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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Horseradish is a large perennial herb with coarse leaves and small white flowers. The large taproots are harvested to make the pungent relishes and sauces for which the plant is known. Root cuttings or divisions planted in spring will produce harvestable roots in 180-240 days. The plant can become invasive, so plant it with caution, or keep it contained to prevent it from spreading too far.
An evergreen, bushy perennial herb, hyssop produces upright stems with small white, lavender, or blue flowers in summer. It grows up to 2 feet tall and makes a good plant for edging and containers. Although this plant is not closely related to anise hyssop, both plants attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
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.
Lemongrass has an intense lemony fragrance and is prized for its many uses, including teas and insect repellants. It adds texture to gardens—herb or otherwise. Plant it close to walkways so you can grab a leaf as you walk by and crush it between your fingers to enjoy the pleasant aroma.
This shrubby perennial that bears bluish-purple flowers in summer is a member of the legume family. A native of the Mediterranean, it grows well in hot, dry areas. The roots are the edible portion of the plant, producing flavoring for candies and a sweetener that quenches thirst. Dried roots are sometimes used as chew sticks. The plant spreads by rhizomes, so it can be easily divided to start new plants. It is not related to the ornamental annual called licorice plant (Helichrysum).
A relative of celery, lovage is a hardy perennial herb whose leaves can be used in soups, salads, and bouquets. Unlike most herbs, lovage thrives in clay soil that is slow to drain. Lovage is a large plant, reaching up to 5 feet tall, so grow it at the back of the border where it can spread and not compete with other plants. Its small yellow-green flowers attract beneficial insects. After planting, lovage grows vigorously for about four years and then slows. Because lovage is a self-seeder, clip off flower heads before they mature unless you want more plants.
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.
This striking member of the daisy family has thorny, variegated foliage and purple blooms that resemble large thistles. Remove the blooms before seeds mature to prevent the plant from self-seeding and becoming weedy. When cut, the plant produces a white, milky liquid, which is how it got its name. The plant has been used for centuries as a treatment for diseases of the liver and gallbladder. In its native range, it is an annual, but it may overwinter in Zones 5-9.
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.
Tall and imposing, this wildflower has become gentrified. Many hybrid forms have been selected with large saucer-shaped flowers and showy stamens. Some have soft woolly leaves. Small sorts do well in rock gardens and troughs, but taller varieties show off well in perennial or mixed borders, and among shrub plantings. They tolerate most soils well, but not wet feet. Cut back after the first flush of bloom for later spikes to develop.
An evergreen shrub from the Mediterranean and Middle East, myrtle has long been used as a symbol of love. It has dark green, glossy leaves, and in early summer it bears small white flowers that develop into edible purplish berries. Myrtle can be sheared or pruned frequently, making it an excellent choice for hedges and topiaries. Avoid overwatering the plant; it often develops yellow leaves if the soil is excessively wet.
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 tropical perennial herb grown for its fragrant foliage. Its essential oils are used in perfumes and insect repellents. Grow patchouli in partial shade, and protect plants from cold temperatures. It is hardy in Zones 10-11 but can be grown as an annual in colder Zones. The plant thrives in hot, humid weather, and in midsummer it bears pale pink or white flowers.
This perennial mint relative bears whorls of fluffy lavender-purple blooms in late summer and fall. It is native to parts of Europe and Asia but has become naturalized throughout much of North America. It often is found growing along waterways, a nod to its preference for moist soil. Like other mints, pennyroyal can spread aggressively, so keep it contained. Pennyroyal has been used as an herb for hundreds of years and is sometimes called fleabane due to its insect-repellent nature.
Rosemary's evergreen foliage is a staple in any herb garden. Known for their wonderful flavoring in poultry dishes and other recipes, rosemary can also be grown as an ornamental. In areas where these plants are not winter hardy, they can be grown as an annual. Because of their Mediterannean heritage, these plants love hot and dry weather. Grow rosemary plants near paths and walkways to release their signature scent as you brush past them.
This shrubby aromatic herb has been used for medicinal and culinary purposes for centuries. It is rarely used nowadays in American cuisine because the leaves have a bitter flavor. Rue grows best in full sun but tolerates light shade. It must have good drainage to survive, however. Rue has fine-texture blue-green foliage and bears yellow flowers in summer. Rue self-seeds, so remove flower heads before they set seed to avoid more plants. This shrub can be clipped into a neat hedge, making it an ideal herb for knot gardens.
Whether you call it an herb or a spice, saffron is made from the dried stigmas of one fall-blooming crocus species. This precious herb can be worth thousands of dollars per pound. Grow your own crop for significant savings in making your own paella. Plant this crocus in early fall; the corms will bloom 6-8 weeks later if the bulbs are planted 3-4 inches deep and about 2 inches apart. Saffron grows best in full sun in well-drained soil.