Oregano, thyme, and sage – oh my! Can you all believe that this is the first herb-centric article on Homestead and Chill? That is not due to a lack of love or respect for herbs though. They’re actually one of our favorite things to grow, and eat! To be honest, I’ve been hesitant to launch into writing about growing herbs because I am overwhelmed by their sheer awesomeness. There is SO much information that I want to share about dozens of delicious and delightful culinary herbs to grow. Where do I even begin? Well, how about we begin with some basics: how to start a kitchen herb garden.
Read along and get familiar with the top 14 most popular culinary herbs to grow. This article will give you a basic understanding of the preferred growing conditions and care for most herbs, so that you can feel confident to go forward and start a kitchen herb garden of your own. We’ll go over tips for growing herbs outside, in containers, or even indoors! To help you choose what culinary herbs to grow, let’s break them down into categories. For example, we’ll explore which herbs are annual, perennial, grow easily from seed, are most cold-hardy, or can tolerate some shade.
This isn’t the place to dive into “how to grow oregano from start-to-finish” for every single herb. Plenty of detailed herb articles are yet to come. More so, the goal today is to get you better acquainted with the wonderful world of culinary herbs, share ideas for using them in the kitchen, and generally get pumped to grow herbs at home! I have a feeling you’re going to be very hungry by the end of this article. You’re welcome.
What you will find in this article:
- What is a Kitchen Herb Garden
- Why Grow Herbs at Home
- General Growing Conditions & Care for Herbs
- 14 Popular Culinary Herbs & Brief Descriptions
- Growing Herbs in Containers
- Best Herbs to Grow Indoors
- Easiest Herbs to Grow From Seed
- Herbs that Grow Well in Partial Shade
- Annual Versus Perennial Culinary Herbs
- Most Cold-Hardy Herbs
- Harvesting Herbs
- Using & Preserving Fresh Herbs
- Herb-Infused Recipes
What is a Kitchen Herb Garden?
A “kitchen herb garden” is simply a frilly term for your average home herb garden. In the most literal sense, it is an herb garden focused around growing culinary herbs to use in the kitchen. You know… cilantro, basil, rosemary, and the like. There are hundreds of types of herbs, yet not all of them are common culinary herbs. Take flowering agastache or calendula for example. Both of those are technically edible herbs, though they’re most often grown for medicinal use – or simply to enjoy their beauty in the garden.
Most kitchen herb gardens are located – you guessed it – close to the kitchen! For instance, growing herbs right outside your back or front door, which makes it very convenient to pop outside to quickly harvest just what you need. The goal of growing a kitchen herb garden is to enable you to routinely use fresh herbs while cooking, after all! Most kitchen herb gardens incorporate several types of herbs in a concentrated area.
That said, your kitchen herb garden doesn’t have to be steps outside your door. Grow herbs wherever you can, in the best spot you have available. For you, that may even mean growing herbs in pots in your sunny kitchen windowsill. Talk about a literal kitchen herb garden! We grow some culinary herbs just outside our front door, but also have them littered throughout our other garden spaces. We often plant our basil right in our raised beds, mixed amongst the veggies. Some herbs also make for excellent ground cover, including creeping or trailing thyme, rosemary, oregano, mint, and more. The perfect sustainable alternative to lawn.
Why Grow Herbs
This may seem obvious, but bear with me here… I have to admit that herbs were not on the top of our “must grow” list when we first began gardening a decade ago. Sure, we grew some basil or rosemary here and there, but otherwise our interest with growing culinary herbs was fairly limited. (Insert palm-slap to forehead here). Thankfully and much to our delight, we became awakened to the wonderful wide world of growing herbs in the years to follow. Now, I couldn’t imagine a garden without them! I didn’t realize what I was missing until I tried fresh homegrown herbs.
Much of gardening is intimately tied to cooking. Sometimes you’re even “forced” into the kitchen by the bounty a garden provides! And nothing is more rewarding than that moment when you’re whipping up a meal and think “Hey, some fresh thyme would be delicious in this!” – and outside you go. Or, to be able to reach into the cabinet and pull out a jar of homegrown dried herbs that you preserved. We use fresh and dried herbs daily in our kitchen. Almost like salt, cooking with culinary herbs is an easy way to enhance flavor in your food or elevate a simple meal to a whole new level.
Combining fresh herbs with homegrown veggies is like the cherry on top of the sundae – but healthier!
Speaking of health, that is another excellent reason to start a kitchen herb garden. In addition to flavor, the vast majority of culinary herbs pack a powerful punch of health benefits as well. Take oregano for example. Oregano is antibacterial, anti-viral, and full of cancer-fighting antioxidants. Studies show that rosemary can reduce inflammation, balance your gut, and boost your mood. Peppermint and lemon balm can be enjoyed fresh, or dried into homegrown tea to soothe both your nerves and belly. And those are just a few examples!
Beyond us humans, growing herbs also provides health benefits to your local wildlife and ecosystem! Flowering herbs are favorites for pollinators. Bees go especially ga-ga for oregano, thyme, basil and rosemary when it is in bloom. Dill, parsley and fennel are host plants for swallowtail butterflies. That means they are essential food sources for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars to eat and continue their life cycle on to butterflies. Yes, that does mean swallowtail caterpillars may eat your dill and parsley… so please plant extra to share! Ladybugs, hover flies, and other beneficial insects also seem quite fond of herbs. Thankfully, not many pest insects bother them either! In fact, most culinary herbs are known to deter pest insects such as mosquitos and aphids.
If you’re interested in helping your local pollinator population, please see our list of the Top 23 Plants for Pollinators.
HERB GROWING CONDITIONS & CARE
Every culinary herb may have a few unique quirks or preferences, so I encourage you to do a little additional research on the ones you choose to grow. The seed package or seedling tag should provide you with a lot of information! I will continue to add detailed articles about growing individual herbs too. Nevertheless, most herbs share similar preferences for sun, soil, water, fertilizer, and general care.
You can start growing herbs from seed, or pick up some seedlings at your local nursery. Either is a fine choice, and we do a combination of both! We’ll talk more about which are the quick-and-easiest culinary herbs to grow from seed in a moment. Plant herbs outside in the spring after the last risk of frost has passed. You can continually sow or plant shorter-lived culinary herbs (like cilantro) over several months to ensure a steady future supply.
Most culinary herbs prefer to grow in ample sun. That isn’t to say they need to be blasted by full sun all day though! Many herbs can happily grow as long as they’re provided 4 to 5 hours of sunlight at minimum. Around 7 to 8 hours of sun is ideal. Tender herbs like basil, parsley and cilantro may benefit from filtered sun, or protection from the hottest afternoon sun during the summer. Check out the list of culinary herbs that grow best in partial shade below.
Like most plants, herbs grow best in well-draining soil. No one likes soggy roots! In a container, use basic potting soil amended with a little aged compost or worm castings. Amend native soil with compost, and horticultural sand to improve drainage if needed (e.g. if you have clay soil). If you’re planting herbs in a raised garden bed and are already successfully growing veggies there, most established raised beds are likely good to go with little-to-no modifications needed for herbs.
Herbs are not heavy feeders, and can generally grow well in average to mildly rich soil. Truth be told, we rarely (if ever) fertilize our established perennial herbs like sage, rosemary, oregano and thyme – and they keep chugging along just fine! Yet if you’re growing perennial herbs in a container, they’ll appreciate some food on occasion. We’ll talk more about that in the container section to follow. Shorter-lived annual herbs won’t need much in the way of fertilizer, especially if they’re planted in good soil. The one exception is basil, who does appreciate a good amount of rich organic matter (like aged compost) worked into the planting area.
This is probably the one “care” category that varies the most between herbs, but still isn’t all that different. Some culinary herbs are more drought-tolerant, and therefore are okay if the soil dries out slightly between watering – such as thyme, sage, and rosemary. Others prefer to be kept damp at all times, like basil and mint. Again, none of them want to be constantly soggy though! Aim for moderately damp to semi-dry soil.
Before watering, assess the moisture level by sticking your finger a good inch or two deep in the soil (particularly in containers). Water once the soil begins to feel more dry than wet. I personally err on the lighter side, unless I see them wilting from lack of water. Overwatering is more likely to kill herbs than under-watering. Also, it is better to water herbs thoroughly but less often – rather than frequent little sips.
THE TOP 14 CULINARY HERBS TO GROW
Now that you’re more familiar with how to grow herbs, it is time to decide what kinds of herbs you want to grow in your kitchen herb garden! Check out the list below to get some ideas. Of course, grow herbs that you know you like to eat. But I also encourage you to be adventurous and try new things! After all, fresh homegrown herbs are exponentially more tasty than store bought – as with anything, for that matter. You never know what will strike your tastebuds fancy. I am consistently blown away by the intensely fantastic, sweet, earthy flavor of our fresh bay leaves. Dry bay from the store? Meh.
Here are the 14 most popular and common culinary herbs, in no particular order:
Sage – Native to the Mediterranean, sage is a drought-tolerant evergreen perennial shrub. It’s popular in Italian seasonings and holiday meals, but is also widely used in cuisines across the globe. The flavor is earthy, piney, and slightly astringent. We absolutely adore sage and regularly use it in soups, sauces, sourdough, and with roasted veggies – like these smashed two-bite herb roasted potatoes.
Rosemary – Like sage, rosemary is a drought-tolerant evergreen perennial from the Mediterranean. The woody plant exudes flavors and aromas reminiscent of pine, lemon, and pepper. Pairs well with homemade breads, roasted veggie and meat dishes, in homemade roasted mixed nuts, and in tomato sauce. We also love to make aromatic bouquets of rosemary to put around the house instead of flowers – which the cats actually leave alone!
Parsley – A common garnish, and tender, compact, leafy annual plant. It has a slight bitterness that brightens the flavor of a dish in a similar manner that lemon juice does. It is best to use fresh, as the flavor fades when cooked. We use parsley in various rice or pasta salads. Parsley pesto is also popular, as it pairs well with garlic, walnut and lemon – some of the key ingredients in our Besto Pesto recipe!
Mint – Also known as peppermint, mint is sweet and refreshing. It is commonly used in beverages, tea, summer salads with strawberries or watermelon, or even in yogurt or desserts. However, please note that mint plants spread aggressively through underground runners. We only grow mint in pots, and even cover the bottom drainage hole with landscape fabric. The fabric allows water to freely drain but keeps the roots and “runners” contained to the pot.
Thyme – This is another huge favorite around here. Thyme is earthy, sweet, mildly peppery, and extremely versatile. You can use thyme in sauces, marinades, soup, eggs, baked goods and more. I love tossing it with roasted cauliflower. It’s funny, of all the growing herbs our chickens have access to in the garden – thyme is the only one they’ll willingly eat! Ironically, thyme is really good for chickens, as it promotes respiratory health and is antibacterial. Maybe they know?
Dill – Dill is an awesome annual herb. With its sweet and sharp lemony flavor, dill is an extremely popular choice for making pickles, sauces, fish dishes, cheese spreads, and egg dishes. We regularly enjoy it on avocado sourdough toast with a sprinkle of lemon powder, in our various fermented veggie pickle recipes (dilly green beans, anyone?) and especially in this killer healthy yogurt dill sauce recipe. Dill is delicate and usually used fresh, as cooking it too long can diminish flavor.
Cilantro – Cilantro is a delightful mix of bright, sharp parsley-like and citrus flavors. It is a tender annual and grows much like parsley. Oddly enough, some people’s taste buds are wired to make their brains think that cilantro tastes like soap! Thank goodness I am not one of those people. You’ll often see cilantro used in Mexican cuisine, bean dips, rice dishes, guacamole, pasta salads, and of course – salsa! If you’re growing tomatoes, you’re going to want some cilantro and peppers to go along with them. If you allow cilantro to flower and form seed, collect the seeds – that is coriander!
Oregano – Can these all be my favorite? Known as the “pizza herb”, oregano is pungent, savory, and slightly bitter. It is a popular addition to sauces, soup, dough (we always add oregano to our sourdough bread, crackers, and pizza crust), in cooked beans or lentils, with roasted vegetables, meat dishes, and more. Oregano is a sprawling hardy perennial, and may spread by self-sowing seeds nearby.
Sweet Marjoram – Marjoram is savory, earthy, mildly sweet, and slightly bitter. It is quite similar to oregano, but less pungent in flavor. If you had to choose one, I would personally just go for the oregano since it is a more hardy perennial than marjoram (most often grown as an annual). Use fresh or dried marjoram in sauces, soups, stews, and with roasted vegetables or meat.
Lemon Balm – A delectable mix of lemon and mint flavor. Lemon balm can be used in tea, baked goods, cold summer salads, desserts, and cocktails. When cooking with lemon balm, add it to the dish at the very end like you would dill or chives. Cooked lemon balm quickly loses its bright and beautiful flavor. While lemon balm is part of the mint family, it does not aggressively spread through underground runners like mint does (though it may self-seed in other places). It also repels mosquitos!
Basil – A classic Italian herb, and quintessential annual herb to grow in your summer garden. Think caprese salads with garden tomatoes and basil, homemade pesto, pasta sauce, pizza, and more! Every summer, we load up our freezer with Besto Pesto to use throughout the year, dry some, and of course enjoy plenty fresh. See a complete guide on how to grow basil here: “How to Grow Bushy Basil to Harvest All Summer Long”.
French Tarragon – Tarragon can be described as bittersweet, with a licorice or anise-like flavor. It is most popular in French cuisine, and is commonly used in marinades, egg dishes, tomato dishes, and various sauces. Tarragon is a new addition in our kitchen herb garden, and we have yet to experiment with it much! This perennial herb can tolerate some shade and grows well indoors.
Bay Laurel – Fresh bay simply can’t be beat! It is both earthy with hints of pepper and pine, but also floral and sweet. You don’t necessarily want to eat the bay leaves themselves though, as they can be bitter and tough. It’s best to use bay leaves to infuse in cooking liquid – such as in soup, sauces, to flavor rice or pasta while cooking, or even in stir fry – and then remove the leaf before serving. Choose your planting location or container wisely here, as Bay Laurel shrubs can grow into 50 foot tall trees! Thankfully, bay grows slow and takes kindly to pruning.
Chives – Chives have an awesome green onion-like flavor, but less intense. For instance, I find eating fresh chives quite pleasant – but not raw onions! Sprinkle chopped chives over a meal either at the very end of cooking, or fresh on top after serving as a garnish. Chives are a welcome addition on top of soup, salads, chili (like our vegan 3-bean roasted pumpkin chili), baked potatoes, zucchini fritters, nachos, veggie sandwiches, bagels, avocado toast, and also pairs very well with various cheeses.
And those are the most popular culinary herbs to grow!
It should be noted that each of these herbs have many different varieties within them as well. We’ve just scratched the surface. The sage family is huge, with purple sage, pineapple sage, variegated sage, classic green culinary sage (officials), and more. Did you know you can grow cinnamon basil, or chocolate mint? Plus there are many types of rosemary, dill, and thyme. Each variety will have its own unique flavor, growing habits (some larger or smaller), cold hardiness, or appearance.
I can’t publish an herb article without mentioning a couple of my absolute favorite herbs: garlic and turmeric. They’re not included on the list because they grow very, very differently than the others. Fortunately, I’ve written detailed articles all about growing each one of them, in case you’re interested!
Growing Herbs in Containers
Yes, you can absolutely grow herbs in containers – all sorts of containers! It is really fun to grow many types of herbs together in a large container, such as a half wine barrel, galvanized metal tub, or oversized pot. Or, you can keep each one in a smaller individual pot – especially if you are growing herbs indoors in a windowsill. Have fun and get creative here! I have seen herbs growing in rain gutter planters, terra cotta pots, grow bags, hanging pots, and more. There are also some super cute indoor herb pot sets, like this one! No matter what type of container you choose, ensure that it has drainage holes.
The size of your container and/or how closely you pack your plants inside will influence the size of your herbs. For instance, using small pots or grouping many plants closely together will limit root space and lead to smaller plants overall. This isn’t always a bad thing however! Some herbs are best grown in containers because they otherwise aggressively spread, like mint. I do not suggest planting mint in a raised bed or directly in the ground, unless you realllllly like mint and want it to take over. We keep it in pots.
Potted Herb Care
Caring for potted plants is slightly different than those planted directly in the ground or in large raised beds. Containers have the tendency to either dry out more quickly, or to not drain properly and become soggy. Meaning, you’ll need to keep a closer eye on the soil moisture level and adjust your watering schedule as needed.
To help maintain the right moisture balance, fill your chosen container with well-draining potting soil. Meaning, use a soil specifically made for container gardening that has plenty of perlite, pumice, rice hulls, or other aerating material. Feel free to toss in a handful of aged compost or worm castings, yet most quality bagged soil should have sufficient nutrients for herbs. Again, your container of choice must have drainage holes! I can’t stress that enough.
Herbs grown in containers will also use up the available nutrients in soil more quickly than they would in a larger garden space. Therefore, they’ll need to be fed more often. The good news is, culinary herbs don’t need much fertilizer in general. If you are growing a short-lived annual herb (such as cilantro), you probably will not need to fertilize it at all. When growing perennial herbs in containers, plan to provide mild organic fertilizer once or twice per year. Good fertilizer choices for herbs include homemade compost tea, dilute seaweed extract, or slow-release granular fertilizers like this organic all-purpose one.
Growing Herbs Indoors
You can grow many culinary herbs indoors, much like houseplants! Clearly, they’ll be inside a container – so follow the potted herb tips as described above. The biggest challenge when it comes to growing herbs indoors is finding the right balance of light. As we discussed in the general herb care section, most culinary herbs need a minimum of 4 to 5 hour of sunlight per day but will usually be happier with a bit more.
Plan your indoor kitchen herb garden near a sunny window. If you live in the northern hemisphere like us, a south-facing window will receive the most sun throughout the day. An east-facing window will get nice morning to midday light, and windows facing towards the west will get blasted with the hottest afternoon sun. A window with northern exposure will receive the least light of them all, as will windows heavily shaded by a porch overhang or other structure. If your home doesn’t have sufficient light via windows, you can always grow herbs indoors under small grow lights!
Depending on the particular herb and window, you may need to experiment to find the right balance of light. If the plants begin to heavily lean towards the window or stretch very tall and get “leggy”, they’re not getting enough light. However, a glass window pane amplifies both sun rays and heat. Placing potted herbs directly next to a window may prove to be too intense for them. If they look wilted or singed, try moving the pots about a foot back away from the window if possible. That is one huge perk of growing herbs in pots: you can always relocate them.
The Best Herbs to Grow Indoors
The herbs that are best suited for an indoor kitchen herb garden are those that are tender, leafy, and fast-growing. Take clippings from them as needed, and they should continue to grow and provide for you. Because they grow fairly quickly (and are usually quite inexpensive at the nursery) it isn’t the end of the world if they need occasional replacement.
Culinary herbs best suited to grow indoors include:
- Lemon Balm
Woodier drought-tolerant perennial herbs like thyme, oregano, sage, bay, and rosemary also may be able to live indoors under ideal conditions. However, they probably won’t be living their best life as they would outdoors with ample sun and warm open soil space.
Basil is one that you can experiment with indoors, but the space and pot will need to be just right. Basil is happiest with more sun and rich moist soil than most indoor herb gardens can provide.
Other culinary herbs enjoy too much sun, space, or freedom to be happily cooped up inside. Dill and fennel get very large. You can try to grow cilantro indoors, but it can be finicky. The wrong conditions will easily make cilantro leggy, bolt, or otherwise not worthwhile.
Easiest Herbs to Grow From Seed
You can grow any of the herbs we’ve explored today from seed! To do so, follow the instructions on the seed package you buy. Need some tips on where to buy seeds? See our list of top 12 places to buy organic, heirloom, and non-GMO seeds here. Then, follow common seed-starting best practices: use fresh seed-starting mix, provide ample moisture and warmth to aid in germination, and after they sprout – ensure they have plenty of light. Learn everything you need to know about starting seeds and raising seedlings indoors in this article.
New to seed starting? Try growing these culinary herbs, who have a reputation of being extra-easy to start from seed:
- Lemon Balm
As you can see, the herbs that are easiest to grow from seed are more tender and (mostly) shorter-lived annual herbs, compared to the woodier perennials like sage, oregano, thyme, and rosemary. It is most efficient and worthwhile to simply buy those long-lasting perennial herbs as small established plants from the nursery.
If you know anyone that grows rosemary, see if you can take a few clippings! Rosemary is very easy to propagate. Simply strip the “needles” from the lower portion of the stem, place the stems of the cuttings in de-chlorinated water, change the water every few days, and wait for roots to emerge and grow to several inches long. Then, plant them in soil. Bam. Free rosemary for your kitchen herb garden.
Herbs That Grow Well in Partial Shade
If your garden (or kitchen) has mediocre light at best, don’t give up! Do be cautious not to over-water a shady herb garden though, as that can be a dangerous combination. Also, remember “partial shade” doesn’t mean full shade. Try your best to find a spot with at least a few hours of decent sun exposure each day. The most important time to provide sun is during the herbs active growing season, spring through fall. We have a few very healthy patches of oregano, rosemary, thyme and lemon balm that receive little-to-no direct sun during the wintertime. However, that is when they’re fairly dormant anyways!
Otherwise, enjoy these culinary herbs in your shady kitchen herb garden:
- Lemon Balm (morning sun and afternoon shade preferred)
- Cilantro (morning sun and afternoon shade preferred)
The herbs listed below are classically annual in nature, no matter the climate. They grow for one season, and then their life comes to an end. Some herbs come and go more quickly than others, like cilantro seems to. Others you may be able to continually harvest from spring through fall, like basil. These are particularly perfect for container kitchen herb gardens.
- Marjoram (annual in most zones, may be a perennial in zones 9 or higher)
Perennial herbs live for many years. Some will significantly die back in the winter, but should come back to life in spring. Depending on your climate, some perennial herbs will continue to provide through the winter. For example, our rosemary and purple sage are evergreen and beautiful year-round. Yet even in our frost-free climate, the cold-hardy oregano and green sage go dormant, lose their leaves, and look like dead brown sticks for several months during the winter. That is normal, and part of their self-protection to survive in colder climates.
Here is a list of perennial herbs, along with the USDA hardiness zones that they will survive year-after-year in. Every herb on the list below can also be grown as an annual in most climates.
- Chives, zones 3 – 9
- Thyme, zones 4 – 9
- Mint, zones 4 – 9
- Sage, zones 5 – 10
- Oregano, zones 5 – 12
- French Tarragon, zones 5 – 9
- Lemon Balm, zones 5 – 9
- Bay Laurel, zones 8 and higher
- Marjoram, zones 9 and higher
- Rosemary, zones 9 and higher
Most Cold-Hardy Herbs
As you can see from the list above, chives, sage, thyme, oregano, mint, lemon balm, and french tarragon are all quite cold-hardy – rated down to zone 5 as perennials.
However, keep in mind that there are different varieties of each of these! Classic green culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) is the most reliably cold-hardy. On the other hand, some fancier cultivars of sage (such as purple or variegated sage) are slightly less cold-tolerant. If you’re already close to the limit with your zone, be sure to look into the hardiness rating for the specific variety you’re interested in growing.
If you visit a local nursery for herb seedlings (as opposed to a big box store) they should carry the varieties that are best suited for your climate. That will take some of the guesswork out of it for you! Staff at the local nursery are also an excellent resource for questions, troubleshooting, and general information.
Feel free to push the zone boundaries in your kitchen herb garden as well! For things like rosemary or bay, you may be able to grow them in significantly cooler climates if you keep them in large but mobile containers that can be brought inside or otherwise protected from frost during the winter. Furthermore, a couple of especially cold-tolerant varieties of rosemary (“Arp” and “Athens Blue Spire”) can survive outside down to zone 6, despite the fact that other rosemary cultivars cannot handle freezing conditions.
Now the part we’ve all been waiting for: how to actually harvest, use, and enjoy the herbs you’re growing in your new kitchen herb garden! The good news is that harvesting culinary herbs is quite simple. It is relatively hard to “screw up” when you’re harvesting herbs. Just be sure to never cut it completely down, unless you’re done with the plant for good. Otherwise, herbs benefit from a routine trim!
Harvesting and lightly pruning herbs encourages them to branch and/or develop new growth. Basil, chives, parsley, basil, oregano, and mint grow back especially fast. See this article to watch videos of exactly how we prune our basil seedlings to encourage branching, and how we harvest basil plants throughout the summer.
Quick tips for harvesting herbs
- Continually harvest small clippings from annual herbs up until the end of the season, or first frost. Annual herbs will continue to regrow throughout the season even if they’re clipped back to only a few inches tall.
- In areas that freeze during the winter, it is best to avoid heavily pruning perennial herbs past August. At that time, any new growth that emerges may be too tender to make it through the upcoming winter. Earlier in the season (spring and summer), feel free to prune a perennial herb by nearly half of its height. Don’t be shy! They can take it.
- Try to cut stems just above a natural junction or leaf node where new growth is apparent. It will branch out on each side from there, as shown in the photo of oregano below (which equally applies to sage, lemon balm, and basil). For herbs with dozens of little stems (thyme, chives, and dill) you can either clip a bit off the top, or go ahead and cut a few stems way back – a couple inches above the soil line. With rosemary, it will simply branch wherever you snip a stem.
- When a culinary herb plant starts to flower, that is a signal that they’re in the process of trying to form seed – and then likely die back for the season. The leafy edible greens will become smaller, more bitter and tough thereafter. If you aren’t ready for that to happen yet, simply pinch off the flowering tips as soon as you see them. If they persist, cut away that entire flowering stem. Note that not all flowering herbs will be “done” afterwards. Our purple sage and rosemary flower off an on many times per year, while the plants continue to produce new green leafy growth as well.
When we harvest herbs, I don’t usually get hasty and cut down a plant by half or more. More often, I use a more gentle “cut and come again” method of pinching or trimming off the top few inches of one or two stems at a time – just what I need for that meal or recipe. That is, unless I’m doing a major pruning with the intention of drying herbs to preserve them!
Using & Preserving Fresh Herbs
After seeing all of the photos throughout the post, I hope you’ve gleaned more than a few new ideas of how to use fresh herbs – and see just how incredibly versatile they are! In meals, beverages, or even in simmering pots for aromatherapy around the house… As a recap, I will list a round-up of our favorite herb-inspired recipes at the end of this article – which is near!
Now, how about preserving culinary herbs? The most common and popular way to preserve fresh herbs is to dry them. Aside from making freezer-friendly pesto, drying herbs is our go-to way to preserve them as well. You can use our pesto recipe with a number of herbs and greens (e.g. parsley, carrot tops, fava bean greens, arugula, or kale) – not just basil! I know some folks also freeze whole herbs as well, including pre-portioned inside ice cube trays.
To dry herbs, you have a couple of options. One is to simply lay clean herbs out at room temperature in a location with good air flow, allowing them to passively dry. The use of a screen or herb drying rack is very helpful in the process! However, some climates or conditions may prohibit herbs from drying effectively. For example, if the conditions are too humid or cool. With our cool and foggy coastal locale, we cannot passively dry herbs at room temperature.
Dried herbs need to become completely crispy-dry in order to be stored long term, such as dried basil or oregano seasonings. This is especially true if you intend to grind them into a finer powder. With any moisture left in the herbs, they will get stale and possibly moldy in storage. Therefore, we rely on a food dehydrator to fully dry them for us! We love our Excalibur dehydrator. We use it several times a month to dry and preserve all sorts of food from the garden, almost year-round! I can’t say enough good things about it.
Dry your herbs on a low temperature setting to the point they crumble or snap (not bend, which indicates there is still moistures left). Then store them in a glass air-tight container in a cool dark place – like your kitchen pantry. Homegrown dried herbs have incredible flavor compared to those you’ll find in the store. They should last well over a year, if you don’t use them up by then!
Herby Recipe Round-Up
- Healthy Yogurt Dipping Sauce (or Dressing) with Dill, Lemon & Garlic
- Garlic & Herb Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Simple Lacto-Fermented Radish “Pickles” with Dill (also available for carrots, beets, and beans!)
- Herb Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Roasted Two-Bite Smashed Potatoes with Garlic, Herbs & Cheese
- Herbed Sourdough Starter Crackers
- Herb Whole Wheat Sourdough Pizza Crust
- Simple Oven Roasted Cauliflower with Herbs
- Parmesan Zucchini Fritters with Chives & Yogurt Dill Sauce
- Pesto Zucchini Noodles aka “Zoodles”
- Creamy Roasted Sweet Potato & Carrot Soup
- Creamy Butternut Squash & Sage Soup
- Sweet & Salty Rosemary Roasted Mixed Nuts
- Fiesta-Style Stuffed Summer Squash
- Homemade Black Bean & Quinoa Veggie Burger Patties
- Simmering Spices: Make Your House Smell Amazing with Natural Stovetop Potpourri
And that concludes your ultimate crash-course guide on kitchen herb gardens.
Holy moly. Can I tell you something? You know how I said we used to undervalue the utility and beauty of herbs? Well, despite growing herbs for many years now, I think I still have been under-appreciating them – until now! Sitting down to write all about herbs (and re-visiting all the amazing ways we use our kitchen herb garden) has been very eye-opening. I never really considered that 90% of the recipes I share on this blog incorporate fresh herbs! I guess we really do love and use herbs… a lot!
Now, the thyme has come for you go start a kitchen herb garden of your own. I hope you found this article to be helpful, interesting, and inspiring! If so, please spread the love for herbs by sharing or pinning this post. As always, feel free to ask questions. Who’s got the herb? We all do!