hand holding herbs

How to grow herbs

There are dozens of different species and varieties of herbs that can be grown, but a few are particularly easy to grow. Here are few of the easiest herbs to grow in your garden:

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is an annual and can be started with seeds.

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is grown as an annual. The fresh leaves are called cilantro, and the seeds are called coriander.

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is considered an annual, famously used for pickles. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a biennial often grown as an annual that comes in both curly and flat-leaved varieties.

Mint (Mentha spicataM. x Piperita) is a spreading perennial that needs to be planted in a container.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are a clumping-forming perennial with beautiful flowers and tasty leaves.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a low-growing spreading perennial perfect for the small spaces in the front of the garden.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare subsp. hirtum) is a perennial that is a beautiful addition to the garden and is used as a flavoring in a Mexican or Italian dish. 

Best growing conditions for herbs

Herbs grow best in the same conditions as most vegetables. Plant them in full sun with at least six hours of sunlight a day. Some species will grow in part-sun, receiving two to four hours of direct sunlight each day. Herbs will grow well under many soil conditions, except for wet, poorly drained soils. Provide well-drained conditions where grounds are allowed to dry out slightly between watering. Herbs do better in soils with low to medium fertility; additional fertilizer applications are not typically needed. Too much fertilizer produces lots of foliage that is low in flavor. 

How to harvest herbs

Most herbs can be cut and used fresh throughout the growing season. They can also be harvested, dried, and stored for use during the winter months.

Many herbs, such as sage, rosemary, and basil, are grown for their leaves. Harvest the herbs when their flower buds are beginning to open. The oils in the leaves give each herb its distinctive flavor and aroma is at their maximum levels at this stage of growth. Remove approximately one-third of the current year’s growth on perennial herbs. Cut back annual herbs more severely. Make the cuts on annuals around 4 to 6 inches above the soil surface. The annuals can be cut at ground level when harvesting before the first frost in the fall. Most annual and perennial herbs can be harvested mid-summer and again in the fall.

Harvest herbs early in the morning after the dew evaporates and before the sun becomes hot. After harvesting, rinse the herbs in cool water. Shake off excess water and place them on paper towels to dry for a few minutes.

How to dry herbs

Air drying is the most popular method to dry herbs. To dry whole branches or stems, gather eight to 12 stems in a bunch. Tie the ends of the stems together and hang each bunch upside down in a warm (70 to 80 F), dark, well-ventilated location. The herbs should be dry in two to four weeks. When thoroughly dry, strip the leaves from the plants. Crush or crumble the leaves and store them in airtight jars in a cool, dry place.

Another way to dry herbs is to place them on a drying tray. A simple drying tray consists of a fine mesh screen or cheesecloth attached to a wooden frame. A small window screen also works well. Place wooden blocks under the corners of the drying tray to ensure good air circulation. Place a single layer of leaves or stems on the drying surface and keep the herbs in a warm, dry area until they are thoroughly dry.

To oven, dry spread a layer of leaves or stems on a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan. Place the herbs in a warm (up to 180 F) oven for three to four hours. Leave the oven door open and stir the herbs periodically until thoroughly dry.

Some herbs, such as dill, caraway, and coriander, are valued for their seeds. Harvest the seedheads just before they turn brown. Cut off the entire seedhead and place it in a paper bag. Then place the bags in a warm, dry location. After drying, shake the seeds loose in the bag. Collect the seeds once they are dehydrated.


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