Add fresh chives to dishes when you want the flavor of onion without it being overpowering. A perennial hardy in all climate zones, chives make a pretty addition to an ornamental garden. Each plant forms a clump of narrow, onion-flavored leaves up to 2 feet high. The rosy purple flowers are also edible. Plants are evergreen in mild climates but go dormant in colder areas. You can pot small divisions to grow indoors on a sunny windowsill. Chives are usually purchased as small plants, but they can also be started from seeds indoors or out. Space plants 1 to 1½ feet apart (or thin seedlings to this distance).
In the heat of summer, nothing refreshes like the cool flavor of just-picked mint. It’s perfect in iced tea, cocktails, and mixed into salads. The most common mints are either a type of peppermint or spearmint. Peppermints contain menthol, so have a very strong flavor, and are often used to flavor dishes but aren’t actually eaten. Spearmints are sweeter and milder, and leaves can be mixed into dishes. Spreads fast by underground stems; grow this perennial in a pot.
Musky, earthy leaves are staples in poultry stuffing, Italian meat dishes, and salads in the Middle East. Best culinary variety is 'Berggarten'. The perennial plant forms a mound 1 to 3 feet tall. Keep plant on the dry side once established. Avoid planting near a lawn where the soil stays wet. To harvest, snip just above where new growth emerges; don't cut into old, woody growth.
French chervil is one of our favorite springtime herbs. It resembles flat-leaf parsley but its leaves are more finely feathered and paler in color. Sow seeds while the weather is still cool and in just over a month, you’ll have lacy, subtle anise-scented sprigs to give soups and salads that special je ne sais quoi. Chervil prefers cool, moist conditions, so find a cool corner of your garden and tuck it in there, perhaps shaded by taller, larger plants. It’s so pretty, it can double as a centerpiece at brunch.
Curly-leaf and flat-leaf parsley are both grown for their finely cut dark green leaves that are used as a seasoning (both fresh and dried). Fresh sprigs are minced and leaves are classic garnishes. Parsley is also an attractive herb for edging, flower, or vegetable gardens, and good in window boxes and pots. Start with fresh plants each year, keep soil evenly moist, and give it part shade where summers are hot.
Delicate fernlike foliage is topped by flat clusters of pinkish white flowers in summer. Both fresh leaves and seeds (coriander) are widely used as seasoning. You can even eat the flowers. Keep it happy in light shade in the hottest climates, and keep it regularly watered in well-drained soil. Cilantro leaves are popular in salads and many cooked dishes. Crush the aromatic seeds for use in sausage, beans, stews, and baked goods.
This Mediterranean native grows slowly to 12 to 40 feet tall and wide. Its natural habit is compact and multistemmed with a broad base; the plant often resembles a gradually tapering cone. Leather, 2- to 4-inch-long, dark green aromatic leaves are the traditional bay leaves of cookery. It will be happiest in full sun or part shade and needs good drainage. After it’s established, it needs just moderate water.
Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) grows 1 foot tall by 2 feet wide, with narrow to oval, gray-green leaves. White to lilac flowers bloom in late spring and early summer. Thyme grows best in partial shade where summers are hot. It needs light, well-drained soil. Once established, plants need little water and no fertilizer. Snip off branch tips as needed and use fresh or dried for seasoning fish, shellfish, poultry stuffing, soups, or vegetables.
A single plant grows to about 2 feet tall and 1½ feet wide, but plants self-sow rapidly. Lemon-scented foliage is used fresh is cold drinks, fruit cups, salads, fish dishes; dried leaves give perfume to sachets and potpourris. It will thrive with regular water in full sun or part shade.
This sturdy, leafy plant grows quickly to 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 foot wide. Shiso makes an attractive addition to summer borders, but various part of the plant are also edible. Use leaves as a vegetable or flavoring (they taste like a cross between mint and cinnamon); fry the long, thin clusters of flower buds in tempura batter. Shiso is happy with regular water and full sun or part shade.