By Matt Gibson
Have you always wanted to start your own herb garden but are afraid that you don’t have what it takes to keep plants alive? Well, you’re not alone. Many people who would love to grow herbs hesitate in getting started because they have had bad luck with growing plants in the past.
Beginning gardeners can get a big head start by choosing herbs to grow that have a high-success rate. It’s also a good idea to grow plants that you really enjoy using, so that you get first hand rewards for your efforts.
Start with mint, thyme, chives, lemon balm, and sage, as they are the easiest herbs to grow and are nearly impossible to kill. Then add in basil, cilantro, parsely, and oregano, which are a little more challenging, but still fairly easy to cultivate.
Once you have had a little bit of success, feel free to grow all 12, or to add other herbs into the mix that are not included on our recommended list. After we dive into each easy-to-grow herb, we include a guide to herb gardening for beginners, complete with helpful tips. But first, let’s meet our herbs.
Though basil is not the easiest herb to grow, it is not terribly hard to grow either, if you know the basic care instructions. Basil is especially well-suited to container gardening and window boxes. It is a warm weather annual herb, and it requires full sun and well-draining soil.
Growing Instructions for Basil
Plant your basil seeds after the last frost in spring and again at the beginning of summer. Basil plants respond well to repeated harvesting, as do most herbs. Cut off flowering tops when they appear to encourage new growth and to maintain potency of flavor and aroma. Once basil flowers, the flavor and smell of its leaves are drastically lowered, so pinch back any flowering parts on sight and feel free to harvest frequently. New leaves will sprout up wherever you cut the plant back.
Cooking / Household Uses of Basil
In the kitchen, add basil to dishes at the end of cooking, so that they don’t receive too much heat. Fresh basil is much better than dried basil in terms of flavor and potency. Use fresh basil leaves to make pesto sauce, or to add flavor to vegetable, rice, meat, and pasta dishes. Add fresh basil leaves to salads for a burst of rich flavor. Infuse oil with fresh basil and other herbs. Use basil and other fresh herbs to make a delicious herb butter spread. Basil can be used to make an all-natural DIY cleaning spray, or a DIY restorative hair treatment.
Learn more about growing basil plants at home.
Chives are one of the first herbs that beginners should grow, because they are one of the easiest herbs to grow. Chives are cold hardy enough to live through icy winters with no protective measures. They grow all year long and are well-suited for frequent harvesting. Chives have a mild, onion-like flavor, and are used heavily in the savory dishes of many different regional cuisines. Chive plants are quite ornamental as well, producing lovely pink, lavender, or purple blooms which grow in clumps that expand each year. The flowers are edible too.
Growing Instructions for Chives
Chives are incredibly easy to grow indoors, with minimal light and watering requirements and voracious production and will grow well outdoors as well. Whether indoors or out, this perennial herb should be at the top of any list of easy-to-grow herbs for beginning gardeners.
Chives can be grown from seed, but it is easier to start them from small plants. Just take an entire bunch of chives, roots and all, from an established plant and place it into a container. Fill the container with potting soil so that the roots and crown of your chive plant is covered with potting soil. Water well just after planting and trim back the top by one third to encourage new growth.
Plant outdoors four to six weeks prior to the last frost in a full sun location with fertile, well-draining soil. Cut back regularly to promote new growth. Keep soil moist but not wet. Harvest one third of each bunch every two to three days all throughout the year.
Cooking / Household Uses of Chives
Chives are a culinary staple in many different cuisines around the world and are perfect for adding flavor to savory dishes. Wait until the dish is nearly cooked before adding chives, as too much heat exposure can turn them bitter. Freeze to preserve.
In addition to their culinary use, chives are also wonderful companion plants due to their insect deterring aroma. Plant young chive plants near tomatoes, sunflowers and chrysanthemums to keep aphids away, and plant apple trees and rose bushes near established chive plants to prevent apple scab and black spot on roses. Chives are also boiled with water to make a foliar spray for plants that prevents mildew issues.
Learn more about How to Grow Chives.
Cilantro, also known as coriander, Chinese parsley, and Mexican oregano, is a short-lived, fast-growing annual herb. Its leaves look very similar to parsley but the two herbs have distinctly different flavors and aromas.
An ingredient in many Mexican, Asian, and Indian dishes, cilantro has a citrusy flavor and aroma that some find slightly soapy. Cilantro, also known as coriander, Chinese parsley, and Mexican oregano, is a short-lived, fast-growing annual. An ingredient in many Mexican, Asian, and Indian dishes, cilantro has a citrusy flavor and aroma that some find slightly soapy.
By culinary definitions, coriander is a spice made from the ground seeds of the cilantro plant, while cilantro is the fresh, bright green, fern-like leaves and stems of the plant. Cilantro is well-suited to garden beds as well as container gardens.
Growing Instructions for Cilantro
Start growing cilantro in the spring after the last frost has passed and succession plant cilantro seeds every two weeks for a continuous harvest, all the way up to the end of summer. Cilantro is easy to start from seed, but it is very hard to transplant.
Plant seeds in shallow holes. If soil is dry, water the holes before planting seeds. Cover seeds lightly with soil and pat soil into place gently. Harvest cilantro regularly, cutting about one third of the plant’s stems nearly to the ground when harvesting. Keep well watered until plants are established. Move cilantro plants indoors during especially warm summers so it is less likely to bolt, as it is prone to do when overheated or stressed.
To harvest coriander from your cilantro plants, allow the plants to flower and collect the seeds once they have turned brown. Seeds can be ground into coriander spice, or stored in a cool, dry location, to plant at a later date.
Cooking / Household Uses of Cilantro
Every part of the cilantro plant is edible. Toss the flowers into salads, use the roots in soups and stir-fries, and ground the seeds to use as the spice, coriander. The leaves and stems can be used to flavor most savory dishes, as a traditional taco ingredient, added to sour cream, and use it to give a boost of flavor to rice, pasta, or salads. Do not expose fresh leaves to heat, as they will wilt and turn bitter quickly. Instead, add it to dishes after the food has already been cooked, to add a fresh, citrusy burst to recipes. Cilantro and coriander do not have any major uses outside of the kitchen.
Learn more about How to Grow Cilantro.
Dill is not the easiest herb to grow, but it is not especially hard to grow either. It is a self-seeding annual herb that has both culinary and medicinal applications. Dill is commonly used to flavor soups, stews, vegetables, dressings, and sauces, and is often used in pickling.
Growing Instructions for Dill
Grow dill in full sun, in a fertile, well-drained soil. Make sure to choose a good location for your dill plants, as they do not transplant well. If some seeds are allowed to fully mature on the plant, dill plants will self-seed to return the following year. Dill is well-suited to garden beds and containers. Harvest the feathery leaves during the spring and summer. Late in the summer, seeds will ripen and turn brown. Collect seeds in a brown paper bag and store in a cool, dark, dry location.
Cooking / Household Uses of Dill
Dill has a tangy flavor that is perfect for pickling, but it can also be used to flavor soups, stews, rice, meat and vegetable dishes. Fresh dill is commonly added to salads or used to flavor seafood dishes. Seeds can be used whole or ground and added to recipes or used to make curry powder. Medicinally, dill has been used to treat fevers, colds, coughs, bronchitis, spasms, infections, hemorrhoids, ulcers, menstrual cramps and insomnia.
Learn more about How to Grow Dill.
Lemon Balm Basics
Lemon balm is a relative of the mint plant, and is just as easy to grow, and aggressive as its sibling. Though it is evergreen through zone four, it is recommended that you grow lemon balm in a single year to get the best flavor from its leaves.
Growing Instructions for Lemon Balm
Plant lemon balm indoors in autumn and keep it inside through winter, then move it outdoors for spring and summer. Plant lemon balm in full sun to partial shade locations and provide it with a fertile, well-draining soil. If grown indoors, full sun is recommended, but if grown outdoors, lemon balm will need some shade, especially during the afternoon hours. We recommend growing lemon balm in containers due to its invasive growth habits. Lemon balm can be grown and harvested all season down to zone four. Clip off any flowering growth to promote more leafy growth and to keep the plant from spreading. Lemon balm can be harvested regularly throughout the year.
Cooking / Household Uses of Lemon Balm
Lemon balm has a citrusy and minty flavor profile and aroma. Lemon balm has a bright, refreshing flavor and is commonly used to add complexity to fruit salads, teas, lemonades and marinades. Harvest the plant a few leaves or stems at a time, but never take more than one third of the plant’s leafy growth in a single harvest. Lemon balm also has been used medicinally, and made into essential oils for use in aromatherapy.
Learn more about How to Grow Lemon Balm.
Most gardeners consider mint the easiest herb, and possibly the easiest plant to grow. It is invasive so it’s wise to keep it contained by growing it in a container or in beds with well defined borders to keep it from growing where it isn’t wanted.
Growing Instructions for Mint
Mint prefers full to partial sun and moist, rich, well-draining soil. Very hardy, mint can handle a little neglect and environmental damage. Plant mint in the spring and water it regularly. Pinch it back to keep it from getting leggy. Harvest sprigs monthly and before it flowers to encourage new leafy growth. Well-suited to container gardening, where its growth can be contained. Never harvest over one-third of the plant at a time.
Cooking / Household Uses of Mint
Mint is easy to dry and is commonly used to flavor drinks and teas, and to add flavor to meat and vegetable dishes, as well as soups and dressings. Crush mint leaves with vinegar and sugar to make a tasty mint sauce. Aside from culinary use, mint plants are used in the garden to attract beneficial insects. Mint is also used medicinally to soothe stomach aches and sunburned skin. Mint essential oils are also used to freshen the air and to relax the mind.
Learn more about How to Grow Mint.
Oregano (and Marjoram)
Oregano varieties vary in size, flavor, and growing habit, and are all easy to grow from either seed or cuttings. Oregano plants are grown for culinary use, and as ornamental plants. Their showy pink flowers make them great additions to beds and borders as a groundcover plant.
Growing Instructions for Oregano
Plant oregano in the spring after the last threat of frost has passed in a location that receives bright indirect sunlight in a fast and well-draining soil. Do not overwater oregano, as it will not abide wet feet. Fertilize oregano plants occasionally during the growing season. Once your plants reach at least four inches in height, you can harvest oregano by clipping off whole stems instead of picking off individual leaves. Never harvest more than one-third of the plant.
Cooking / Household Uses of Oregano
Dried oregano holds its flavor well and actually contains more antioxidants than fresh oregano. Use oregano to make a tasty herb butter. Add open flowers to soups, roasted veggies, and baked potatoes. Oregano can also be used to flavor many Italian and Mediterranean dishes, and used to enliven savory recipes, like pasta, meat, and vegetable dishes. Oregano is also used in alternative medicine, and aromatherapy.
Learn more about How to Grow Oregano.
Parsley is a biennial herb that is one of the most commonly cultivated and widely used kitchen herbs. Parsley leaves look similar to those of cilantro but with pointed edges. Parsley is very easy to grow but the seeds are slow to germinate, taking up to two weeks before any sprouts pop up.
Growing Instructions for Parsley
Start parsley seeds on a sunny windowsill two or three weeks prior to the last frost in spring to give them a head start on the season or direct sow directly into the ground after the soil warms up. Transplant young seedlings in the early spring, but be careful not to harm the roots during the move. Plant parsley in full sun or partial shade locations in a moist but well draining soil. Parsley prefers cool, sunny weather and will grow better with a boost from a side dressing of fertilizer or a top dressing of organic compost in mid spring. Keep soil consistently moist and harvest by cutting stalks at the base once they are five to six inches tall, leaving new sprouts to fully mature before harvesting.
Cooking / Household Uses of Parsley
In the kitchen, parsley is best when fresh and added to meals at the end of cooking to avoid exposing the leaves to excessive heat. Freeze leaves to preserve them, or make them into a gremolata by mixing fresh leaves with garlic, lemon, and olive oil. Parsley leaves can be added fresh to salads and herb butters, or used to flavor a large variety of savory dishes. The roots can also be cooked and eaten in the same way you would prepare carrots.
Learn more about How to Grow Parsley.
Rosemary has a clean, astringent flavor and a distinctive scent that’s aromatic and can be compared to pine. The plant is sometimes trimmed into a triangular shape, like a mini Christmas tree, and can come in sizes from tiny up to large waist-high shrubs when cultivated for a long time. It breaks into blue blossoms in the wintertime.
Growing Instructions for Rosemary
Rosemary needs a location that gets at least six to eight hours worth of sunshine each day. It prefers rich soil that drains well, with a pH level between 6.5 and 8.0. Some gardeners add sand to the soil where they will grow rosemary to increase the drainage, or they may amend the soil with lime to increase pH. Rosemary is normally grown from starter plants due to the difficulty of growing from seed. During its first season, rosemary should be kept consistently moist, but after that, it doesn’t require much watering unless the weather is exceptionally hot and dry. It does not normally require fertilizer, either.
Cooking / Household Uses of Rosemary
Rosemary is commonly used in cooking as a featured herb in potato dishes, bread, grains, soup, stew, casseroles, onions, peas, spinach, mushrooms and marinades. It pairs well with chicken or other types of poultry, game meats, lamb, pork, beef (especially steak), and oily varieties of fish. The flavor is especially associated with the holidays and wintertime fare.
Learn more about How to Grow Rosemary.
Sage is a cold-hardy woody perennial herb that grows to about 20 inches tall. A great starting herb for beginning gardeners, sage is very hardy and tolerant to a wide variety of poor environmental conditions and neglect. The only thing that will kill off sage plants quickly is overwatering, as the herb is known to develop root rot if left standing in soggy soils.
Growing Instructions for Sage
Start sage indoors a week or two before the last frost in spring to get a jump start on the growing season. Sage plants can also be started from rooted stem tip cuttings every other year, or with transplants. Plant sage in full sun or partial shade in a moist but well-draining sandy, loamy soil for best results. Keep it in bright light and allow soil to dry out between waterings. Harvest several leaves at a time but don’t take too much at once and allow some time for the plant to recover between harvests.
Cooking / Household Uses of Sage
Use sage to make an herb butter, or preserve it by drying or packing it in salt. It is a subtle spice, so its sweet-tasting leaves should be used to flavor mild dishes. Aside from culinary use, sage is used medicinally, in aromatherapy, and sage bundles are commonly burned to cleanse spaces of negative energy.
Learn more about How to Grow Sage.
Tarragon is a perennial herb from the sunflower plant family. It is commonly cultivated for culinary and medicinal purposes. Commonly used in French cuisines, its subtle flavor is well-suited to flavoring fish and chicken dishes. Tarragon is a spring and summer herb that is harder to find than more common herbs, especially when it is out of season.
Growing Instructions of Tarragon
Plant tarragon transplants in the early spring. It is a sprawling plant that will grow to around two feet tall. Cut plants back by half in midsummer to stimulate new leafy growth. Plant in full sun in moist, rich, well draining soil. Tarragon thrives in fresh air and lots of sun. Trim the younger, topmost leaves of Tarragon, allowing the older leaves to continue growing.
Cooking / Household Uses for Tarragon
The leaves of tarragon have a licorice-like flavor that is sweeter early in the growing season. In the spring, take whole sprigs when harvesting. In the summer, the tougher mature leaves need extended cooking to soften them up. Tarragon is commonly used to make a flavoring vinegar by steeping the leaves in white wine vinegar in the sunlight for four to five hours before straining.
Learn more about How to Grow Tarragon.
Thyme is a perennial herb with tiny little leaves and flowers that come in shades from white to fuchsia. It’s unique because it can be cultivated indoors or as part of an indoor garden year-round, regardless of where it is grown. In ancient Egypt, it was used as a preservative, while other civilizations used it in bandaging as a healing aid.
Growing Instructions for Thyme
Most gardeners grow thyme from a starter plant rather than from seeds, whether they inherit a cutting from someone else’s plant or purchase one at the garden center or nursery. Thyme doesn’t like soil that is too rich, so use soil of average quality and mix in at least a handful of fine grit or coarse sand. A bit of gravel will work as a soil amendment if the pebbles are finely textured enough. Plant in a spot that gets at least six hours of sunlight each day, and water the herb regularly, but be careful not to overwater. Trimming a thyme plant encourages bushy growth, so once the plant has matured, gardeners can clip from it to use in cooking, sachets, potpourri, and more. Plants should be reshaped more heavily once a year.
Cooking / Household Uses for Thyme
Thyme is a common ingredient in savory dishes that is often used in marinades for meat and fish, especially for braised or roasted dishes. You’ll also find it in savory baked goods, stocks and soup bases, roasted vegetable dishes, or as part of cocktails and teas. It can be interchanged at will in recipes that call for basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, and sage.
Learn more about How to Grow Thyme.
As a beginning gardener, herbs are one of the most rewarding types of plants you can grow because you’ll be able to put them to use in the kitchen as well as in other ways around the house. Nothing is more delicious than a home cooked meal that includes herbs fresh from the garden. You’ll find so many ways to use fresh herbs around the house that you’ll wonder why you didn’t grow them sooner. Want to learn more about Herb Gardening? Click here for an in-depth beginners guide.