Updated: Sep 16
Technically the word herb or herbaceous is a plant that dies down for the winter and comes back from the root crown next year as in herbaceous perennials. But it is common to speak of herbs as plants to cook with for flavors. Chives is one of those herbs. It can be grown from seed sown directly in the ground, or started inside. It can be bought at the nursery (or maybe the grocery store) and planted out in the spring. Also, you can divide an existing clump. ALWAYS pick the flowers as they can readily seed themselves and grow out of hand. In this photo is a row of chives sown as seed a year ago. The seedlings can be slow to establish (when you want them). The hardest part for me was to keep the small seedlings weeded.
Rosemary is a popular shrub for the garden and for the kitchen. It can grow into a three foot woody shrub with evergreen leaves which are very aromatic. This shrub grows best in sunny well drained soil. In the garden keep it pruned to keep new growth coming, when the base gets woody you may want to replace it with a young transplant.
The flowers are mostly a shade of blue, but some varieties can have white or pink flowers. The flowers are small and form along the stems just above the leaf. The leaves are dark green above and whitish below. They are about one inch long and very narrow. These leaves have a fragrant sap. The may be used fresh or dried in cooking and pot pouris.
A rosemary plant was given to me with some other herbs several years ago. It grew for about 7 years into a woody shrub like form. I cut it back hard hoping to rejuvenate it. It died. So it is best to prune it yearly, just before new growth.
Parsley can be grown in a container or in the ground. Pick
a site with well drained soil in full sun. Starting it from seed
requires some patience as it takes a while to germinate, maybe
12 days. I like to soak my seeds in water over night before I plant them in soil. The seed is quite small so it is important to thin out
the seedlings so they have space to develop. Keep the crop
weeded to give the seedlings a chance. Once they have
become established it is an easy herb to grow.
Parsley is a great herb for flavoring foods and for garnishes.
The flat leaf parsley (Italian parsley) is a little more flavorful
than the curly leaf parsley (French parsley). Hence the curly
leaf variety is used mostly for garnishes. Parsley is best used
freshly cut, but may be frozen. Dried parsley loses its flavor
Basil is a wonderful herb that can be grown from seed. It is usually started inside 5 weeks before planting in the garden. Place plants in full sun and well drained soil. Mulching will keep the soil from drying out and keep the leaves clean from splashing dirt. Harvest by pinching the soft stem tips with a few leaves. This will keep the plant bushy and provide full flavored leaves for use in the kitchen. Leaves will lose flavor when the plant begins to flower in midsummer, so keep the flower buds cut off (unless you enjoy the beautiful flower spikes more than the flavor). There are many varieties of basil available in the market.
Mints are an aggressive group of plants. There is spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, orange mint, pineapple mint and many other mint flavors. If you do not have a lot of space to grow mint, it can be grown in a pot. As with many herbs, its best flavor is in the fresh new leaves. Use fresh, or dry it, or freeze it. Of course fresh is best. When the plant ceases to grow new foliage and starts to grow flower buds, cut it down half way, keep it watered and watch fresh new growth appear.
Mint grows best in moist but well drained soil in part shade. Following is a picture of my mint which I placed in a nursery pot and set into the garden bed leaving the top of pot above the soil level. It controlled the spread of the plant for several years until finally it escaped. The plant spreads from shallow far-reaching roots. When taller stems flop they will root where they touch the ground.
Common Thyme (Thyme vulgaris), often called English thyme, is a low spreading woody plant with pinkish clusters of tiny Flowers. It is quite hardy and requires well drained soil and lots of sun. Only the new growth is used in cooking and for fragrance. Up to five inches of the new growth may be cut at a time, not any woody stems. The flowers attract pollinators.
There are many, many varieties of thyme, some of which claim to have other flavors, such as lemon, orange, lavender, etc. Common thyme may grow six to 12 inches tall. Other varieties are lower, some even growing flat. Thymes are a versatile group of plants for the kitchen and the garden.
I have some notes about French lavender (Lavandula stoechas).
The French lavender is not as hardy as English lavender. It grows in well-drained soil, in full sun where the temperatures do not go below 10 F. It may be grown in the ground in warm climates. In cooler climates it could be grown in clay pots, put outside in the summer and brought inside to a sunny window in the winter. This lavender is a good source of essential oils, cut flowers, and a colorful addition to the garden. Do NOT use this one to cook with.
Lavender is a very popular herb, known for its fragrance and blue/purple flower. It is a woody shrub that is easy to grow. It thrives in well-drained soil and lots of sun.
There are many varieties of lavender. Here we will talk about English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
English lavender is the hardiest type of lavender. It grows best in well-drained soil and full sun. It flowers prolifically and can be used as a cut flower or dried. The foliage is a source of aromatic oil and is often put in pot pouri. It is sometimes used in cooking.
Oregano is a favorite cooking herb and easy to grow. Common oregano (Origanum vulgare) is often called 'Greek oregano", and sometimes called sweet margoram. Mexican oregano (Lippia) is different. Italian oregano is a hybrid of oregano and margoram.
It may be grown from seed or divided from a clump. It spreads rapidly and has a flower cluster of tiny white blooms. So give it space to grow or keep it in a pot.
The photo is of oregano I put in a Strawberry Jar last summer. I thought it died over the winter, but it came back this spring.
It can be dried by cutting stems before it blooms and spread out in an airy spot not in the sun. Strip the dry leaves from the stem and store in a sealed container. Use it fresh or dried. Chop finely and add it to your recipe!
Keep in mind when starting an herb garden, that most herbs need a very sunny spot to grow well. The soil matters. When you grow plants in good soil they are more likely to thrive. Keep on Gardening!