By Erin Marissa Russell
There are many reasons for a gardener to choose aromatic herbs for the garden. Some gardeners want to make sachets, potpourris, or raise the herbs to use their fragrance in other ways. Some gardeners want to use the scent of these herbs in homemade bath or beauty treatments. And some of us simply enjoy walking through the garden to experience the aroma of these herbs in the freshest way possible. Whatever your reason is, if you love herbs for their sweet scent, here are 10 varieties you should be sure to plant in your garden.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
The fragrant leaves of the anise hyssop plant have a distinctive scent that’s similar to licorice. The plant, which is sometimes called fragrant giant hyssop, blue giant hyssop, or lavender giant hyssop, is actually not a true hyssop plant despite the implication of its common names.
Anise hyssop is actually a member of the mint plant family that is hardy for gardeners in zones 3 to 8. The plants spread out a small taproot that helps distribute rhizomes underground, and above ground, they form small clumps of foliage between two to four feet tall and one to three feet wide.
The green leaves have lighter-colored undersides and will sometimes feature a purple sheen when they first emerge, and the perennial plant produces large spires of blue-lavender flowers from the summer into the fall. Anise hyssop is most frequently put to use in teas, as a flavoring in jellies or jams, or eaten raw as a component of a salad.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Hyssop.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
The classic basil plant is known for its aroma, which is central to so many Italian and Asian dishes. However, in addition to the many different varieties of Italian and Asian basil on the market, there are also flavored varieties, each with its own distinctive scent. These include lemon basil, lime basil, and cinnamon basil. Basil flourishes in warm weather and needs leaves to be picked as they mature so the plant will put out the largest possible harvest. Feature homegrown basil front and center in dishes such as summer rolls, pesto, or Caprese salad.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Basil.
Bee Balm (Monarda)
Bee balm is also called wild bergamot, and the aromatic foliage and gorgeous flowers in shades of pink, purple, white, or red invite pollinators from honeybees to hummingbirds to flit by the garden. You can plant bee balm either in the spring or in the fall, and although the plant will tolerate a spot in partial sun, it won’t really thrive without exposure to full sunshine.
Bee balm plants grow to reach heights of three or four feet tall, with the same amount of spread. However, dwarf cultivars are available that stay closer to 15 inches tall, with an 18-inch to 24-inch spread.
Find out more in our article What You Need to Know About the Bee Balm Plant.
Chocolate Mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Chocolate’)
Any type of mint plant makes a great addition to an aromatic garden, but the chocolate mint plant has an extra dimension of taste and fragrance. All kinds of mint plants spread and multiply so prolifically that they’re considered invasive in most gardens.
The best way to fight back against this problem is to grow mint as part of a container garden, with the pot controlling the plant’s spread. You can even maintain the look of an in-ground herb garden by burying the container the mint plant is growing inside underground.
Use the leaves of your chocolate mint plant to add its unique, fresh cocoa-minty flavor to desserts, or make a pitcher of tea something special by muddling in some homegrown mint.
Find out more in our article How to Grow and Use Mint.
Curry (Bergera koenigii)
Although in Indian cuisine, curry powders are seasoning blends that vary widely by region and household, the leaves of the curry plant are also called upon to impart their own aroma and flavor to lots of dishes. However, it’s important to note that the flavor of the curry plant’s leaves is quite different than your usual curry powder blend. Instead, the taste of curry leaves is a well-balanced accompaniment to the stronger spices used in curry powder mixes.
When curry leaves are used in a dish, their taste tends to come in as a background dimension, with the more pungent flavors of the curry powder playing the most noticeable role. The leaves are added to soups, sauces, and stewed or braised dishes early in the cooking process, giving the oils time to release into the dish, and the leaves are removed prior to serving, much like bay leaves are used in European cuisine.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Curry Leaf Plant.
When you start considering sweet-smelling herbs, one of the first plants to come to mind will almost certainly be the lavender plant. Lavender plants resemble a stand of tall grass, reaching 20 to 20 inches tall with the same spread when the plant is in bloom.
When not in bloom, the flower stalks die back, and plants may only reach a foot or so in height. The tops of each stalk burst into bloom in summer, as early as May in mild regions. The first wave of blooms is followed by another flowering period in June and another between late summer and fall.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Lavender.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm plants sometimes go by the names common balm and balm mint, which makes sense as the plants resemble those from the mint family. The aroma of lemon balm’s foliage is also similar to a cross between lemon and mint, making for an invigorating, fresh scent that works well in household air fresheners and beauty products alike.
A lemon balm plant can grow to between two and three feet tall, but trimming the plant back frequently helps keep it in good shape, so you’ll want to plan for a hefty harvest each time the plant is pruned.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis).
Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)
The standard sage plant is a classic of the herb garden and lends its flavor to holiday dishes such as dressing as well as playing a role in holiday meat marinades. However, pineapple sage adds a tropical flair to what you get from the standard sage plant, with a hint of pineapple in the plant’s aroma and flavor.
The leaves are often used to make herbal tea, and they also serve as a component in fruit salads or can be layered in a container with sugar to make flavor-infused sugar. The plants prefer full sunshine and sandy soil that provides plenty of drainages.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Sage.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
It’s possible that rosemary is the most aromatic herb in the garden, with a pungent woodsy, piney scent that’s represented in the food rosemary is used to season.
If you grow rosemary in your herb garden, you’ll find so many ways to use the plant, both in the kitchen and to add some scent to cleaning products, bath salts, and more. Rosemary loves sunshine as well as rocky, poor soil, so it makes a great addition to fill out spots in the garden where it’s hard to grow much of anything.
Add rosemary’s aroma and flavor to dishes like meat marinades, breads, roast and mashed potatoes, roast vegetables, soups, stews, sauces, and more.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Rosemary Herbs at Home.
Scented Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
Scented geraniums aren’t a single variety of the flower. Instead, they’re a group of geraniums that all have aromatic foliage.
In order to release their fragrance, the leaves of these geraniums must be gently crushed or otherwise bruised. These varieties bloom as well, with some having flowers so small it’s easy for them to go without notice, while other varieties have blossomed so lovely you’ll do a double-take.
The names of scented geranium varieties will clue you in as to their scent, with types on the market that smell like lemon, lime, rose, or peppermint.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Geranium Flowers.
Now you know which herbs to choose from so you can have the sweetest smelling garden on the block. Herbs are easy plants to grow and tend to do well in a sunny windowsill for those gardeners who aren’t in a region where they can be grown indoors. That means there’s nothing to stop you from putting together an aromatic herb garden of your very own today.