18 indispensable herbs
Our guide to growing and cooking with basic and gourmet herbs
Heavily scented leaves are used to season fish, shellfish, poultry stuffing, soups, or vegetables. Perennial; to 1 foot tall. Zones 1–24.
Lends a sweet-spicy flavor to sauces and pesto. Annual; grows to 2 feet tall. All zones.
Green, grasslike, 12- to 24-inch-long spears form in clumps. Clusters of rose purple or white flowers in spring. Perennial. Zones 1-24, H1-H2.
Fresh leaves add flavor to salsa and guacamole. Annual; grows to 1½ feet tall. Shade in hottest climates. All zones.
Fresh or dried leaves of this perennial add spice to Spanish and Italian dishes such as pizza and ravioli. Plant grows to 2½ feet tall. Zones 1–24.
(Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum)
Flat-leafed Italian parsley is more flavorful than the curly-leafed French variety. The plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall. All zones.
Musky, earthy leaves are staples in poultry stuffing, Italian meat dishes, and salads in the Middle East. The plant forms a mound 1 to 3 feet tall. Zones 2–24, H1, H2.
The aromatic leaves season meats, sauces, and soups. ‘Tuscan Blue’, a favorite of many chefs, grows to 7 feet tall. Zones 4–24, H1, H2.
Oval gray green leaves on 1- to 2-foot-tall plants. Milder and more floral than oregano. Perennial in zones 8-24; annual elsewhere.
Sprinkle its feathery leaves on grilled fish and in salads and sauces. An annual, dill grows to 4 feet tall. Zones 1–24.
Use fresh or dried leaves in salads and cooked dishes. A sprawling perennial, it grows 2 feet tall. Zones A1–A3, 2B–10, 14–24.
Its leaves have a parsleylike flavor with overtones of anise flavor; tasty in soups or salads. Zones 1–24.
Pumps out grassy foliage with a strong lemon scent and is widely used in Southeast Asian dishes. Plant grows best in frost-free climates. Zones 12, 13, 16, 17, 23, 24, H1, H2
Pronounced “oh-ha sahn-ta,” meaning “sacred leaf.” When chopped, its leaves add zest to mole verde (green sauce) and tamales in Mexican cooking; the plant reaches 6 feet tall. Sunset climate zones 8, 9, 14–24.
Its leaves taste something like mint, something like cinnamon; they add zest to salads. Warm-season annual; grows 2 to 3 feet tall. All zones.
Often sold as kaffir lime and used in Thai cooking, its leaves add zing to soups, salads, and stir-fries. Tree grows to 16 feet tall; protect from frost and wind. Zones 8, 9, 12–24, H1, H2.
Leaves have an aroma of anise or fennel; use them fresh or dried to season black beans, tamales, and enchiladas. Perennial; to 2 feet tall. Zones 8, 9, 14–24; annual elsewhere.
Soil. It should be fast draining; dig compost into garden beds before planting annual herbs. For herbs in containers, use potting soil.
Water. Give newly planted perennial herbs regular watering (once established, most tolerate some drought). Annual herbs such as basil need regular water throughout the growing season. Mint prefers slightly moist soil.
Fertilizer. Most herbs appreciate occasional supplemental feedings during the growing season; use an organic granular fertilizer. For ‘Kieffer’ lime, use a plant food formulated for citrus.
Harvest. For most: Snip fresh new growth as needed. For lemongrass: Cut off the thick, bulbous stems just above the crown (ground level); peel off outer sheath and use the bottom third of the stem in cooking.
Because you can make only so much pesto, here are 5 new ways to use fresh-picked herbs.
Cocktail. For a zingy cocktail, mash mint leaves with minced ginger, lime juice, and ice. Add light rum, shake well, then strain into a cooler glass and top with ginger beer.
Soup. Add ‘Kieffer’ lime leaf and lemon basil to chicken and rice soup. Sprinkle with sliced chiles and fresh cilantro leaves for a Thai version of the classic.
Sandwich. Mix chervil, dill, and tarragon into mayonnaise with minced red onion and celery. Stir mixture into chopped roasted chicken and serve on toasted croissants.
Side. Fold chopped sage and blue cheese into mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with chopped toasted hazelnuts.
Main. Top a piece of snapper or black cod with salsa verde, cilantro, and epazote leaves. Wrap the seasoned fish in an hoja santa leaf and rub the outside with oil. Grill until fish feels firm. Serve with rice and beans.
Mountain Valley Growers. An excellent site for organic seedlings, including 17 varieties of mint. mountainvalleygrowers.com
Kitazawa Seed Company. This company based in Oakland, California, specializes in Asian herbs and vegetable seeds, including five varieties of shiso. kitazawaseed.com
Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. This source has earned a dedicated cult following for its more than 1,400 unusual seeds. rareseeds.com
Companion Plants. Sells seeds and plants of unusual herbs, including hoja santa. companionplants.com