Culinary Herbs: The Ultimate Cook’s Herb Garden Guide

Culinary herbs are edible leaves from certain plants used to add aromatic flavour to recipes. Many can be used fresh from the garden during the growing season or dried for use during cooler months. Here are 25 excellent culinary herbs to add to your chef’s herb garden or potager kitchen garden.

Culinary Herbs - Fresh Basil Leaves

Basil

Basil is one of the most celebrated culinary herbs, and is perhaps the most popular annual herb in the kitchen garden. Best when freshly picked, basil is a mainstay in home gardens, market gardens, and chef’s gardens alike. Fresh basil and heirloom tomato salad is among the most highly-anticipated garden-to-table meals of the growing season. This herb is also a key ingredient in dried herb blends like Italian seasoning.

Here are some excellent types of culinary basil to grow:

Basil thrives in warm, sunny conditions. Plant seeds or propagate shoots every few weeks to ensure a continuing harvest. Basil can be grown indoors in winter months (try growing a tray of basil microgreens for a fun indoor gardening project).

Oregano Leaves in Culinary Potager Kitchen Garden

Oregano

Oregano is a perennial herb that is foundational to European cooking. It is delicious both fresh from the garden and dried for later use. Oregano is a key ingredient in the classic Herbes de Provence blend of French herbs (along with savory, marjoram, rosemary, and thyme). Oregano is also a star herb in Italian seasoning mixes and classic pasta dishes like spaghetti.

Oregano can be grown from seed, but because there are so many different kinds, many gardeners choose to buy potted starter plants. This allows you to inspect and choose the perfect variety in a way that a seed package can’t fully describe. Plants labelled “Greek Oregano” are often preferred by kitchen gardeners for culinary use.

Tag on rosemary plant in the chefs herb garden

Rosemary

Rosemary has a distinctive, fresh, pine-like woodsy flavour. It is a vital part of the classic Herbes de Provence blend of french herbs (along with savory, marjoram, thyme, and oregano). Rosemary is also important in Italian seasoning mixes (a similar blend, but usually with basil rather than savory). Rosemary is a common culinary herb for roasted meats and root vegetables.

Rosemary is a shrubby culinary herb that can live for years outdoors in warm climates, but can also be grown as a potted shrub in cooler areas. Rosemary grows best in warm, sunny weather. Good airflow and some humidity in the air can both contribute to a healthy rosemary plant.

culinary herb thyme in planter pot - organically grown

Thyme

Thyme is a classic culinary herb available in countless varieties. Cooking varieties of thyme include French and English thyme. Thyme is a key ingredient in the classic Herbes de Provence blend of French herbs (along with savory, marjoram, rosemary, and oregano), and in Italian seasoning mixes. Thyme is extremely versatile and keeps its flavour well when dried.

Thymes give the garden a lovely herbal scent during the growing season and into winter. These plants thrive in warm, sunny weather and are somewhat drought-tolerant. Thyme plants are best purchased in person where they can be observed and inspected for their lovely scent.

fresh flat-leaved italian parsley on patio garden

Parsley

Parsley is a foundational herb in the culinary herb garden. This fresh, leafy green is not only a pretty garnish, but also a main ingredient in fresh dishes like tabbouleh. Parsley is one of the classic French fines herbes blend (along with tarragon, chives, and chervil) used for flavouring delicate dishes. Most cooks prefer the flat-leaved Italian parsley for cooking instead of the curly garnish type.

Parsley can be a bit tricky to get started from seed, but is worth the effort simply for the reward. That being said, starter potted parsley plants are easy to find in garden centres and supermarkets. Parsley is a biennial herb, in which its second (and final) year is all about growing seeds. A well-established parsley crop may self-seed into a re-occurring annual patch of parsley.

“When it comes to choosing which culinary herbs to grow, I encourage cooks who garden to check their spice racks to see which herbs they use the most.”

Herbs: The Complete Gardener’s Guide, by Patrick Lima
Chives - Culinary Herb in Chef's Garden

Chives

Chives are the culinary herb version of an onion. Chives are a classic French fines herbes ingredient (along with parsley, tarragon, and chervil) used for flavouring delicate dishes. There are many varieties of chives, some with milder flavour and others with a garlic-like taste.

These perennial plants look a bit like an ornamental grass, but with hollow stems that taste like green onions. For an extra treat, let the chives flower in the late spring and enjoy the petals as a garnish!

Sorrel

French sorrel is a perennial leafy green herb that ads an acidic zing to summer meals. Its sour flavour is reminiscent of tangy, lemony spinach. Sorrel is most commonly used to flavour soups, salads, and protein main dishes like fish.

Sorrel is easy to grow from seed. It can be sown outdoors even before the last frost occurs. It tends to enjoy the cooler days of spring and early fall, rather like cilantro.

Dill leaves and flowers in kitchen herb garden

Dill

Dill leaves are a distinctive, fresh culinary herb from the tall-growing flowering annual dill plant. Fresh dill is a summertime treat, but the fine leaves can also be dried for use throughout the year. Dill is especially well-suited to sauces and dips, and is a mainstay to flavour pickles and to garnish fish.

Dill is best grown from seed. Dill is one annual culinary herb that tends to self-seed. It goes to seed quickly (too quickly…) in the summertime and drops its seeds on the soil in the fall. These fresh seeds are quick to sprout in early spring – ready for the next harvest!

Peppermint grown in tabletop terra cotta container

Peppermint

Peppermint is a hybrid mint plant used to flavour candy and refreshing summertime drinks. True peppermint (Mentha piperita) cannot be grown from seed, and can only be propagated from a piece of the mother plant. Peppermint tends to have purple in its stems (in comparison to green in other common garden mints).

Peppermint is a sun-loving perennial herb that thrives in rich, moist soil. Like its mint relatives, peppermint is an exceedingly vigorous plant that should be constrained to a planter pot whenever possible. It’s not uncommon for peppermint runners to eventually escape their pot if not harvested often!

chervil - grow in herb garden from seed

Chervil

Chervil is an annual culinary herb with dainty little anise-flavoured leaves. Its fine leaves are often used to flavour mild protein like chicken, fish, and eggs. Chervil is one of the classic French fines herbes blend (along with parsley, tarragon, and chives) used for flavouring delicate dishes. Bearnaise sauce.

Chervil is almost exclusively used when fresh from the garden, and is rarely available for sale in stores (even specialty stores). Chervil is easily planted from seed directly in the garden. This herb thrives in partial shade and moist soil. Chervil seeds are available from Botanical Interests: Heirloom Chervil Seeds.

Shiso

Shiso, also known as perilla, is an annual herb native to Asia. Related to mint, shiso has a unique spicy taste, similar to cinnamon, cumin, or cilantro. Fresh shiso is a common accompaniment to sushi and to fresh poke bowls. Red shiso is also used to add the characteristic pink colour to pickled ginger.

Shiso is a tall leafy herb that can be grown in partial shade. Seeds are available for both green and red/purple shiso, although red/purple shiso seems to be more common (Purple Perilla (Shiso) Seeds). Chilling seeds in cool, wet paper towel for a few days can help with germination.

Lemon Grass plant with label

Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a tropical culinary herb grown for its mild-citrus leaves. Lemongrass is common in Asian dishes and can also be used to make a lemony tea.

Lemongrass is best purchased as a potted plant. Once established in a container, it can be divided regularly and shared with foodie friends.

Small bay laurel trees for sale in culinary herb section of plant nursery
Small bay laurel trees for sale in culinary herb section of plant nursery

Bay

Bay leaves come from the bay laurel tree. Bay leaves can be used fresh from the tree or dried for later use. These leaves are often used to add complexity of flavour to cooked tomato dishes like pasta sauce and stew.

Bay laurels will grow into full-size large trees in warm climates, but can be grown as potted patio dwarf trees in northern areas. Bay trees like heat, but smaller potted versions should be placed where they can get at least a bit of afternoon shade (and consistent access to water).

Leaf Celery

Leaf celery (also called cutting celery, Chinese celery, or Amsterdam celery) is a culinary herb version of vegetable celery. Leaf celery is much easier to grow than vegetable celery, yet has an excellent flavour. The thin stalks and parsley-like leaves are perfect in fresh summer dishes and fall soups (or in any recipe that includes celery!).

Leaf celery is easy to grow from seed, and enjoys similar growing conditions to other small leafy green herbs like parsley and cilantro. Seeds for culinary leaf celery are available here:

Burpee cilantro plants at the nursery

Cilantro

Cilantro is a distinctive fresh leafy herb common in Latin American cooking. The leaves come from the same plant that grows produces coriander seeds (a common spice). Cilantro is delicious in guacamole, fresh salsa, or chopped on top of soft tacos.

Cilantro is easy to grow from seeds and can be harvested quickly and frequently. It prefers mild weather conditions and moist soil. Overly hot temperatures can cause it to bolt (go to seed). Established patches of cilantro easily re-seed themselves from year to year.

Fennel

Herb fennel, also called sweet fennel or bronze fennel, is a tender perennial grown for its flavourful fine leaves. Fennel leaves are often paired with fish, giving an anise-like flavour. Left to go to seed, sweet fennel produces lovely fennel seeds which can be used as a spice in sauces or as a herbal tea.

Fennel will reappear year after year in warm climates, but must be grown as an annual in areas with cold winters. Herb fennel can grow quite tall, with lovely feathery foliage. Even in cooler areas, this plant may re-appear each spring as a result of self-seeding.

Lemon balm herb plants for sale at plant nursery

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm is a perennial tea herb with a mild citrus flavour. While mainly used in beverages, fresh lemon balm leaves can also be added to green salads and as a garnish for summer dishes.

Lemon balm is a relatively low-maintenance, though large, herbaceous plant. It grows perfectly fine in less than ideal conditions (partial shade, heavy clay). It does spread a bit, but is easy to keep under control (…we’re looking at you here peppermint….).

Nasturtium leaves in raised garden bed

Nasturtium

Nasturtium is a flowering annual herb with spicy, round, green leaves. Nasturtium greens have a peppery taste that makes a welcome addition to salads and sandwiches. And the bright edible flowers aren’t bad either!

Nasturtiums are most commonly grown from seeds, although starter plants are often available at nurseries. Nasturtium is particularly cold-sensitive, and should be started indoors (or started outdoors late) in all but the warmest areas.

Burnet

Salad burnet is a lovely perennial green herb used to give a fresh, tart zip to summer sauces and greens. The flavour is also compared to cucumbers or fresh cucumber water. Young burnet leaves are also chopped and used as a garnish. Most commonly, burnet is used in salads to add a complexity of flavour and clean freshness to the blend of greens.

Salad burnet is easy to grow from seed (here’s some Salad Burnet Seeds). It can also be grown in partial shade and otherwise less-than-ideal conditions. It does tend to spread, but is easily controlled and generally not at all invasive.

culinary herbs on the kitchen countertop

Sage

Common sage is an ancient culinary herb with a strong, unique meaty scent. Its silvery matte leaves can be used whole, chopped, or dried to add to winter dishes. Sage is used all over the world, especially as a key seasoning for Thanksgiving turkey in North America.

Sage is easy to grow from seed and easy to find as a potted herb in garden centres. Sage tends to form a large shrub in ideal conditions and can spread beyond its desired boundaries. Pot up some of the younger roots from the plant to control its size (give them away to a friend or neighbour!).

Savory

Savory is a low-growing perennial culinary herb. The tiny pointed leaves have a spicy zip, making a great companion to other aromatic herbs like oregano. Savory is a key ingredient in the classic Herbes de Provence blend of French herbs (along with marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and oregano), and is often featured in stews and other cool-weather cozy dishes.

Common perennial winter savory grows best in sunny well-drained soil with a bit of room to spread. Some gardeners also grow an annual type referred to as summer savory, planted fresh each year. Summer savory is generally considered to have a more mild flavour than perennial winter savory.

French Tarragon in the Herb Garden

Tarragon

French tarragon is a perennial culinary herb that has a lovely gentle peppery anise-like flavour. Its leaves are often used to flavour mild protein like chicken, fish, and eggs in fine cooking. Tarragon is one of the classic French fines herbes blend (along with parsley, chives, and chervil) used for flavouring delicate dishes.

Like peppermint, the specific herb version of this plant must be propagated from a mother plant rather than grown from seed. Tarragon plants grown from seed will not produce the specific culinary herb known as French Tarragon. For the classic taste, buy a potted plant that is clearly labelled “French Tarragon”.

Lovage

Lovage is a large perennial leafy green herb that tastes a bit like celery, perhaps with some parsley and fennel. Lovage is most commonly used to flavour salads, soups, and broths. This herb is often used in place of meat-based soup seasonings or bouillon, as it adds almost a meaty taste.

Lovage is easy to grow from seed (Heirloom Lovage Seeds). It’s not picky about sunlight or soil conditions, but it should be planted in a spot where it has room to grow. This culinary herb can often grow as high as the gardener who plants it! A significant pruning in late spring (around May) can help encourage new growth throughout the summer. Lovage pruning time is a great time to make and preserve soup seasoning to use during cooler months.

“Grow tall lovage against a fence; try winter savory and thymes on a sunny slope of a rock garden or among paving stones; parsley might share a hanging basket or a window box with nasturtiums; and feathery dill will find a foothold on its own.”

Herbs: The Complete Gardener’s Guide, by Patrick Lima

Marjoram

Sweet marjoram is a low-growing leafy herb with a fresh, perfume-like flavour reminiscent of sweet spring pine. Marjoram is a key ingredient in the classic Herbes de Provence blend of French herbs (along with savory, rosemary, thyme, and oregano). Marjoram is also found in many Italian seasoning mixes and in German cooking.

Marjoram is a tender perennial herb. It thrives in warm temperatures and in the sunshine. In zones 6 and cooler, it may be grown as an annual if it does not survive the winter cold. Marjoram can be grown from seeds (with patience) or from potted starter plants.

Sweet Cicely

Sweet cicely is a tall perennial herb with a lovely sweet scent. The taste is somewhat like licorice/anise, and is undoubtedly sweeter than most other herbs. Young stems can be chopped and added into baked goods, sometimes along with rhubarb.

Sweet cicely is easy to grow from seeds, as long as the seeds are fresh. A single plant is more than enough for a household, as it can grow quite tall and wide. Once established, you’ll have a lovely sweetener companion for the also-giant perennial rhubarb plant in that back corner.

flowering chives used for cooking

Mary Jane

Mary Jane is a home gardener who loves creating healthy, welcoming spaces (indoors and out!) - About Mary Jane (https://www.homefortheharvest.com/authors/about-mary-jane-duford/)

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