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Nutrition Articles  ›  Meals and Food

How to Grow Your Own Herbs for Cooking

Sprout Spices and Seasonings in Your Own Backyard!

-- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
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The next time a recipe calls for fresh basil, skip the poor substitute of dried basil, forgo the last-minute dash to the supermarket for some overpriced wilted basil, and just pluck a few tender leaves off of the basil plant you have growing in your very own herb garden.  What? You don't have fresh basil growing in your garden? Well consider this your invitation to start.

Growing your own herbs is a simple and inexpensive undertaking that pays off big for your taste buds and your budget.  If you can keep a houseplant alive, you can sustain an herb garden.  Here’s how.

Decide what you want to grow.  Some popular choices from home cooks are listed here along with their care instructions.  Start with just a few that you know you’ll use regularly, and then branch out from there.

Herb Special Care How to Harvest How to Use
Basil Pinch off any flowers that appear. This preserves the plant’s flavor, and will also help increase the leaf density of each stem. Harvest the upper leaves first, taking just a few leaves from each stem at a time. Add raw to salads, sandwiches and wraps, cook into soups and sauces, chop and sprinkle on pizza, make pesto.
Parsley Parsley has a longer than average germination period of three to four weeks, so extra patience is required. Cut the outermost stalks just above ground level, which will encourage further growth. Both the leaves and stalks can be eaten in salads, soups, and Mediterranean dishes like Tabouli.
Chives If you don’t intend on eating the flowers, pinch them off as soon as they begin to appear. Cut the leaves with scissors, starting with the outside leaves first, allowing about 2 inches of the leaves to remain. This entire plant can be eaten from top to bottom— the bulbs taste like mild onions, the leaves can be used in salads and other dishes, and even the flower heads can be tossed into salads.
Cilantro Cilantro does not like hot weather. If the soil temperature reaches 75 degrees, the plant will bolt and go to seed, making this a short-lived herb. Aggressive pruning will extend its life, so be ready to use or store it. Save the seeds to use in cooking (the seeds are called coriander) or to plant. There are two methods of harvesting cilantro. When the plant reaches about 6" in height, you can remove the outer leaves with a scissors, leaving the growing point intact for new growth. Or you can wait until the plant is almost completely grown and pull it from the soil by its roots to use the whole bunch at once. Salads, wraps, dips, and many Mexican recipes.
Rosemary This plant can be difficult to start from seed, so you may wish to buy a mature plant. And be careful not to overwater—rosemary likes its soil on the dry side. Simply cut off pieces of the stem as you need it. Many culinary and even medicinal uses.
Thyme This plant can take awhile to start from seed, so you may wish to buy a mature plant. Drought-tolerant thyme is extremely easy to care for, and prefers drier soils. Simply cut off pieces of the stem as you need it. Often used to flavor meats, soups, and stews.
Dill Drought-tolerant dill is extremely easy to care for, and prefers drier soils. Don't start harvesting dill until it's at least 12 inches tall, and never take more than one-third of the leaves at any one time. Great flavoring for fish, lamb, potatoes, and peas.
Mint Mint is an invasive plant so stick to container gardening with this one. Pinch off sprigs as you need them. Mint is extremely versatile, and can be used in salads, desserts, drinks, and many other recipes. You can even chew it by itself for a pleasant, refreshing flavor.
 
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • I am looking into starting my own herb garden this upcoming summer. I really like these suggestions. - 1/1/2014 2:39:12 PM
  • We've been very successful growing them indoors. I love the accessibility. - 12/2/2013 8:10:38 AM
  • Good lord, i've found ALL of my herbs to be invasive, not just the mint. My oregano went from a tiny 4 inch plant last year to being 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide this year. My italian parsley went nuts before i could snip the flowers off and reseeded. My chives although planted in a small area that is concrete on all sides have started popping up all over my yard. The basil is out of control. The only thing that's not doing well is the dill...the oregano is eating it ;( - 8/13/2012 3:53:31 PM
  • i plan on doing container gardening for my herbs using mason jars that i fasten to a board and hang on the wall.

    A friend told me it will work as long as i paint the outside of the mason jar.

    should i still use starter pots or start the seeds in the jars? - 7/24/2012 1:31:28 PM
  • Not sure if it's too late for the lady who wanted to print with no buttons. On a PC you can print a page by holding down the control button on your keyboard while hitting the P key. - 4/26/2012 6:36:13 PM
  • A couple of other suggestions:
    1. Start the slow-growing seeds in trays indoors. For parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and other really slow growing seeds, if you direct seed into the garden, you are likely to lose them to weeds or uneven watering. The seeds are so tiny, they are likely to wash away. Plant the seeds very shallowly in trays of seed starting mix. (Don't try garden soil.) Keep the soil warm and moist. Be patient.
    2. Be aware that some herbs are annuals, like parsley, dill, and basil, so you have to replant them every year. Rosemary and thyme are perrenials, so you think carefully where you want them . Thyme is low growing, and can make a nice border. Rosemary can grow to 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It can make a nice bush-like plant for your garden. - 4/26/2012 12:08:20 PM
  • I want to print or at least save this article but there aren't any of the "usual" buttons. Help? - 4/26/2012 11:07:52 AM