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.
Hyssop is a strongly flavored aromatic herb—similar to rosemary or lavender—that bears shiny green leaves and clusters of purple-blue, pink, or white flowers starting in midsummer. This herbaceous perennial grows in a bushy clump that reaches 18 to 24 inches tall, making it perfect for use in herb gardens, rock gardens, borders, and containers. It can also be shaped for use as a low hedge in milder climates, where it stays evergreen. Over the years it has escaped gardens and demanded a place alongside roadsides where it can naturalize to its heart’s content.
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.
Since ancient lemon balm has been used to calm and lift spirits, which is probably how this perennial got its name. Grown for its oils for aromatherapy and leaves for flavoring, lemon balm also makes a great addition to most gardens (especially plots of fruits and vegetables) because it attracts honeybees and other pollinators. You may want to plant this member of the mint family near walkways where people can brush against its quilted green leaves and enjoy their pleasing odor. Add its edible leaves to soups, salads, sauces, or vegetables. Mix dried leaves into potpourri. Toss a few stems onto a hot grill or rub fresh leaves on your arms while gardening to drive away mosquitoes. Include lemon balm in bouquets of fresh flowers.
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.
Marjoram is a herb from hot, dry Mediterranean regions and is loved by gardeners and cooks for its fragrance, taste, and appearance. This easy-care herb features gray-green foliage and summertime sprays of white flowers. It’s excellent for the middle of the border, herb gardens, or container gardens. It blends beautifully with bean, cheese, egg, root vegetable, and tomato dishes. It’s also terrific in soups, salad dressings, and chicken or turkey recipes. If you plan to use marjoram fresh, add it after cooking as heat diminishes the flavor of the leaves.
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.
Mint plants have long been prized for crisp, soothing aroma and ease of growth. In fact, they grow so well that in some cases they get a little too rambunctious. One plant is usually plenty to supply a summer’s worth of mint. Along with their culinary and aromatic properties, mint deters insects and attracts pollinators.
A favorite plant of hummingbirds and pollinators, mullein attracts the attention of non-winged garden visitors too. This showy cottage garden favorite makes a joyful statement in the early summer garden as it sends up a tall flower spike and then begins to open pretty blossoms in shades of yellow, pink, white, and purple depending on the variety.
Sometimes called verbascum, this group of plants is made up of many different varieties. Most types of mullein are perennials, coming back year-after-year, some plants are biennials and come back for a couple of years, and a few mulleins are annuals. Add several types of mullein to a cottage garden and enjoy their diversity.
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.
A multitasking perennial, oregano is a fragrant addition to a perennial garden as well as the kitchen. Plant it in a sunny garden bed or container close to the house for quick and easy harvest for your next Italian meal. In the garden you’ll love oregano’s clean, green foliage and casual mounding habit. It debuts small flowers in summer, which are a favorite stopping point for pollinators. A perennial all-star, oregano is a must-grow garden herb.
Call on parsley to anchor a kitchen herb collection. When grown within steps of your door, fresh herbs will quickly make their way into your summer dishes. Plant parsley and other culinary herbs in pots. Place the container gardens on a patio or deck where they receive at least eight hours of bright sunlight a day. Then simply step outside and harvest what you need—adding it to your cuisine seconds later. In addition to parsley, other essential culinary herbs include basil, cilantro, chives, oregano, rosemary, dill, and thyme. These seven herbs grow with gusto in containers and traditional planting beds.
Patchouli is a shrubby tropical plant from the mint family that is best known for its fragrant oil, which has been used in a rich, earthy component of soaps, lotions, and perfumes for centuries. People who don’t care for scent of the oil may enjoy the smell of patchouli’s aromatic stems and leaves when crushed.
Pair patchouli with other aromatic plants to create a fragrance garden. The earthy scent of patchouli blends well with the fragrances of basil and geranium—both of which are tender annuals. Grow all three plants in pots you can move indoors to a bright, sunny window in midautumn. Continue snipping its fragrant leaves through winter. Another option: Plant patchouli outside where its fragrance can mingle with those of lavender, juniper, and rose.
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.