking annual and popular herb used as a flavoring for favorite recipes—and sought after by black swallowtail caterpillars as a food source. It grows on stiff, hollow stems covered in aromatic, delicate, blue-green leaves that divide into threadlike segments. Easy to grow and wonderfully productive, dill produces enough foliage and seed for people and pollinators alike. Plant dill alongside vegetables in a traditional vegetable garden or enjoy its scented foliage in a perennial garden or in container plantings.
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.
Boasting culinary value in the kitchen and good looks in the landscape, garlic chives make a great garden perennial. Exceptionally hardy, garlic chives thrive in Zones 3 through 9. These plants form slow-expanding clumps of gray-green foliage that stand 1 to 2 feet tall. The leaves feature a mild garlic flavor that is perfect for dishes that need a flavor kick without the boldness of garlic. Harvest leaves anytime they are green. Garlic chives can also be grown inside during winter for culinary use in cold weather months.
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.