Here you’ll find an overview of the different herbs for cooking. If you’re looking for more information about growing herbs, you’ll find it in our articles, growing herbs indoors and how to start growing herbs in your garden.
Growing herbs indoors can provide a year-round crop of useful leaves The right sort of care will reward you and your family with more exciting food and fresh inspiration week after week. Herbs are rich in phytonutrients and offer excellent health boosting properties so there really are only benefits to having them. Here are a few tips on how to grow herbs and keeping a wide range of herbs in tip-top condition.
Buying herbs for planting
The easiest way to grow herbs is to buy small pots of young plants from your garden centre. These can be potted up into slightly larger pots for indoors or on the patio. Or they can just be planted 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
Many herbs can be grown from seed and will germinate easily when cared for at home. Start with a pot filled with all purpose peat-free 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 side shoots and many more leaves to pick. If they do go to flower the flowers are usually edible and make attractive additions to salads or food dishes.
Buying fully grown plants
Pots of fully-grown seedlings with ready to harvest leaves aren’t always 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, and when the pot is much lighter it 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 lots of good potting compost. Herb pots bought from the supermarket for example can be divided into four or five pots. Not only do you get more for your money, but they are easier to care for too.
The best herbs to grow
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. Remember, that mint can be invasive, so it needs to be planted in a large container outside rather than in the border.
Use Miracle-Gro Peat Free All purpose compost and a suitable size container to ensure enough space for your crop to thrive. Once established, feed your plant every fortnight to ensure a fresh supply of strong new shoots. Also mint can cope with shadier conditions, which helps with choosing its location in your garden.
Oregano and Marjoram
These are useful herbs often used in dishes originating in Italy, Spain and Greece, especially important to flavour authentic Moussaka. This 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/ 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.
Sweet green basil is a wonderful 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, purple foliage or frilly edges.
This tender annual must be grown indoors somewhere warm and bright 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 and sow in late spring/early summer to grow outside.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
A member of the onion family grown for the grass-like leaves that carry a subtle hint of onion rather than the strong 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. Flowers can be eaten raw and have a slightly sweeter oniony flavour than the leaves.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Grown for its spicy seeds and green leaves that are also known 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 of 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 seed/cutting compost. Position in a warm sunny spot and keep watered well. Using all purpose liquid plant food every fortnight will ensure the plants produce tender fresh leaves.
Sage (Salvia Officinalis)
A hardy perennial bush that produces pungent green leaves that is often in sausages, as well as bean and tomato dishes. Sage can be grown from seed but as you will only need one or two plants, they are best bought as plants from your local garden centre. For a decorative indoor herb garden, plant the pot in Mediterranean and citrus compost along with three other herb plants such as Thyme, Tarragon and Winter Savoury.
A low growing shrub that is available in many varieties. The foliage is used sparingly in soups and stews, to season meat and as an ingredient in savoury baking.
It can be grown easily from seed. But as only one or two plants of each variety may be needed by the most adventurous of cooks, it is easier to buy ready grown 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 all purpose liquid plant food.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
A medium sized shrub (60cm to 80cm), that produces aromatic needle-like leaves and blue flowers on straight wooden stems. The leaves are a traditional flavouring for lamb and pork and are often used with poultry and eggs. Stems can be used to make aromatic skewers for kebabs.
Rosemary can be grown from seed, although germination is often slow and erratic. It is better to buy a plant that can go out in the garden in spring – summer. Rosemary will enjoy a sunny spot in a border or you can plant in a container that can be placed in a sunny but sheltered place on the patio. Rosemary is fairly long lived but does start to become leggy and straggly after about 5 years so may need replacing.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Whether curly leaved for decoration or flat leaved for the 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 plant these sections up in separate pots. The extra room for new roots to form and the extra moisture held by the compost 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.
Frequently asked questions about growing herbs for cooking
Are herbs better in the pots or ground?
You can grow herbs in either pots or the ground. As some herbs are invasive such as mint, growing them in a pot gives you a measure of control and can keep them from moving into the growing space of other plants. Growing herbs in pots also makes it easier to move them around for maximum sunshine and easier watering.
Can you grow herbs all year round?
You can grow some herbs indoors all year round. Many cooks decide to do this so they can have fresh homegrown herbs available in the kitchen during the winter months. Once some herbs are properly established outside they can live outdoors all year round – these include mint, rosemary, oregano, sage and thyme.
Do herbs like full sun or shade?
Most herbs like full sun and light, alongside gritty but fertile soil that’s well drained. There are however, some herbs that prefer to grow in the shade and need a more moisture retentive soil. These include mint, coriander, dill, parsley and chives.