Herbs and spices can be some of the easiest plants to grow in your garden or containers. You can use them in cooking and preserving to add flavour, to create your own teas, jellies and relishes, or dry them for winter use. Herbs can also be used as natural remedies for numerous health concerns, from headaches to high blood sugar, sore throat to a good night's sleep. You can add your favourite fragrances and colours to homemade soaps, potpourris, scented bath tonics, wreaths and sachets to freshen your clothes or keep those pesky moths away!
Basil is a leafy, fragrant annual with a bushy appearance that grows well both outdoors and indoors. Basil is easy to grow and does best in an area that gets 6 to 8 hours of full sun daily. Soil should be moist and well-drained. Remember to pinch out the flower heads as soon as they appear to make sure that the leaves will continue growing. Every time a branch has six to eight leaves, repeat pruning the branches back to their first set of leaves. If pruned regularly, twelve basil plants will produce 4 to 6 cups of leaves per week. Tomatoes make great neighbors for basil plants in the garden.
Plant catnip in a place where your cats can rub and roll in it without hurting adjacent plants. Some cats like catnip so much that they lie on it, roll on it, and chew it to the point of destruction. If you find that to be the case, place some 1-2' long bamboo sticks or thin dowels every 2-3" wherever you’re growing catnip to make it impossible for a cat to lie on top of the plant. Try planting Catnip in front of purple echinacea (or coneflower), which blooms about the same time. The plant bears tiny, white blooms that are not very showy. You can also grow it in containers. Also consider growing catnip near the vegetable garden as a way to attract your cat and thereby keep down the rodent population. Keep plants full by pinching the growing stems and flower buds when they appear.
Chamomile is a cheery herb that can add beauty to a garden and may have sedative qualities. Chamomile growing in the garden is both useful and visually pleasing. Chamomile grows best in cool conditions and should be planted in part shade, but will also grow full sun. The soil should be dry. Once your chamomile is established, it needs very little care. Like most herbs, chamomile grows best when it is not fussed over. Too much fertilizer will result in lots of weakly flavored foliage and few flowers. Chamomile is drought tolerant and only needs to be watered in times of prolonged drought.
Chives are small members of the onion family. They share many physical traits with onions, including the hollow, tubular leaves, the bristled flowers, bulbous roots, and overall flavour. Chives are one of the easiest herbs to grow, growing just about anywhere, but prefer strong light and rich soil. Chives also don’t do as well in soil that is too wet or too dry. The chives are ready to harvest at about a foot tall and you do this by simply snipping off what you need. When harvesting chives, you can cut the chive plant back to half its size without harming the plant. If your chive plant starts to flower, the flowers are edible as well. Add the chive flowers to your salad or as decorations for soup.
Cilantro / Coriander
While leafy cilantro and coriander seeds come from the same plant, you'd never know it from their aromas and flavors. They are entirely different. The herb, cilantro, is often used in Asian and Latin American cooking and has a lively citrusy and, to some, a slightly soapy flavor. The seed, coriander, is sweet and toasty with a warm aroma and flavor. It is often paired with cumin and cinnamon, which share some of those traits. Cilantro grows best in a well-drained, moist soil and plants should be spaced about 6-8 in. apart. Pinch back young cilantro plants 1" or so to encourage fuller, bushier plants. Cilantro leaves can begin to be harvested in about 3-4 weeks. Coriander seeds can be harvested in about 45 days.
Dill is an annual, self-seeding plant with feathery green leaves. It is used most commonly in soups, stews, and for pickling. Dill is easy to grow and attracts beneficial insects to your garden, such as wasps and other predatory insects. As soon as the plant has four to five leaves, you can start harvesting. Pinch off the leaves or cut them off with scissors. In your garden, plant dill next to cabbage or onions, but keep the dill away from carrots.
Lavender fills the early-summer garden with sensory delights: beautiful purple-tone blooms atop foliage that oozes fragrance on a sunny afternoon. Once established, Lavender plants require little care or maintenance. While they should be watered regularly early on, established plants need little water, as they are extremely drought tolerant. Every part of the plant is infused with aromatic oil, making this a choice herb to place along pathways or near outdoor seating areas so you can savor the fragrance. Lavender varieties abound: the darker the flower, the more intense the aroma - and the flavor in cooking.
The green leaves of lemon balm have the scent of lemon with a hint of mint, with leaves that look like over-sized mint, no surprise, since lemon balm is part of the mint family. The plant looks best when it is cut back periodically, so plan to use lots of fresh, flavorful leaves to brew tea, flavor fruit or green salad, and season fish. Be sure to include stems in bouquets of summer flowers. Lemon balm is not picky about where they grow and will grow in almost any soil, but they prefer rich, well drained soil. Lemon balm plants will grow in part shade to full sun, but flourish best in full sun. It is recommended that you do not fertilize lemon balm, as this can cause the strength of its scent to be reduced.
Lemongrass is a tropical herb packed with strong citrus flavor. The lemon taste is prized in teas, sauces, and soups. In the garden, lemongrass forms a tall, grassy clump 3-5' tall. Its appearance rivals that of many ornamental grasses and can easily fulfill a similar role in the landscape. Lemongrass thrives in full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Provide a steady supply of moisture for best growth, don’t let lemongrass roots dry out. Start harvesting as soon as plants are 12" tall and stem bases are at least 0.5" thick. Cut stalks at ground level, or hand-pull entire stalks. You want to get the entire swollen base, which resembles a scallion or green onion. If a few roots come up with the stalk, don’t worry, it won’t harm the plant. The edible portion of lemongrass is near the bottom of the stalk. Carefully cut off the grassy top part of the plant; use caution, as this can be razor-sharp at times. Take the lemongrass base and peel the outer fibrous layer to expose the inner white, reedy part for use.
Growing marjoram is a great way to add both flavor and fragrance in the kitchen or garden. Marjoram plants are also great for attracting butterflies and other beneficial insects to the garden, making them ideal for use as companion plantings. Marjoram should be located in areas receiving full sun with light, well-drained soil. Likewise, marjoram plants can be grown in containers indoors and treated as houseplants. Established plants require little care, other than occasional watering. Since marjoram is tolerant of drought, it makes an exceptional plant for beginner herb growers. If you forget to water it, that’s okay. When harvesting marjoram, pick the shoots just before flowers begin to open. This results in the best flavor, as fully opened blooms produce a bitter taste.
All types of mint are fast-growing, spreading plants, so you must give them a place to spread without getting in the way, or plant them in a pot. Mint sends out runners that spread above and just below the ground, quickly forming large, lush green patches. In the right place it makes a pretty seasonal ground cover. Keep plants in check by harvesting the tips regularly and pulling up wayward runners. Mint’s small flowers bloom from June to September; trim these before the buds open to keep the plant compact. Harvest mint leaves at any size by pinching off stems. For a large harvest, wait until just before the plant blooms, when the flavor is most intense, then cut the whole plant to just above the first or second set of leaves. In the process, you will remove the yellowing lower leaves and promote bushier growth.
Oregano, an herb with a robust scent and flavor, loves to grow in pots where it can spill over an edge of a pot or low wall. However, its trailing growth also makes it a good seasonal ground cover, or it can serve as a nice edging along a path. Oregano prefers a sunny spot and well-drained soil and makes a great companion plant to anyone in the vegetable garden. Allow oregano plants to grow to about 4" tall and then pinch or trim lightly to encourage a denser and bushier plant. Regular trimming will not only cause the plant to branch again, but also avoid legginess. You can harvest the leaves as you need them, however the most flavourful leaves will be found right before the flowers bloom.
Parsley is a lush plant with a beautiful rosette of green foliage. Try growing parsley plants as companions to annuals, perennials, and herbs in beds, containers, and window boxes. Plants make a nice seasonal edging and provide a striking contrast to colorful annuals, like yellow pansies or bright pink petunias. Set plants in full sun or partial shade, and rich, moist soil. Gather parsley stems and leaves as needed. Harvest parsley by cutting the leafy stems from the base of the plant, this will also serve to make the plant grow back bushier. Freeze parsley for winter use; although it is easily dried, it does not keep its flavor well.
Rosemary is an attractive evergreen shrub with needle-like leaves and brilliant blue flowers. The flowers of persist through summer, filling the air with a nice piney fragrance. This beautiful herb, mostly used for seasoning dishes, is also commonly used as ornamental plantings in the landscape. Rosemary can commonly reach 3' in height. While rosemary tolerates partial shade, it prefers full sun and light and well-drained soil.
Sage takes the form of a low shrub that can be wider than it is tall. The soft gray-green foliage is great in pots or the garden. Consider planting and growing sage in a container with rosemary, basil, and other Mediterranean herbs for a fragrant mix. While cooks appreciate the distinctive taste and scent of sage, gardeners also enjoy its velvety, evergreen foliage, and delicate blooms. Harvest sage as you need it, cut an entire stem if desired, or just pinch a leaf at a time. Dry harvested sage by hanging bunches of stems upside-down. Strip the dry leaves from the stem and store in an airtight container.
There are two types of savory: summer savory and winter savory. Summer savory has light purple to pink flowers with a sweet flavour. Winter savory has small white or purple flowers with a piney, sharp flavour. Plant either variety in full sun and well drained soil. Gather leaves as needed throughout the growing season to sprinkle on salads or garnish dishes.
The Sorrel herb is a tangy, lemony flavored plant. The youngest leaves have a slightly more acidic taste, but you can use mature leaves steamed or sautéed like spinach. Sorrel needs damp soils and temperate conditions. Sorrel will usually bolt when temperatures begin to soar, usually in June or July. When this happens, you can allow the flower to bloom and enjoy it, but this slows the production of leaves. If you want to encourage larger and more leaf production, cut the flower stalk off and the plant will give you a few more harvests. You can even cut the plant to the ground and it will produce a full new crop of foliage much like lettuce. Sorrel is often used in French cuisine and is a traditional accompaniment to eggs and melts into creamy soups and sauces.
Although stevia looks like an average green plant, it is an exciting choice for the herb garden because of the natural, calorie-free sweetness found in its leaves. Appreciated by diabetics and dieters, stevia requires full sun and well-drained soil. Leaves are sweetest in the cool temperatures of autumn. They also taste best prior to the plant blooming. To preserve and to make stevia convenient to use, dry it. Cut whole stems and then strip the leaves and tender stem tips. Place these on loosely woven fabric or non-metal screening outdoors on a dry, sunny day. One day should be long enough to dry the leaves; be sure to bring them in before the dew dampens them again. Once the leaves are crisp, crush them by hand or powder them with a food processor.
Plant thyme in your herb garden, at the edge of a walk, along a short garden wall, or in containers. The flowers open in spring and summer, sprinkling the plant with tiny, two-lipped blossoms attractive to bees. As a spreading plant, thyme can be used as a groundcover in a site with excellent drainage. Thyme does best in full sun. Pinching the tips of the stems keeps plants bushy.