QUESTION: What are the most common herbs? I want to start an herb garden and am not sure which herb plant will be the best to grow, so I’m curious what everyone else typically grows. — Mary C.
ANSWER: Here’s a list of the most common herbs you can grow. We’ve included a description of the plant along with its culinary use and care instructions to get you started.
Basil is a delicate herb that can be a little dramatic in warm weather. Don’t be alarmed if your basil droops during the heat of the day. It should perk right back up again once things cool off for the evening. This tender herb is a member of the mint family, but it doesn’t look much like mint. The fragrant leaves open and unfurl atop tender green stems.
Basil is probably best known as a part of Italian cuisine, often paired with tomato, mozzarella, and balsamic vinegar in a Caprese salad. It’s also simmered into Italian sauces and used to marinate meats. In addition to being a part of Italian dishes, basil is also used in Indian, Thai, and Middle Eastern cooking.
Basil really loves sandy soil, but it will tolerate growing in raised beds or clay soil that includes compost and has plenty of drainage. Basil is pretty easygoing about the pH level of the soil and can grow in soil from 5.5 to 8. If you’re growing basil in a hot, dry region, use some mulch to help the soil lock in moisture and cooler temperatures. Check out our article How to Grow Basil for more information.
Chives resemble the tops of small green onions, with their hollow, reedlike foliage. They taste a lot like a milder green onion, too. Chives have all the allium flavor of garlic or green onion without the kick.
You probably know chives best as a match for a baked potato and sour cream, but there are lots of ways to use chives in the kitchen. They partner especially well with cheese, eggs, or sauces. You can also use chives in meat marinades or along with some cheese to stuff a piece of meat.
Chives are perennials, which means that when cared for properly, they will return year after year. Healthy chives can keep returning for 10 to 20 years without you needing to replant them. Chives grow best in full sun to light shade. You should amend the soil where chives will grow with compost or well rotted manure and two tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer before planting your chives. Established chives (more than a year old) can tolerate some drought, but keep them evenly moist during their first year. Check out our article How to Grow Chives for more information.
Cilantro is a pretty little herb, with delicate stems topped with small ruffled leaves. Unfortunately, for people with a certain gene, this tasty herb tastes more like soap. Those of us lucky enough not to have the cilantro-soap gene can enjoy its bright flavor.
Cilantro is an iconic part of Mexican cuisine, but don’t stop at stirring it into guacamole or sprinkling over enchiladas. Cilantro is also used in lots of Asian cuisine, including Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese. It’s hard to imagine pad thai or coconut curry without this versatile herb.
Cilantro likes light, fluffy soil that offers plenty of drainage, so it does especially well in sandy soils. Grow it in full sun. Temperature is a big consideration when you’re growing cilantro. It does best between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. After 80 degrees, the herb will start to bolt. Check out our article How to Grow Cilantro for more information.
Dill’s feathery fronds are a pretty part of the herb garden and even make a great addition to cut flower arrangements. But most of the time, you’ll want to put this delicious herb to use in the kitchen.
Of course you know about dill’s use as a pickling herb, and it’s wonderful in this application—but there’s much more to dill than pickles. Use dill in egg dishes, potato salad, or as part of a meat marinade. It also matches especially well with fish.
Dill does best in soil rich in organic material that is slightly acidic and offers plenty of drainage. Sow the seeds right into their permanent homes in the garden, because it is difficult to successfully transplant dill. Harvest by snipping a portion away with clean, sterile gardening shears any time before the yellow flowers appear. Check out our article Growing Dill for more information.
Mint is a no-brainer in the herb garden because it’s so easy to grow. In fact, it’s so prolific that you may want to take some precautions with it, like growing mint in a container to limit its spread. The arrow-shaped leaves are a bit glossy and very fragrant.
Mint is especially good in summertime beverages like lemonade or cocktails. However, you can also match it with meats like lamb, and you can find it mixed into lots of Middle Eastern dishes.
This herb is so easy to grow that you can almost plant it and forget it. Mint does prefer moist, nutritious soil that offers plenty of drainage. The ideal pH level for soil where you will grow mint is 6.5 to 7, though it will tolerate a bit outside this range. Full sun is great for mint, but if you’re in an especially warm, dry climate, you may want to provide the plants with some shade in the afternoon to prevent sunscald. Check out our article How to Grow Spearmint for more information.
Fresh oregano has small little leaves that cluster together on their stems. It’s best known as a part of Italian cuisine, especially pizza and pasta. It’s also a part of many Greek dishes. (Note: If your recipe asks for Mexican oregano, marjoram is actually a better substitute than oregano.)
Oregano doesn’t need a ton of water, but if you’ll be cooking with it, keep the moisture topped up so the leaves will be plump. Plant oregano after the last frost in your area. Seeds or small plants need full sun, at least six hours each day, to grow healthy and strong. In the winter, this perennial herb needs less direct sunlight than the rest of the year. Protect oregano from root rot in winter by keeping it somewhere it’s covered and dry. Check out our article How to Grow Oregano for more information.
Parsley is so much more than just a pretty curly plate garnish! It can be used in lots of dishes, from herb butter to roasted vegetables to soup. The mild, fresh flavor of parsley adds a lot of depth and nuance to anything it’s paired with. When you think of parsley, you probably imagine the curly type, but there is flatleaf parsley you can grow as well.
Parsley is different from most other herbs in that you can grow it in full shade or partial shade. Don’t mulch your parsley, as excess moisture in the environment can lead to disease. You can encourage strong growth with a slow-release fertilizer, applied according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or by amending your soil with compost. Check out our article How to Grow Parsley for more information.
Rosemary is one of the most distinct herbs when it comes to appearance. Compared to other herbs, rosemary has thick, woody stems. The fleshy little needle-like leaves make rosemary bushes resemble small pine trees when they’re trimmed into a triangular shape. In winter, rosemary blossoms with blue blooms.
Rosemary has a green, peppery, citrusy flavor that’s unlike anything else. It makes a great meat marinade, pairs well with potatoes, and makes a delectable loaf of bread.
Growing rosemary in zone 6 or 7 will require a bit of shelter from the elements. Rosemary thrives on neglect, and often the cause of a plant’s downfall is too much water or too much fertilizer. Check out our article How to Grow Rosemary Herbs at Home for more information.
Thyme has tiny little leaves that appear along thin, woody stems. Unlike most herbs, thyme will tolerate a little foot traffic, so it can be used as an edible groundcover.
Thyme has been used for centuries in Asia, Northern Africa, and Europe. You can get in on the action yourself by using thyme in meat marinades or with roasted vegetables.
It’s much easier to start thyme from a little plant than it is to start with seeds. You can buy a transplant or take a rooted cutting from a friend with an established thyme plant. Place your cutting or transplant in average soil mixed with a handful of fine gravel or coarse sand. Thyme thrives in dry, gritty soil with a bit of sand or gravel in it. Make sure to plant thyme in a spot where it gets full sun, at least six hours of sunshine every day. Check out our article How to Grow Thyme for more information.
Now you know not only what the most common herbs are, but how they’re used and how to take care of them. All you need to do now is start your herb garden.