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Culinary herbs are edible parts of certain plants used in recipes to add aromatic flavor. 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.
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. Fresh basil and heirloom tomato salad are 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 a couple of shoots every few weeks to ensure a continuous harvest. You can even grow it indoors, and it’s perfect in a little pot on the patio.
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. Here are some types of oregano you can grow in a culinary herb garden:
Oregano can be grown from seed, but because there are so many different kinds, many gardeners buy potted starter plants if available. Seeds and starter plants labeled “Greek Oregano” are often preferred by kitchen gardeners for culinary use, but it can be hard to find authentic seeds/plants.
Rosemary has a distinctive, fresh, pine-like woodsy flavor. 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 and can be purchased as a plant or grown from seeds:
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.
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 there are many types available. Here are some common culinary thymes to grow:
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.
Parsley is a foundational herb in the culinary herb garden. This fresh, leafy green is not only a pretty garnish but also a key ingredient in fresh dishes like tabbouleh. Parsley is one of the classic French fines herbes blend (along with tarragon, chives, and chervil) used for flavoring 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 centers 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 are the culinary herb version of an onion. Chives are classic French fines herbes ingredient (along with parsley, tarragon, and chervil) used for flavoring delicate dishes. There are many varieties of chives, some with a milder flavor and others with a garlic-like taste.
These perennial plants look a bit like 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!
French sorrel is a perennial leafy green herb that adds an acidic zing to summer meals. Its sour flavor is reminiscent of tangy, lemony spinach. Sorrel is most commonly used to flavor 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 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 flavor pickles and 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 is a hybrid mint plant used to flavor 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 is an annual culinary herb with dainty little anise-flavored leaves. Its fine leaves are often used to flavor mild protein like chicken, fish, and eggs. Chervil is one of the classic ingredients in the French fines herbes blend (along with parsley, tarragon, and chives) used for flavoring 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. Read more about Chervil.
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 a characteristic pink color 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 in culinary applications. Chilling seeds in a cool, wet paper towel for a few days can help with germination.
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 lemony tea.
Lemongrass is easiest to grow when purchased as a potted plant, but it can also be grown from seeds. Once established in a container, it can be divided regularly and shared with foodie friends.
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 flavor 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).
14. 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 flavor. 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:
Cilantro is a distinctive fresh leafy herb common in Latin American cooking. The leaves come from the same plant that grows 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.
Herb fennel, also called sweet fennel or bronze fennel, is a tender perennial grown for its flavorful fine leaves. Fennel leaves are often paired with fish, giving an anise-like flavor. Left to go to seed, sweet fennel produces lovely fennel seeds which can be used as a spice in sauces or as herbal tea.
Fennel will reappear year after year in warm climates but must be grown annually 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.
17. Lemon balm
Lemon Balm is a perennial tea herb with a mild citrus flavor. 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 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.
19. Salad burnet
Salad burnet is a lovely perennial green herb used to give a fresh, tart zip to summer sauces and greens. The flavor 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 flavor and clean freshness to the blend of greens.
Salad burnet is easy to grow from seed. 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.
20. Common 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 centers. 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 neighbor!).
Savory is a low-growing perennial culinary herb. The tiny pointed leaves have a spicy zip, making this plant 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 flavor than perennial winter savory.
French tarragon is a perennial culinary herb that has a lovely gentle peppery anise-like flavor. Its leaves are often used to flavor 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 flavoring 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 labeled “French Tarragon”.
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 flavor 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. 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
Sweet marjoram is a low-growing leafy herb with a fresh, perfume-like flavor 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.
25. 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 to baked goods, sometimes along with rhubarb.
Sweet cicely is easy to grow from seeds, as long as the seeds are fresh (and you can find them!!). 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.