Beginner Herb Garden – What Herbs to Grow
So You Want to Start an Herb Garden…
As I write this, it’s the day after Christmas. And what season comes after Christmastime? To a plant lover and gardener, it’s Seed Catalog season, of course! Haha! As the darkest day of the year has just passed and the holiday season is winding down, my thoughts turn to the hope of spring and the joy of growing my favorite herbs again! Looking at those seed catalogs can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time. If you’re starting a beginner herb garden – what to grow is the first question that comes up.
But First, Where to Plant
When looking at the seed catalogs or online, we want to start by ordering whatever we wish we could grow. But we need to be very realistic. Where are you planning to grow your herbs? How many hours does the sunshine in that area each day? Some herbs do fine with 4-6 hours of sun, but others enjoy all day sun. It’s important to read the recommendations that the seed seller provides and take it seriously. I’ve learned the hard way with plants becoming straggly–looking for the sun in the shade, or wilting from the hot summer afternoon sun.
How much space you have also will determine the number and types of herbs you grow. If you have a huge yard, then you may want to plant some medicinal bushes like Elderberry, Hawthorne, Chasteberry, and more. If you have a sunny spot, then the sun-loving herbs like basil, tarragon, and rosemary will work lovely. If you’re short on space or want your plants close to the kitchen, then consider container gardening.
Container herb gardens are fun and can be so pretty. One good thing about them is you can move them around your yard to find the best spot for your herbs. You can even move them inside to have your culinary herbs fresh throughout the winter months. Container herb gardens work great if you don’t have space or time to have an in-ground garden, too. They do require daily watering if they’re in the sun, so you need to remember them! Most of the culinary herbs like thyme, oregano, chives, parsley, savory, and basil grow well in pots.
Growing Culinary Herbs
So the next thing to consider is, what herbs do you use most already? Growing culinary herbs are very rewarding because you get to use them all season and preserve the rest for use during wintertime. Culinary herbs are what I started with years ago and what really got me loving growing herbs. It’s so much fun to step out the door and clip your own herbs to use in your salads or cooking. So which herbs do you like to cook with the most? A few popular and easy-to-grow culinary herbs are the annuals: basil, cilantro, lemongrass, and parsley; and the perennials: oregano, thyme, chives, sage, and mints. (Cilantro often just goes right to seed for me, so, while it’s easy to grow, I have stopped trying to grow it and buy a huge bundle of fresh at the grocery store for 59 cents!}
Growing Medicinal Herbs
As with culinary herbs, you want to ask again, which medicinal herbs do you use the most. When I started learning about medicinal herbs, I decided to grow herbs which we use often–or herbs which I wanted to start using. The culinary herbs are all medicinal also, so if you start there, learn their medicinal uses!
Also ask yourself, which herbs are easy to find in the wild (and by wild I mean you yard or a nearby field!) and can be picked sustainably? In my yard right now we have Cleavers, Dandelion, Violets, Chickweed, Self-heal, Jewelweed, Yarrow, Plantain, Creeping Charlie, and others. Many medicinal herbs are easy to forage from your yard, but why not plant them in your garden, too. It’s so fun to have a patch of tenderly cared for “weeds” to make your neighbors gasp. Hahaha! If you want to do this, I encourage you to grow dandelions, plantain, chickweed, cleavers, yarrow and self-heal for sure! I have come to greatly admire these six plants for their nearly miracouly healing abilities. For more information about edible and medicinal weeds that may be growing in your yard right now, read my article: Weeds You Should Let Grow in Your Garden.
So for your medicinal beginner herb garden – what to grow are definitely the herbs you use right now or which you want to start using for yourself.
A Warning about Mints
Mints make marvelous container garden plants! Why? For one, mints are pretty forgiving. They do okay if you water a too much and can tolerate some drought if you forget. And expecially because if you put them in your garden, mints will eventually take over. Mints are perennials that spread by underground–and above ground–runners. They tend to be very hardy, and even a deep freeze doesn’t usually kill them–even in containers. Some favorite mints to grow are peppermint, spearmint, and lemon balm.
Growing Herbs – When Fresh is Best!
A big reason why I grow certain herbs is because in some cases, fresh is best. For instance, peppermint and spearmint are still quite potent, both in flavor and medicinal attributes when dried. Lemon Balm, on the other hand, tastes better and stronger–more lemony–when it is fresh. Chives and Cilantro leaves are other herbs that loose most of their flavor when dried. Sometimes it takes some experimenting to find out which herbs completely lose their flavor when dried, but you can be sure about these three. For your beginner herb garden – what to grow are herbs that are best when used fresh!
Likewise, there are some medicinal herbs which are much more potent when made into tinctures at their peak of growth. Some are St. John’s Wort, Skullcap, Lemon Balm, Chickweed, Cleavers, and Milky Oats, so if these are herbs you use often then you may want to grow them yourself to make your own herbal tinctures.
Growing Herbs that are Expensive or Hard to Find
Another reason I have grown herbs over the years is that some are either expensive to buy or hard to find. One herb I really love to cook with is Summer Savory. It’s not always easy to find in the grocery stores, so I grow that when I can, and dry it for winter. (I’ve grown Winter savory, too, which is an easy-to-grow perennial, but, to me, it doesn’t taste nearly as good.) To learn more about drying herbs, read my article: How to Dry Herbs – Without a Dehydrator.
Growing Herbs for Beauty
One herb I like to grow for its beauty is Bee Balm. It’s very easy to grow and has beautiful blooms. Many herbs you need to harvest before they bloom for optimal flavor and potency, but Bee Balm is an exception. Bee Balm comes in many varieties and colors, some grow only to about 12 inches and others grow over four feet tall! Their blossoms are so abundant that I don’t feel at all sad to pick some of the petals to sprinkle in my salad. Last year I grew Valerian and Marshmallow and both had pretty blooms that lasted a long time, and this year I also want to grow some Joe Pye Weed varieties. Many herbs have beautiful flowers and are worth growing just for that!
And Don’t Forget the Bees and Pollinators
Lastly, if you want to help support the bees, hummingbirds, and pollinators, planting flowering herbs like Bee Balm and others is a great way to provide them food. Consider planting herbs that bloom for long periods of time as well as a variety of herbs so that something is blooming from early spring through fall.
For more ideas about deciding which herbs to grow, check out my article: How to Decide Which Medicinal Herbs to Buy and Which to Grow Yourself, Weeds to Let Grow in Your Garden, Coltsfoot Honey, and More Weeds to Let Grow in Your Garden.