A Guide to Growing Herbs for Cooking

Geoff Hodge's picture
By Geoff Hodge, Botanical Expert (BSc, MCIHort)
growing basil herb

Fresh herbs add so much to everyday cooking, that there are few kitchens that don’t boast a pot or two of parsley, basil or coriander. They each add interesting flavours and tastes to all manner of hot and cold dishes.

In Brief

Growing some herbs such as mint, rosemary and thyme indoors can provide a year-round crop of useful leaves. In the case of mint, because it will be grown in a container, the roots will be kept restricted and won’t run riot throughout your garden soil.

The right sort of care will reward you and your family with more exciting food and fresh inspiration week after week. Here are a few tips on getting started and keeping a wide range of herbs in tip-top condition.

Buying plants

The easiest way to grow herbs is to buy small pots of young plants from your garden centre. These can then be potted up into slightly larger pots for indoors or on the patio or they can be planted out in the garden. Many herbs are very ornamental and can be added to your flower beds and borders where they will look fabulous.

Growing from seed

You can buy packets of seed from your local garden centre or mail order from seed companies such as Dobies, Suttons or Thompson & Morgan.

Many herbs can be grown from seed and will germinate easily when cared for at home. Start with a pot filled with a seed and cutting compost. Level and gently firm the compost surface, then water sparingly so the compost is just moist. Scatter the seeds thinly over the compost surface and if the packet tells you, cover the seeds with a thin layer of more compost. Place the container on a windowsill and cover with a plastic bag until the seeds germinate. Most seeds including parsley, coriander, chives and basil can be left to grow in their original container.

Harvest leaves from the top to encourage your plants to produce fresh new sideshoots and so many more leaves to pick.

Getting the most from shop-bought pots of herbs

These pots of fully-growing seedlings providing instant ready to harvest leaves, are not easy to keep for a long-time. Most of us either drown the roots with cold tap water regularly or allow them to dry out between watering. And what compost there is doesn’t contain enough plant food to support the plants long term.

You can get them to be productive for much longer by watering with tepid water occasionally. Lift the pot to judge when the pot is much lighter and needs watering. Use a plant food to encourage fresh new growth and harvest carefully by pinching out the top leaves when needed.

Alternatively, you can carefully divide up the plants and pot them up in pots of good potting compost.

Top 10 herbs


Mint A vital ingredient to accompany roast lamb, boiled potatoes and peas. There are many different mints that also add a hint of other flavours including apple mint, ginger mint and Moroccan mint.

Mint can be grown from seed, although your neighbour may have some roots that can be transplanted. For best results plant seeds or roots into its own planter. The simple pillow of rich compost will provide a suitable size container and enough space for your crop to thrive. Once established feed your plant every fortnight to ensure a fresh supply of strong new shoot.

Oregano & Marjoram

Oregano Useful herbs often used in dishes originating in Italy, Spain and Greece, especially important to flavour authentic Moussaka. This tallish perennial plant (80cm to 100cm) thrives well in a sunny garden border, but can also be grown indoors on a sunny windowsill for several months.

Sow seeds thinly in a pot of well drained seed and cutting compost. Keep in a warm place above 20°C and germination should take about three weeks. When the new plants have developed true leaves, transplant 6 seedlings to a herb planter to give them room to produce a good root system. Begin picking the top of shoots when they reach 10cm tall. During the summer move the plants to a sunny spot in the garden.


Basil Sweet green basil is the standard green leaf partner to tomato dishes, spaghetti sauce and pizza. Sweet Genovese is the usual variety although you can also find varieties that offer hints of lemon, lime, and cinnamon or purple foliage or frilly edges.

This tender annual must be grown indoors during autumn and winter and makes a useful addition to any windowsill. Sow seeds in pots every six weeks to have fresh supplies throughout the winter.

More information on growing basil


Chives A member of the onion family, grown for the grass-like leaves that carry a subtle hint of onion rather than the harsh flavour of fresh onion bulbs. Cut up fine, the leaves are used in dishes to provide a mild yet distinctive onion flavour. A favourite for omelettes, cream cheese, sauces and of course to add to sour cream to liven up baked potatoes. You can also find chives that have a hint of garlic.

Start the seed growing in spring or autumn from seeds and keep the pots on a sunny windowsill, watering when the compost dries out. Instead of trimming the tops with scissors, take out complete leaves to within 2cm of the compost. Remove any flower heads that form if you want to have a regular supply of grassy leaves.


Corrinader Grown for their spicy seeds and their green leaves that are also know as Cilantro, this herb is a must in salads and as a fragrant green addition to Indian and Chinese curries. The seeds are a vital ingredient to curry powder.

Easy and quick to grow, once sown outside it often self-seeds year after year. For indoor pots of this useful herb sow seeds every 6 weeks in a seed and cutting compost. Position in a warm sunny spot and keep watered well. A feed of herb plant food every fortnight will ensure the plants produce tender fresh leaves.

More information on growing coriander


Sage A hardy perennial bush that produces pungent green leaves that are used sparingly in sausages, forcemeat stuffing, bean and tomato dishes.

Can be grown from seed, but as you will only need one or two plants they are best bought as seedlings from your local garden centre. For a decorative indoor herb garden, plant the pot in a Miracle-Gro Gro Your Own Herb Planter along with three other herb plants such as thyme, tarragon and winter savoury.


Tyme A low growing shrub that is available in three varieties: common thyme, lemon thyme and caraway thyme. The foliage is used sparingly in soups, stews and as an ingredient of forcemeat stuffing.

Can be grown from seed but as only one plant of each variety may be needed by the most adventurous of cooks, it is easier to buy ready grown seedling plants and pot them up in a herb planter. This can then be placed on the kitchen window sill or on a sunny patio. Water occasionally when the compost has almost dried out and feed every fortnight with herb plant food.


Rosemary A tallish shrub (60cm to 80cm), that produces needle-like leaves and blue flowers on straight wooden stems that make aromatic skewers for meat and vegetable kebabs. The leaves are a traditional flavouring for lamb, pork and veal and are often used with poultry and eggs.

Rosemary can be grown from seed, although germination is often slow and erratic. Better to buy a seedling plant in spring and to plant out in summer. Rosemary will enjoy a sunny spot in shrub or flower border or you can plant in a container that can be placed in a sunny but sheltered place on the patio. The plants are not long-lived as they are slightly tender and after a few years need replacing as they become bare and straggly.

More information on growing rosemary


Parsley Whether curly-leaved for decoration or flat-leaved for most flavour, parsley is a must have herb for every kitchen. A natural for fish sauces, soups and stews these green leaves can also be deep-fried until crisp and served with many dishes.

Parsley seeds take a long time to germinate and many people give up before the plants emerge - sometimes a couple of months after sowing.

It’s easier to buy a pot from the supermarket and to split the root ball into four and to plant these sections up in a herb planter. The extra leg room for new roots to form and extra moisture the compost holds will help to make the plants live longer. Simply pick stems and leaves from the plant frequently to ensure new leaves form at regular intervals.


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