Growing herbs is a great way to start gardening and save money on groceries. Below are 8 essential herbs that anyone can grow.
No matter if you have a large garden or no garden, a green thumb or a black one like me, everyone can grow some herbs.
Herbs are super easy to grow – if I can grow them anyone can – and they make an inexpensive but tasty and healthy addition to just about any dish you cook.
Fresh herbs are essential for wholefood cooking; they add flavour and nutrients.
they cost a fortune if you buy them from the shops.
And they don’t last long in the fridge, making herbs one of the most common foods to be wasted.
Instead, if you grow your own and they are practically free and you don’t need to worry about storage or waste.
Tips for growing herbs at home
You don’t need a garden to grow herbs – they do fine in an old tin can on a sunny windowsill. Or you can grow them vertically on a sunny wall if you’re short on space.
Start from seed if you’re keen, or pick up some seedlings, which is the easier option (I like the easier option). You can even pick up herb seedlings in the supermarket.
Let your herbs to go to seed, and they will self-seed for years to come, providing you with free herbs season after season.
If you have a sunny window, grow some herbs in pots indoors. Indoor growing allows you to grow herbs all year round if you live in a cold climate.
Herbs generally don’t need a lot of fuss. They do best if you don’t over-water or overfeed them, especially woody herbs like rosemary and thyme, which are used to growing in harsh conditions.
The picture above is the little garden in the driveway near our door. When I dug it up, it was rocky, sandy and uninhabitable for all but the hardiest of weeds.
A bit of compost and cow poo and the plants are now thriving. In fact, our rosemary (below) now gets trimmed regularly into a hedge. It’s in full sun all day long all year round and we never water it. It goes to show you can grow herbs anywhere under the worst of conditions.
Out the back, we periodically have parsley, garlic chives, lemon balm, coriander that’s going to seed, basil and some very sad looking mint. The bracken in the garden, by the way, keeps the cats out.
Most of these herbs self-seed and come back year after year, even after months of neglect. The mint and basil will pop up everywhere and the parsley comes back from near-death after a little bit of rain.
8 Essential Herbs to grow at home
Below is my pick of the best herbs to grow at home. Whether you have a pot on a windowsill or balcony, a vertical garden on a sunny wall, or a whole garden, it’s easy to grow a few herbs for cooking.
Chives are useful in many dishes in the kitchen where you want to impart a subtle onion flavour. Add to salads, fritters, savoury muffins, scrambled eggs, steamed vegetables or use as a garnish on stews and soups.
Chives are a hardy, easy to grow herb. We actually grow garlic chives – they’ve been in the same pot now for 6 years, there’s almost no soil left, they hardly get water, but they thrive nevertheless. That’s how easy they are to grow. You can grow them in the soil or in a pot, even inside on a sunny windowsill.
Every year, chives die back, but don’t pull them out, they’ll come back next season.
Every few years, you can divide the clumps and replant or share with your neighbours.
Parsley is the king of the herbs in the kitchen and an easy herb to grow. It can be added to just about anything and used as a garnish for the rest.
Parsley is rich in vitamins and minerals including C, B12, K and A, which means it is great for your immune and nervous systems. It helps flush excess fluid out of the body and can help control blood pressure if you eat enough of it.
Choose between the curly leaf or the flat-leaf Italian variety, or plant both. Parsley will grow happily in a shady spot, so if you’ve got a bare patch, try planting parsley.
Parsley is an annual, so it will eventually go to seed and die down, although our parsley is still going strong after a couple of years. If you leave it, it will self-seed, keeping you in parsley forever.
Let’s not forget the rosemary, a hardy plant that tolerates hot and cold climates.
Studies are showing that sniffing rosemary actually does improve memory – at least in rats.
Rosemary grows as either a bush or a ground cover. Left alone in a garden bed with plenty of space, it can grow into a large bush. Or you can grow it as a clipped hedge.
It can also be grown successfully in pots, but it won’t grow as big.
Once established, you can harvest this herb all year round.
Rosemary is nice with roast lamb, tossed through roast vegetables, or cooked with sautéed mushrooms and goes lovely in a homemade herb damper.
Like Rosemary, thyme is another hardy herb. It likes full sun and dry gritty soil, perfect for neglectful gardeners like me.
There are many varieties of thyme, including the delicious lemon thyme and mother-of-thyme that is planted as a ground cover and will tolerate foot traffic.
You can use thyme to flavour stews and sauces by dropping a whole stem into your cooking and removing it at the end.
If you want to keep the thyme in the dish, strip the leaves off before adding as the stem is quite woody. Small leaves don’t need chopping.
Thyme is used in the traditional French bouquet garni, along with parsley and a bay leaf.
Basil is probably my favourite herb to grow and eat. As it is a subtropical plant, it grows really well here in QLD all year round. During the wet season, you can practically watch it grow and it can get to be as big as a metre tall.
Basil is usually an annual so if you live in a colder climate it will die off as the weather cools.
But if you let it go to seed and let the seeds drop, you can get baby basils popping up everywhere once the weather warms up again.
Grow it where it gets plenty of sun and water and adds lots of compost to the soil before planting.
Basil is the star of pesto. It also makes a lovely addition to pizzas and pasta. Add it at the very last minute if you are going to cook it because the flavour will diminish with cooking.
Grow oregano in full sun in well-draining soil. It will grow bushier if you cut it back regularly, so harvest away.
Oregano is a perennial, so will continue to grow for years to come.
Once you put in mint, you have it for life. Even when it dies back from neglect, a little rain will see it spring up in random places again.
This can be a good thing if you have a shady spot where nothing grows. Mint will.
However, if you don’t want your mint to take over the garden, grow it in pots.
Mint is a low-maintenance herb to grow, but it does like plenty of water.
This perennial plant often dies down over winter but will come back. Keep it chopped to prevent it from growing straggly.
Mint is great in homemade juices or smoothies, salads, in wraps, tossed through steamed vegetables, made into a mint sauce for the Sunday lamb roast, or brewed as a tea.
8. WILDCARD: GROW YOUR FAVOURITE HERB
There are dozens of other herbs that can be grown, from the familiar to the exotic, so the last essential herb to grow is your own particular favourite.
For me, that’s coriander, a delicious addition to curries, stir-fries, nachos, rice paper wraps and homemade sushi.
Sage comes in at a very close second.
Some people love tarragon, or dill might be your herb of choice.
If you live in the subtropics, lemongrass is a nice to throw in a corner (it can grow BIG though). Ginger and turmeric plants are both ornamental and practical.
My neighbour, who has recently moved here from India grows Fenugreek. Apart from it being used extensively in Indian cooking, it is also traditionally used for diabetes.
You could also grow your own stevia plant, a bay tree, a curry bush…lots of options depending on the cuisine you like to eat.
Everyone can grow a few herbs, regardless of space. Homegrown herbs make a cheap, delicious and nutritious addition to just about any meal, taking it from ok to gourmet.