Herb Garden

This design encompasses the most common herbs and spices used in American cooking, with a few exotics for good measure. Some favorites cannot survive cold winters or grow on shrubs or trees, so those are still best bought. However, with 32 varieties from which to choose, your meals will be anything but dull. Most of these require no fuss to grow and make excellent beginner plants for the nervous gardener.

Herb_Garden

Spearmint

spearmint
  • Transplant plants after the last frost date. Flavor from seed-grown mint is highly variable.
  • Spacing: one or two plants per sq. ft. Mint spreads rapidly.
  • Days to harvest: Harvest leaves and stems as desired. Cut back to 1” above the ground to harvest the whole plant and encourage fresh growth.
  • Uses: Milder than peppermint, spearmint makes an excellent tea for children and is used to flavor savory and sweet dishes. Pairs well with fruits and spring vegetables.
  • Hint: Plant in a bottomless pot set into the garden with the rim 1 to 2 inches above the ground to prevent plants from spreading.

Thai basil

thai_basil
  • Plant seeds 1/4” deep indoors six weeks before last frost; outdoors two weeks after last frost.
  • Transplant seedlings two to three weeks after last frost or when soil reaches 70 degrees F.
  • Replant if you have space and want more.
  • Spacing: two plants per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: 40-55 days from transplant. Harvest leaves and stems as desired. Not frost-hardy.
  • Uses: As its name implies, Thai basil is the star of the show in Thai and other Asian food. Thai coconut milk curry is not the same without it, but it is also wonderful raw in salads and lends a slight licorice flavor.
  • Hint: Pinch stems early and often to stimulate branching and bushy growth. Allow some flower spikes to form for attractive garnish.

Lemon Balm

lemon_balmsm
  • Transplant plants after the last frost date.
  • Spacing: one or two plants per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: Harvest leaves and stems as desired.
  • Uses: The sweet lemon-smelling leaves are most commonly used in teas and potpourris. They may also be used in cooking, making essential oils, or as an insect repellent.
  • Hint: Lemon balm self-seeds aggressively. Remove flowers as soon as they appear.
  • Illustration by Paul Mirocha

Peppermint

peppermintsm
  • Transplant plants after the last frost date. Flavor from seed-grown mint is highly variable.
  • Spacing: one or two plants per sq. ft. Mint spreads rapidly.
  • Days to harvest: Harvest leaves and stems as desired. Cut back to 1” above the ground to harvest the whole plant and encourage fresh growth.
  • Uses: Stronger than spearmint, peppermint has long been known to aid with digestive troubles. It is also an antiviral, antifungal, and a decongestant. It makes a delicious and soothing tea when mixed with honey. Peppermint’s flavor is bold enough to show through, even when paired with other strong flavors like chocolate. In the United States, it is most commonly associated with tea or candy and may bring a jarring surprise if tried in savory dishes.
  • Hint: Plant in a bottomless pot set into the garden with the rim 1 to 2 inches above the ground to prevent plants from spreading.

Summer Savory

summer_savorysm
  • Surface sow fresh seeds. Viability reduces after one year.
  • Spacing: Plant four seeds per sq. ft.; thin to two plants per sq. ft.
  • May be sown successively until mid-summer for continuous harvest.
  • Companions: aids beans and onions.
  • Uses: Aromatic, culinary, decorative, and medicinal. Dried plants are used to scent potpourris. Fresh or dried leaves flavor vinegars, herb butters, bean dishes, creamy soups, and tea.

Fennel

fennel
  • Sow sweet fennel seeds indoors four weeks before last frost or directly in garden when soil temperature reaches 50 degrees.
  • Spacing: sweet fennel nine per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: sweet fennel leaves 50 to 60 days.
  • Uses: A subtle anise or licorice flavor that is used in traditional Italian breads and stews. Indians use fennel in grain pilafs and curries. Try a few seeds in fresh fruit salad or with green beans or root vegetables.

Shiso

shiso
  • Belongs to the mint family and has also been known as beefsteak plant or Japanese basil.
  • Plant seeds 1/4” deep indoors, six to eight weeks before last frost. Seeds may take 3 to 4 weeks to germinate.
  • Transplant into garden one to two weeks after last frost or when soil reaches 65 degrees F.
  • Spacing: one or two plants per sq. ft.
  • Prune: Trim stems to encourage bushy growth.
  • Days to harvest: Harvest leaves as needed throughout the season. Not frost-hardy.
  • Uses: Its flavor is vibrant and citrusy, best used raw and common in Asian food. Can be used anywhere you would normally use basil or mint. Try it in rice or pasta and with fish, pork, mushrooms, avocado, cucumber or tomatoes. The possibilities are nearly endless.
  • Hint: Remove flowers to prevent self-sowing seeds.

Kalocsa Paprika

chilli_peppers
  • Start seeds indoors 1/4″ deep 10 to 12 weeks before last frost.
  • Transplant into garden three weeks after last frost or when soil reaches 70 degrees F.
  • Fruits are edible from early green to full-color maturity. Heat increases with maturity.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: 50 to 65 days green, 80 to 85 days to full color. Not frost-hardy.
  • Uses: Heat level is medium, compared to other chilis. Kalocsa is the particular pepper favored by Hungarians for making paprika. They can be dried for paprika, stuffed, roasted, or used to make sauces. The dried powder does not fully release its flavor unless gently heated first.
  • Hint: Do not fertilize peppers. Water sparingly.

Calendula

calendula
  • Also known as pot marigold and the “poor man’s saffron”
  • Sow seeds directly in the ground in early spring.
  • Spacing: two plants per sq. ft.
  • Replant any time you have a little space in the garden. Fast-growing.
  • Days to bloom: 55 days from planting seeds
  • Uses: Medicinal and culinary. May be used as a “poor man’s saffron” in rice and pasta dishes without changing the flavor. Can also be used to color butter and cheeses. The petals may be eaten raw in salads, but try a nibble first. Some report they are bitter when used this way. Germans have used them for many years in soups and stews, and they are also traditional ingredients in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods. They make a healthful tea as well.
  • Companion: Repels harmful insects. Used in soil restoration.
  • Hint: Pick off spent flowers to keep plant blooming.

Parsley

parsley
  • Start seeds 1/4″ deep indoors 10 to 12 weeks before last frost.
  • Transplant seedlings into garden up to a month before last frost.
  • Spacing: two plants per sq. ft.
  • Edible all summer and into winter.
  • Biennial: plants will go to seed second year.
  • Days to harvest: 75. Begin harvesting foliage at any time. Very frost-hardy.
  • Uses: Slightly peppery flavor used as a breath freshener. Makes a delicious ranch dressing when used fresh in sour cream. Pair with beef, chicken, fish or beans. Top your salad, fresh vegetables, or garlic bread. It is hard to go wrong.
  • Hint: Parsley takes up to 21 days to germinate. Treat seeds with hot water before planting.

Chervil

Chervilsm
  • Sow fresh seeds just below soil surface in spring and fall or every 2 to 3 weeks – up to 6 weeks before the first frost. Need light to germinate. Seeds older than one year will not germinate well.
  • Seedlings are too fragile to transplant.
  • Spacing: Sow in groupings of five per sq. ft. and thin to 4″ between plants when 2″ tall.
  • Uses: Medicinal and culinary. Leaves have a mild anise-seed taste and are one of the four “fines herbes” used in French cuisine.
  • Companions: aids radishes, carrots, lettuce, and broccoli. Grows well alongside cilantro/coriander and dill.
  • Hint: Should be kept consistently moist. Does not like hot, dry conditions.

Marjoram

Marjoram1sm
  • Sow indoors six weeks before last frost, or direct sow in fall. Germinates in 8 to 14 days.
  • Transplant into garden after last frost.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft.
  • Uses: A blend of sweet pine and citrus to flavor dressings and meat dishes. Delicious fresh in salad. Use sparingly, as it has a somewhat sharper taste than oregano. Use it in conjunction with other dried herbs to flavor vegetable dishes, Italian-style tomato sauces, bean stews, pizza sauces, soups, grain dishes, and vinaigrette dressings.
  • Hint: Allow soil to go almost dry between watering, and then, soak thoroughly.

French Tarragon

tarragonsm
  • Place purchased plug in garden after last frost.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft.
  • Propagation: best through root division but also through stem cuttings or layering.
  • Uses: to flavor vegetable dishes, soups, mild cheeses, egg dishes, fish, and white sauces. One of the four “fines herbes” used in French cuisine.
  • Companions: Aids many plants but especially eggplant.
  • Hint: During growth, it produces little aroma, but once cut, the oils concentrate and smell sweet like fresh-cut hay. Allow soil to go almost dry between watering, and then, soak thoroughly. Drought tolerant.
  • Illustration by Zan Mixter

Epazote

epazotesm
  • Dysphania ambrosioides
  • Sow directly outdoors once soil warms up in early June. Seeds should sprout in 7-14 days.
  • Press seeds into the soil and barely cover. Keep moist until germination.
  • Spacing: four per sq. ft. Thin plants to stand 6″ apart.
  • Uses: Traditionally used to flavor bean dishes, as it has the added benefit of being an anti-flatulent. Add 2 tbsp of chopped fresh leaves to beans in the last 15 minutes of cooking. “The leaves can be dried, but fresh are better” (for more info).
  • Hint: Best avoided by pregnant women and small children.

Red Chili Pepper

chilli_peppers
  • Start seeds indoors 1/4″ deep 10 to 12 weeks before last frost.
  • Transplant into garden three weeks after last frost or when soil reaches 70 degrees F.
  • Fruits are edible from early green to full-color maturity. Heat increases with maturity.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: 50 to 65 days green, 80 to 85 days to full color. Not frost-hardy.
  • Uses: Mixes well with cumin, oregano, and garlic. Use fresh, or dry for flavoring bean stews and soups, tomato-based enchilada sauces and peanut or sesame sauce for Oriental noodles.
  • Hint: Do not fertilize peppers. Water sparingly.

Lemon Thyme

lemon_thyme
  • Transplant plants after the last frost date. Flavor from seed-grown thyme is highly variable.
  • Spacing: one or two plants per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: Harvest leaves and stems as desired.
  • Uses: anywhere that a citrus-y hint would be appreciated – with roasted chicken, fresh crab, Brussels sprouts and other vegetables, chowders, simple syrups, etc.
  • Hint: Thyme requires well-drained soil. Do not fertilize.

Chives

chives
  • Purchase a pot of chives or get a clump from a neighbor. Plant in garden anytime. Hardy perennial.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: Leaves can be harvested from early spring on – as soon as they are 6″ tall. Cutting promotes regrowth. Use flowers in salads.
  • Uses: Its delicate onion flavor is perfect for baked potatoes, potato salad, or fresh vegetable salad. Use it dried in dips, dressings, soups, and sauces.
  • Hint: Divide and pot up some chives in fall and bring indoors to grow on a sunny windowsill all winter.

Dill

dill
  • Plant: Sow seeds directly in the garden after danger of frost. Keep soil moist during germination. Sow continuously to maintain a supply of fresh, tender foliage.
  • Spacing: Sow 18 seeds per sq. ft.; thin to nine plants per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: 40 to 50 days for leaf, 85 to 105 days for seed.
  • Uses: The seeds are used in pickling and are a mild substitute for caraway in breads or a topping for potato, cabbage, and casseroles. Fresh dill is excellent with tomatoes and cucumbers (Try sliced cucumbers with coconut yogurt and dill). Hot or cold soups, omelets, spinach pies, and steamed potatoes also benefit from its flavor.
  • Hint: For seed, protect plants from wind or stake to keep them from flopping.

Mustard Seed

MustardSeedsm
  • Plant seeds about three weeks before last frost.
  • Spacing: Thin to four plants per sq. ft.
  • Harvest: Watch for flowers, then pods to form. Once the pods begin to brown and the leaves yellow, remove the pods, and place them in a paper bag to finish drying. The pods will open on their own in one to two weeks.
  • Uses: as a spice in cooking or ground into their popular condiment. The seeds may be used fresh, but for storage, they will need to be dried.

Cumin Seed

cuminsm
  • Start outside 1 to 2 weeks after average last frost, and when the temperatures are warm. Seed should germinate in 7 to 14 days.
  • Spacing: Plant a group of 4 seeds at a depth of ¼ inch every 4 to 8 inches. Nine plants per sq. ft. When seedlings are 2 inches tall, thin to 1 plant every 4 to 8 inches. 
  • Harvest: approximately 120 days after planting. Use fresh, or store the dried seeds in an airtight container. Harvest the heads when nearly dry and allow to finish drying in paper bags. Rub pods to remove the seeds.
  • Uses: Medicinal and culinary. Spice Mexican, Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern foods. Cumin is zesty, mildly spicy and pleasantly hot. It is popular in curry blends and chili powder and important in Indian and Mexican cuisine. It will also frequently be found in Middle Eastern and Spanish food. Use it for soups, tomato-based enchilada sauces, bean dishes, veggie stews and spinach, lentil, and tempeh recipes. Try a pinch in cornbread or European breads.
  • Companion: Attract beneficial insects.
  • Hint: It is recommended to soak the seeds for approximately 8 hours prior to sowing for better germination rates. Once established, allow soil to go almost dry between watering, and then, soak thoroughly.
  • Illustration from Koehler’s Medicinal-Plants 1887

Anise Seed

anisesm
  • Sow fresh seed in spring and autumn, 1/2″ deep. Keep moist until seedlings appear. This may take 14 days when the soil is at 70 degrees.
  • Seedlings do not transplant well.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft.
  • Harvest: When the flowerheads have fully developed brown seeds, cut them off and store in a dry place.
  • Uses: Leaves may be used in soups and salads. Licorice taste of the seeds is used in both savory and sweet baking, stewed or baked fruits, and with vegetables. It is also delicious in cookies, cakes, fruit salads, pies, relishes, chutneys, dark breads, and Indian cuisine (pilafs and braised dishes). Anise tea is said to help with colds and the flu.
  • Companions: Attracts predatory wasps, repels aphids, and is not recommended for planting near basil, carrots, or rue.
  • Hint: Once established, allow soil to go almost dry between watering, and then, soak thoroughly.
  • Illustration from Koehler’s Medicinal Plants 1887

Lavender

lavender
  • Transplant plants into garden after last frost when temperatures remain above 40 degrees F.
  • Spacing: 2 plants per sq. ft.
  • Prune: Trim stems to encourage bushy growth, or leave untrimmed to allow flowers to develop.
  • Days to harvest: Harvest leaves as needed throughout season. Not frost-hardy.
  • Uses: Culinary and medicinal. Use in lemonade, cookies and other desserts (like garden lavender pound cake), infused sugar, bath salts, and antiseptic spritzers. For more tips on how to cook with lavender, see here.
  • Companion: Attracts beneficial insects.
  • Hint: Fertilize monthly. Plants require well-drained soil. Plants may drop leaves when stressed. Drought tolerant.

Rosemary

rosemary
  • Germination is poor and seeds must be very fresh, so buying potted plants is recommended. Plant outdoors only after all danger of frost. Grow in garden or in pot. Tender perennial.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: Leaves from first year plants can be picked sparingly by midsummer.
  • Uses: excellent paired with roast chicken and potatoes. Also use rosemary atop fish or as a complimentary flavor in lemonade or tea. Rosemary-infused oil is delicious on salads or pasta.
  • Hint: Do not allow rosemary to dry out completely. In cold climates, bring plant indoors and grow in sunny window during winter.

Cayenne Pepper

chilli_peppers
  • Start seeds indoors 1/4″ deep 10 to 12 weeks before last frost.
  • Transplant into garden three weeks after last frost or when soil reaches 70 degrees F.
  • Fruits are edible from early green to full-color maturity. Heat increases with maturity.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: 50 to 65 days green, 80 to 85 days to full color. Not frost-hardy.
  • Uses: Perhaps the hottest of ground spices, cayenne pepper is ground from very hot capsicum and has a fiery flavor found in Mexican, Indian, some SE Asian cuisine, and in Creole and Cajun specialties. Use it for vegetable or bean stews, curries, chilies, spicy cold noodle dishes, and hot-and-sour dishes.
  • Hint: Do not fertilize peppers. Water sparingly.

Basil

basil
  • Plant seeds 1/4″ deep indoors six weeks before last frost; outdoors two weeks after last frost.
  • Transplant seedlings two to three weeks after last frost or when soil reaches 70 degrees F.
  • Replant if you have space and want more.
  • Spacing: two plants per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: 40-55 days from transplant. Harvest leaves as desired. Not frost-hardy.
  • Uses: Sweet and spicy flavor preferred fresh for pesto, tomato-based sauces, and fresh tomato salads. Use it dried in soups, marinades, vinaigrettes, grain dishes, herb breads, omelets, and tomato sauces.
  • Hint: Pinch stems early and often to stimulate branching and bushy growth.

Cilantro/Coriander Seed

cilantro
  • Also known as Spanish or Chinese parsley
  • Sow seeds directly in the garden around last frost date. Plant 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep. Cilantro goes to seed quickly, so plant more seeds every three weeks to ensure a constant supply.
  • Spacing: Sow 18 seeds per sq. ft.; thin to nine plants per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: 50 days for leaves, 90 days for seed harvest.
  • Uses: Cilantro’s pungent and unique flavor and aroma dissipate when dried. Use it fresh in Mexican, Indian, and Asian cuisine. Adds an unusual zest to pinto bean stews, Spanish-style tomato sauces for enchiladas, tacos, curried veggies, stews, and corn dishes (like corn-stuffed
    peppers), and is essential for pico de gallo. The seed, coriander, has a complex sweet/spicy flavor used in curry mixes, to flavor tempeh (Indonesian), bean dishes, corn, cabbage, vegetable relishes, and hot-sweet chutneys.
  • Hint: Do not fertilize. Harvest individual stems or cut back entire plant with scissors, leaving 1″ at base to regrow.

Caraway Seeds

Carawaysm
  • Sow seeds 1/2″ deep in fall or spring.
  • Spacing: Thin to one or two plants per sq. ft.
  • Harvest: Caraway is biennial like carrots and sets seed in its second year, so until then, use the leaves and flowers in salads.
  • Uses: Caraway has a sharp, distinctive taste. All parts of the plant are edible, but the seed is the most used part and can be used in soups, stews, and other foods. Add zest to rye and pumpernickel breads, dress up potatoes and other root vegetables or brassicas. After the seeds have been harvested, use the taproot in the same way as other root vegetables.
  • Companions: May be inter-cropped to control weeds and aid soil conditions.
  • Hint: Cut back in the fall. It will re-sprout in spring. Harvest the heads when nearly dry and allow to finish drying in paper bags. After a few days, shake the bag to remove the seeds.

Lemon Grass

lemon_grasssm
  • Start plants from the freshest in the grocery store by trimming them, and removing any dead spots. Place the stalks in a shallow glass of water near a sunny window. Within a few weeks, roots should appear.
  • Transplant into a pot once the roots have matured some, and then, place in the garden one to two weeks after last frost or when soil reaches 65 degrees F.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft.
  • Uses: in soups and seafoods. Also makes a delicious tea sweetened with honey.
  • Illustration by Paul Mirocha

Thyme

thyme
  • Plant: Start with a small potted plant in mid-spring. Hardiness varies depending on variety. Tender or hardy perennial.
  • Spacing: two plants per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: Leaves from first year plants can be picked sparingly by midsummer.
  • Uses: Rub on chicken or pork before grilling, or stuff fresh sprigs into a roasting chicken with rosemary. Add to eggs for savory flavor. Sprinkle onto fresh bread before baking or dress up your usual cornbread recipe. Grind finely and add with salt, chives, and a pinch of pepper to cream cheese for an irresistible cracker spread.
  • Hint: Good drainage is essential for success. Work in plenty of compost, but no fertilizer is needed.

Hoja Santa

hoja_santasm
  • Transplant potted plant into garden one to two weeks after last frost or when soil reaches 65 degrees F.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft.
  • Propagation: root division
  • Harvest: “Pick the large leaves as needed, and use fresh. Can be stored dry or frozen if needed for the winter months. As with all herbs, it is best to store in glass containers. A better plan is to have at least one plant in a container to protect and have leaves year round.”
  • Uses: Flavor is reminiscent of root-beer or licorice and is used extensively in Mexican cooking. Used for soups, eggs, tamales, mole verde, to wrap fish and meat, and to flavor chocolate drinks.
  • Hint: Will die back with a freeze, but new shoots appear in spring. Requires a lot of water.
  • Illustration from “The Riverbed Restoration Book” published by the Mexican Commission for Biodiversity

Sage

sage
  • Start with a small purchased plant. Hardy perennial.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: Leaves from first-year plants can be picked sparingly by midsummer.
  • Uses: Pairs well with rosemary, thyme, tarragon, and marjoram to flavor soups, sauces, and stews. Perfect for adding character to stuffing. Takes sausage from bland to amazing. Useful as a marinade or herb rub for baked chicken or pork, or try your hand at a sage dip.
  • Hint: Sage needs to be divided every third or fourth spring to keep it vigorous.

Oregano

oregano
  • Purchase potted plant as seed-grown plants may not have good flavor. Hardy perennial.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft.
  • Days to harvest: Leaves from first-year plants can be picked sparingly by midsummer.
  • Uses: Think chicken, dinner rolls, burgers, beans, or pesto. Salads, vegetables, and flat-breads will also benefit from its flavor.
  • Hint: Plants with white flowers have best-tasting leaves. Cull plants that revert to pink flowers.