Anyone who cooks and has a sunny windowsill should check out these five easy herbs to grow. In a pot or in the ground, fresh herbs are a snap to grow and make a great addition to the garden. And they happen to be pretty tasty when eaten fresh. What's better than havesting a handful of fragrant herbs to add to a summer salad or stir-fry? For tips on how to harvest five easy and fresh-tasting herbs worth a try, check out the information below.
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Ahh, dill. How we love you, and let us count the ways: You provide fresh leaves for clipping on grilled fish and into summer soups and you revive a ho-hum egg salad sandwich. Then there are the flowers — those broad yellow umbels that look lovely in containers, windowboxes, and even bouquets. Summer transforms flowers into seed heads, filled with pungent little flavor packets that give cucumbers their dilly personality (born again as pickles). Dill is the darling of mixologist menus, appearing with gin and vodka in savory martinis. Dwarf ‘Fernleaf’ dill, above, is ideal for small gardens and containers; it grows just 14 to 18 in. tall (standard dill can tower up to 4 ft.).
- Drying dill is easy; just cut stems and hang them upside down in a cool, dry place. Harvest the dried leaves and store in an air-tight jar.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
If you love Thai or Vietnamese cuisine, chances are that you’ve crossed chopsticks with this fragrant, delicious basil. ‘Siam Queen’, above, has the classic basil flavor with overtones of anise. Start basil from seed or plant seedlings. Plants grow 12 to 18 in. tall and are covered with small, almond-shape leaves and topped with stunning purple flowers (which are also edible). Basil leaves are at peak flavor when harvested before plants flower. Add a spicy kick to any dish by clipping fresh leaves into soups or pasta dishes just before serving. This tender perennial cannot be planted until the threat of frost has passed.
- In midsummer when hot days make basil grow quickly, harvest leaves and grind them into pesto.
- Freeze in ice cube trays to use in sauces and mixed with pasta.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Revered for the piney flavor imparted in Mediterranean food (think Italian, Greek and French), rosemary is a woody-stemmed tender perennial. ‘Arp’, above, is one of the most cold-hardy rosemaries, surviving winter in zones 6 to 10. In colder areas, dig up the plant and bring it indoors. ‘Arp’ has an upright growth habit, growing up to 3 ft. tall and wide where it is perennial.
Rosemary grows happily in containers and is drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, and pollinators are mad for its light blue flowers. Among the best culinary types are ‘Tuscan Blue’ and ‘Spice Island’. Rosemary is one of the components of the classic French dried herb mix Herbes de Provence.
- Infuse rosemary’s pungent flavor in olive oil and vinegar to use in salads and sautes.
- Discover the sweet side of rosemary by infusing it in simple syrup - it's great for cocktails!
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is one of the most commonly used herbs and can be put to work as an anchor in the garden because it is evergreen. Cold-hardy in zones 5 to 10, thyme has a lovely shrubby growth habit, growing 6 to 10 in. tall and 8 to 12 in. wide. In late spring, it produces purple flowers that are pollinator magnets. 'Gray Hill' has frosty green leaves, 'Orange Balsam' has orange-scented leaves and 'Argenteus' has green and creamy white leaves with a pink tinge in winter. Lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) ‘Variegata’, above, is so beautiful, you may be tempted to use it in mixed containers as an accent plant (and you should!). Its yellow and green, mouse-eared foliage is vigorous, beautiful, fragrant, and flavorful with a melded combination of thyme and lemon flavors. Use thyme in herbed butters, salads and soups.
- The more you clip thyme, the more stems and leaves the plant produces.
- Harvest stems in early morning after the night’s bundles hung upside down in a cool, dry place. Or add stems with leaves in a food dehydrator.
Italian oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Take a culinary trip to Italy when you grow and harvest the leaves of this savory herb. Oregano can be used in containers or as an edging plant in sunny herb gardens. Collect stems before plants flower for the best flavor. Use oregano in sauces and soups — any Mediterranean recipe that needs a deepening of flavor. Italian oregano grows 12 to 18 in. tall and is cold-hardy in zones 5 to 10. Oregano grows best in full sun, but can take some partial shade (unlike most herbs). Use dried and fresh leaves in recipes ranging from soups, meats, and pizzas. Try ‘Nana’, a dwarf cultivar, in containers and windowboxes. For a less bitter herb with a similar flavor, try marjoram (O. marjoram).
- Collect oregano mid-summer when the flavor is most intense.
- Add fresh leaves to recipes just before serving.