• Rock Rousseau

HOW TO Start an Herb Garden

Here are some tips to help you start an herb garden that will give you the culinary herbs you need for flavor, health, and nutrition in your meals. Before you begin, determine which herbs you will use most often in your recipes. The list below contains the most commonly used herbs, the types of meals they can be used for, their health benefits, and how to grow and sustain them successfully.

The most common herbs that are listed below include:

  • Basil

  • Cilantro (or Coriander)

  • Dill Weed

  • Oregano

  • Parsley

  • Peppermint (or mint, spearmint)

  • Rosemary

  • Sage

  • Tarragon


Basil is one of the most popular kitchen herbs around the world. It’s refreshing and remarkably versatile. Known for it’s anise-like flavor and intense clove-like aroma, dried or fresh, basil is great for cooking or for creating an invigorating atmosphere anywhere in your home.

Best used in recipes

It can liven up a pasta sauce or salad, even a cocktail or dessert. There’s pretty much nothing that basil can’t hang with, which is why it should be the go-to herb for most of your recipes. There are many varieties — the sweet Italian kind, known as Sweet Genovese; Thai basil, most often used in Asian cuisine; and Purple Opal basil, a fun addition to cocktails — there are actually more than 60 types of basil to choose from. To get the strongest basil flavor, add fresh leaves in at the end of your cooking (though that may vary with the recipe). However you use it, don’t be shy. Experiment with adding basil to recipes you might not think to use it in. We promise, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. It always pairs nicely with tomatoes and white cheeses, which makes it a staple in Italian cooking.

Some common recipes include lasagna, salmon, bruschetta, Caprese salad, pesto, Chicken Parmesan,

Health benefits include:

Basil, of course, is used to add flavor to a variety of recipes, but what may surprise you is the many benefits of basil that make it well-known for its immunity-enhancing properties. Basil extract, or basil essential oil, is proven to help prevent a wide range of health conditions, which makes it one of the most important medical herbs known today.

  • Anti-inflammatory

  • Antioxidant

  • Cancer-fighter

  • Pain-reducer (analgesic)

  • Fever-reducer (antipyretic)

  • Diabetes-preventer

  • Liver-protector (hepatoprotective)

  • Blood vessel-protector

  • Anti-stress solution

  • Immune-booster

Grows best in:

Grow your own basil from seed by sowing indoors in the early spring, then transplanting outdoors at least two weeks after danger of frost has passed. Basil can also be easily grown from clippings. To get the most fresh basil leaves from your plants, be sure to remove the flower stalks from mature growth when they appear. Alternately, you may want to leave some flower stalks as basil blossoms smell wonderful and will attract pollinators to your garden.

  • Soil: Basil does its best in well-drained, moist soil with a neutral pH. I add a rich compost to the soil at the beginning of the season. Not much more soil amendment is necessary. In fact, if the soil is too rich, basil loses some of its flavor intensity.

  • Sun: Basil grows well in warm environments that receive about six hours of sun each day. I have a couple of basil plants growing in an area that receives only four hours of sun, but they aren't as prolific as the others. My best basil plants actually grow in an east-facing area that doesn't get the scorching, midday sun.

  • Water: Give basil water when the soil is dry to the touch, doing your best to water the plant at its base and not all over its leaves.

  • Spacing: Depending upon the variety, basil grows anywhere from 12 to 24 inches in height. Space basil plants 12 to 16 inches apart. If you're limited on space or only grow in containers, consider spicy globe basil, which tends to form a small, mounding habit.

  • Companion planting: Plant basil among other herbs and vegetables with similar lighting and watering needs, like tomatoes or parsley. Some even say tomatoes taste better when they neighbor basil. Plant basil alongside chamomile, lettuce, peppers, and oregano. I even like to keep a few pots of basil on my back porch to deter mosquitoes.


Cilantro is high in antioxidant vitamin C, as well as several vitamins and minerals.The powerful flavor and aroma of Cilantro makes an excellent seasoning for meats, salsas, and Caribbean dishes. Coriander seed adds a warm spicy flavor to chicken, vegetables, and soups. Cilantro is a popular herb popular around the globe that resembles flat leaf parsley at first glance, but at first sniff, transports you to the Mediterranean, Mexico, Asia, and India. Cilantro gives a fresh boost of flavor, without the addition of sea salt or other seasonings.

Best used in recipes

Cilantro packs a ton of flavor. Its bright and refreshing taste has the ability to liven up a dish with just a sprinkle on top. But this herb can do so much more than garnish dishes. Cilantro is the main ingredient in many sauces served atop grilled meats, it stars in fragrant Thai dishes, and some would argue that it’s essential for a good guacamole. This versatile herb is used in everything from guacamole and salsa, to curries, noodle dishes, and chimichurri sauces of Argentina. it pairs nicely with vegetables, meats, and spicy recipes. It is commonly used in tomato-based salsas, fajitas, and adds life to some of the lesser bold fish like cod and grouper.

Health benefits include:

Not only does this flavorful, bright herb have unlimited culinary applications, but surprisingly to many people cilantro benefits the body and has many known healing properties. It is also a revitalizing herb that aids with digestion and relieves inflammation that may cause gastric upset. Coriander seeds are known to have a positive impact on blood sugar, reducing stress in the liver and pancreas which promote better production of insulin as well as improved digestion.

Rids the Body of Heavy Metals, like arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, lead, and mercury can become resident in our tissues leading to heart disease, hormonal imbalances, neurological conditions, infertility, and so much more. Cilantro, also known scientifically as “Coriandrum sativum”, has been shown to bind these toxic metals together, loosening them from tissue, and facilitating their elimination from the body.

Cilantro is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and the caloric value is nearly nonexistent. It is a good source of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, E, K, calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. Just a ¼ cup of fresh cilantro provides 270 IU of Vitamin A, and 16% of the daily value recommended of vitamin K.

The vitamin K and calcium content of cilantro help to build strong bones, teeth, and hair. Cilantro is considered the “anti-diabetic” plant in some parts of Europe, and research shows that it helps to lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, supports healthy cardiovascular function, and much more.

Cilantro benefits your sleep cycle naturally and calms nerves, and can improve sleep quality through its natural sedative effects. A recent study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology found that high levels of cilantro extract produce the same levels of anti anxiety effects as the popular prescription drug, Valium (diazepam).

Grows best in:

Grow your own cilantro and coriander by sowing seeds directly outdoors during spring and summer. Once flower buds develop, leaves will become scarce. Harvest cilantro leaves as available and allow to re-sow from coriander seeds that drop from harvested plants to continue growing throughout the season. Harvest coriander by clipping dried brown seed stalks and placing them upside-down in a brown paper bag. After a few days, seed pods will split and release coriander seeds.

  • Soil: Plant cilantro in well-drained, loamy soil that has a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. Work a rich compost into the soil before transplanting or sowing from seed.

  • Sun: Cilantro thrives in full to part sun; however, cilantro will bolt when the temperatures climb. It is very sensitive to heat and, as a survival mechanism, the plant quickly sends up flowers and goes to seed.

  • Water: Water regularly to keep the soil moist.

  • Spacing: Plant seeds in succession, sowing 1 to 2 inches apart in two-week intervals. This ensures a longer, continual harvest. When an older plant bolts, there will be a newer plant to harvest.

  • Companion planting: Plant cilantro near dill, parsley, and basil. For positive results, I like to plant my cilantro alongside my tomato plants. Their added shade enables me to stretch my harvest in the warmer months.

  • Varieties: Cilantro can prove frustrating, since it is so quick to go to seed in the heat. Look for slow-bolting varieties, such as Costa Rica, Leisure, and Long Standing.


Dill is native to southwest Asia and India, though it's now grown world-wide. Any sunny windowsill or patch of garden will do, really. The stems are fairly tough, but the lacy leaves are tender and flavorful. You can buy dill dried, but the flavor isn't quite as deep. Dill has been around for centuries for both food and medicinal purposes. In the food industry, it’s primarily used for making those dill pickles that are commonly placed on grilled burgers and sandwiches. Dill seed, dill weed oil and fresh dill are the typical forms of dill and are often used by the food industry for added flavor in baked goods, snacks, condiments and meat products, and as ingredient in liqueurs. The fragrance industry has even taken advantage of dill by using it to produce soaps, perfumes, detergents, creams and lotions.

Best used in recipes:

Dill is fantastic with fish of all kinds. You can use it in a marinade or sprinkle it on toward the end of cooking. We sometimes like kneading dill into a bit of butter to melt over the fish and spread on our dinner rolls. Dill is also a nice pairing with many root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, and parsnips. Fresh dill is also a lovely addition mixed in with salad greens. It's the perfect bright flavor next to sweet butter lettuce and spicy arugula. You can also mix dill into cream cheese, sour cream, or yogurt to make a quick condiment or dip for chips.However you choose to use it, add dill toward the end of cooking. It's strong flavor is surprisingly delicate under heat and can diminish quickly. Some common recipes include creamed spinach, baked baby carrots, tomato salad, potato salad, baked salmon, tuna fish salad or sandwiches.

Health benefits include:

Dill weed provide a surprising amount of health benefits, both mentally and physically. Dill weed is a good source of calcium, manganese and iron, and as an antioxidant food, its flavonoids provide anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties that give it a whole host of incredible health benefits. A study conducted by the Department of Biostatistics and Demography at Khon Kaen University in Thailand looked at dill’s effects among students with primary dysmenorrhoea, also known as painful periods or menstrual cramps, that were in their late teens or early 20s. While the effects were not strong, some evidence of effectiveness for several supplements was clear in that they reduced some of the discomfort and pain associated with cramps, including dill.

Dill weed may actually work as a natural remedy for depression. A study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics aimed to investigate the antidepressant and analgesic properties of the aqueous extract of dill from the South of Morocco. Extract of the dill plant was administered to subjects and showed a significant antidepressant and analgesic effect when compared with the drug references (sertraline and tramadol).

Dill weed also provides amazing cholesterol-lowering benefits.

Grows best in:

Dill is easy to grow either indoors or in a garden, making it a great addition to any herb or vegetable garden. All you need is a sunny location and slightly acidic and well-drained soil. The best way how to grow dill is directly from seeds rather than from a transplant. Planting dill seed is easy. Dill planting is simply done by scattering the seeds in the desired location after the last frost, then lightly cover the seeds with soil. Water the area thoroughly. Care of Dill Weed Plants Growing dill plants and caring for dill plants is also very easy. Dill weed plants grow best in full sun. Other than this, dill will grow happily in both poor and rich soil or in damp or dry conditions.

Choose a location that gets 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. If you’re not sure about the conditions in your garden, spend a sunny day watching the way the shadows fall throughout the day, then pick the sunniest spot for your dill.[2]Dill is self-sowing, which means it produces seeds which will grow new plants, so choose a spot where you’ll want to grow dill for the next several years.If you don’t have a spot that gets 6-8 hours of sun each day, plant it in the sunniest spot you have available. Dill can tolerate some shade but it won’t be as bushy. Allow the soil to almost dry out between waterings. Dill doesn’t like too much water; however, you shouldn’t let the soil get completely dry or the plant could die. Check the soil each day by rubbing a little between your fingers, and add water when it starts to feel dry.[9]If you over-water the dill plant, it may turn yellow.


There are two main kinds of mint that we use for culinary purposes: spearmint and peppermint. Both have squared-off stems with bright green, spear-shaped leaves. Peppermint has a sharper flavor and more intense aroma, while spearmint tends to be more delicate and sweet. They grow everywhere and in a wide variety of climates, which is why the herb is found in so many world cuisines.Peppermint also contains the chemical menthol. This chemical affects the nerve endings in our mouths and makes our brains think the mouth is cooler than it really is. This is why minty beverages are great to sip while eating spicy foods.Peppermint is an excellent deterrent for many kinds of pests including rodents, ants, and spiders. Plant this pungent herb around your home and garden to keep harmful critters at bay.

Best used in recipes:

Spearmint and peppermint can be used interchangeably, in sweet and savory recipes, alike. It pairs well in everything from savory dishes with roasted meats and rich sauces, to lighter dishes, like simple vegetable side dishes, beverages like mojitos and tea, and desserts.Mint also has a number classic pairings. It is fantastic as a rub or in a sauce for lamb, and it pairs perfectly with fresh peas and new potatoes. Mint is found in Indian chutneys and Greek yogurt-cucumber tzatziki. And of course, mint and chocolate make the best of friends in the dessert realm.Peppermint makes a healthy addition to beverages and desserts. Add a sprig of peppermint leaves to berries and other fruits, coffee, or hot cocoa. Mix up a minty summertime refreshment or try some of these baked delights!

Health benefits include:

As an herbal remedy, peppermint tea can help to clear sinus congestion, soothe a headache, relax you after a hard day, or help you to stay alert without feeling wound up. The natural oils in peppermint act as a digestive aid, help to relieve menstrual cramps, and can even ease the symptoms of IBS.

Peppermint has a long history of use in folk medicine and aromatherapy. There are also some studies showing that peppermint in aromatherapy can help fight nausea. Studies have shown that peppermint can improve pain management in irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. It appears to work by relaxing the smooth muscles in the colon, which relieves pain experienced during bowel movements. It also helps to reduce abdominal bloating, which is a common digestive symptom.

Grows best in:

Grow your own peppermint from seed by sowing indoors, then transplanting outside at anytime up to 2 weeks prior to first frost. Peppermint seeds may also be direct sown outdoors and do not need to be covered with soil. Most mint seeds actually germinate better with no soil covering at all as they require lots of light to stimulate them out of dormancy. Peppermint is one of the easiest herbs to grow, but it can also become invasive if not maintained. For this reason, peppermint is often grown in containers.

  • Germination:10 – 15 days

  • Hardiness:Zones 5 – 11 (roots only)

  • Light preference:Sun / Part shade

  • Soil conditions:Damp, well-mulched soil

  • Fertilizer:Apply high-nitrogen fertilizer as needed

  • (depending on frequency of harvest.)

  • Height:Ground cover / 6 – 12”

  • Spacing:18”

  • Time to Harvest:throughout growing season


I think the Greeks got it right when they described oregano as "joy of the mountain." This aromatic, ancient culinary herb, also referred to as "wild marjoram," originates from the hilly, Greek countryside, and is now grown all over the world. There are actually two main categories of oregano: Mediterranean and Mexican. Emily wrote a great breakdown of these two different herbs. The main difference is that Mediterranean oregano is a member of the mint family, and Mexican oregano is a relative of lemon verbena. The flavors are slightly different, but the means to grow them are quite similar. Oregano is a must-have in a culinary garden. Its pungent, spicy, slightly bitter flavor pairs well with almost any vegetable preparation. And just as easy to grow as chives, oregano is another go-to for the first-time gardener.

Best used in recipes

In cooking, Oregano is often used for Greek-style dishes. It also makes an excellent seasoning for egg dishes, meats, poultry, legumes, and breads. You will also find Oregano in many Italian pasta dishes, bread, and oil-infused dips and sauces.

Health benefits include:

Oils distilled from oregano leaves can be used to treat digestive upset, parasitic infections including fungal infections, muscle aches and join pain. Possible uses include treating respiratory tract disorders, menstrual cramps, and urinary tract disorders. Applied topically, it may help treat a number of skin conditions, such as acne and dandruff. Oregano is also a natural insect repellent.

Grows best in:

Oregano is a low-maintenance herb, and it performs well both in the garden or indoors, when given the right conditions. Although oregano thrives in a warm climate, it is a hardy perennial that returns year after year, without much work. Older plants still yield delicious leaves, but their potency decreases once they reach three or four years in age. Grow your own oregano from seed by sowing indoors, then transplanting outdoors in early spring. When harvesting, remember that both Oregano leaves and flowers are edible and possess similar flavors. During cold months, oregano should be mulched or covered with a cold frame to protect roots from freezing.

Germination:7 – 14 days

Hardiness:Zones 4 – 9

Light preference:Full sun / Morning sun, afternoon shade (hotter climates)

Soil conditions:Well-drained soil, pH 6.5 – 7

Fertilizer:Apply high-nitrogen fertilizer once in spring when new growth begins to appear.

Height:ground cover / 8 – 24”


Time to Harvest:11 – 13 weeks


Parsley benefits the body in many ways and is considered a naturally effective treatment for a wide range of symptoms and diseases. Derived from the petroselinum plant, parsley and parsley essential oil have been used as a natural detox remedy, diuretic, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory agent for centuries in folk medicine.

Best used in recipes

In the kitchen, parsley makes a great addition to spice up your veggie dishes. Try parsley in pesto, tabbouleh, and salad dressings. Even when eaten in small amounts, there are numerous parsley health benefits because it’s packed with beneficial nutrients, essential oils and antioxidants — to the point that it’s often called a superfood.

Health benefits include:

As a natural anti-bacterial remedy, parsley can bolster your immune system and neutralize bad breath. Parsley is also a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which makes it great for digestion and detoxification. Though pregnant women should stay away from this herb as parsley is also known to induce uterine contractions and can cause miscarriage.

  • Inflammation

  • Oxidative stress, or free radical damage

  • Anemia

  • Bladder infection

  • Digestive problems, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

  • Kidney stones

  • Bad breath

  • Arthritis

  • Bloating, or edema

  • Gas

  • Acid Reflux

  • Constipation

  • Poor immunity

  • Skin problems

Grows best in:

Grow your own parsley from seed by sowing indoors, then transplanting outdoors in early spring. Mulch around plants to keep soil moist, but avoid letting mulch touch the stems to prevent rot. To promote thicker foliage, cut parsley down to stems in early fall. In the second year of growth, once flower stalk appear, parsley becomes bitter and unpalatable. You may wish to allow blooming plants to go to seed and harvest for replanting the following year.

Remember when planting parsley that this herb is a favorite food for Black Swallowtail larvae. Be sure to plant enough for yourself and for these brightly-striped critters as they will almost certainly appear on your parsley in the spring and early summer.

  • Germination:14 – 30 days

  • Hardiness:Biennial

  • Light preference:Sun / Part shade

  • Soil conditions:Rich, moist soil, pH 5.5 – 6.7

  • Fertilizer:Incorporate balanced fertilizer at planting time

  • then high-nitrogen every few weeks thereafter.

  • Height:varies

  • Spacing:12 – 18”

  • Time to Harvest:10 – 11 weeks


Rosemary is a Mediterranean shrub that has made its way into many world cuisines. It's an unusually tall and narrow plant with long woody stems and tough slender leaves. Unlike most other woody herbs, the flavor and aroma of rosemary is preserved very well when the herb is dried.It has a piney aroma and a distinctive sharp flavor, and can be used fresh or dried. Rosemary is an incredibly powerful herb and can easily overwhelm a dish if you use too much. It's best to start with the minimum called for in a recipe and work your way up to taste. Also, remember that the rosemary flavor will gain strength the longer a dish cooks, particularly those with a lot of liquid. The pungent aroma of rosemary is another natural deterrent for a number of garden pests including mosquitoes and other flying insects. Rosemary also repels cats!

Best used in recipes

When using fresh, the leaves are easily stripped off the stem by running your fingers along the stem from top to bottom in the opposite direction that the leaves grow. The leaves remain quite tough even when cooked, so we usually mince them as finely as possible before adding them to a dish.Rosemary has a place in everything from meat and chicken, to vegetables, soups, baked goods, and even cocktails. It can go into a marinade or braise, and get worked into a compound butter to melt over the finished dish. Add fresh or dried rosemary to fish, lamb, chicken, and wild game. Rosemary also compliments beans and sautéed mushrooms.

Health benefits include:

Rosemary is also a powerful natural remedy for soothing indigestion, neutralizing bad breath, and relieving pain. Use rosemary oil or herb-infused water to clear up dandruff, promote hair growth, and relieve skin irritation. The aroma of rosemary can help to clear the mind, quiet anxiety, and relieve everyday stress. The active ingredient in rosemary is called rosmarinic acid. This substance has been shown to suppress allergic responses and nasal congestion.

Grows best in:

You can grow your own rosemary from seed by sowing indoors, then transplanting outdoors in the spring. However, rosemary is much easier to grow from clippings as the germination rate of its seeds is very low. Rosemary does well with mulch to keep roots moist in summer and insulated in winter.

  • Germination:14 – 21 days

  • Hardiness:Zones 6 – 10

  • Light preference:Full sun

  • Soil conditions:Light, well-drained soil, pH 6 – 7

  • Fertilizer:Apply balanced fertilizer at time of transplant then again at first sign of new growth in spring.

  • Height:30 – 60”

  • Spacing:18 – 36”

  • Time to Harvest:11 – 14 weeks


Sage isn't a seasoning that you find in too many preparations. Its strong, distinct flavor easily dominates a dish and relegates it to the "occasional use" category.Sage had a strong reputation for its healing properties during the middle ages, and was even used to help prevent the plague. Sage is a member of the mint family, and it definitely shares a sharp aromatic potency with its mint cousins. Its greenish-gray, spear-shaped leaves are soft and woolly, with a pebbled texture. This herb, native to the Mediterranean, is sweet and somewhat bitter, with a pine-like flavor and aroma. It's also often described as having eucalyptus and citrus notes.Sage can be found and used fresh or dried and ground, though as with most herbs, the fresh leaves offer considerably more flavor.

Best used in recipes:

Sage pairs very well with chicken and other poultry, as well as pork and sausage. Sage and winter squash are also a frequent combination, one of the few pairings of sage with a sweet ingredient. You'll also find sage in a lot of northern Italian cooking - think of bean dishes, potato dishes, stuffed meats, savory breads, and pasta dishes.

Health benefits include: Current research indicates that sage may be able to improve brain function and memory, especially in people with Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease is accompanied by a drop in the level of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger in the brain. Sage inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine.

  • Helps with Alzheimer’s and Dementia Symptoms

  • Treats Diabetes Symptoms

  • Balances Cholesterol

  • Combats Obesity

  • Treats Menopausal Symptoms

  • Anti-Diarrheal Activity