Thomas J. Story

Plant your own based on our favorite varieties

David C. Becker,  –  January 19, 2006

Mediterranean herbs are some of the most rewarding plants you can grow. Their leaves flavor everything from meats, soups, and stews to pizza and spaghetti. And the plants add beauty to kitchen gardens – many are evergreen in mild climates. Most tolerate drought and less than perfect soil (though they prefer excellent drainage).

Our Mediterranean herb garden, pictured above, contains some old favorites such as parsley and thyme, as well as newer introductions, such as conehead thyme (whose flavor is similar to winter savory) and Italian oregano thyme (which ― true to its name ― is a thyme with oregano overtones). All of the herbs are perennials except for parsley, which should be planted anew each year in fall or early spring, depending on the climate. Plant them in full sun, and water regularly the first year to get them established. 

Our 8 favorites
Buy plants at nurseries, or order from Mountain Valley Growers (559/338-2775).

1. Italian oregano thyme. Leaves have a zesty thyme flavor; good in marinades and tomato-based sauces and with vegetables. 1 foot tall. Sunset climate zones 1-24.

2. English thyme. Leaves add flavor to meats, stews, and tomato-based sauces. Spreading plant to 1 foot tall. Zones 1-24.

3. Lemon thyme. Leaves have a lemon fragrance; brighten flavored vinegars. Spreading plant to 1 foot tall. Zones 1-24.

4. Garden sage. Shrubby perennial used to flavor stews. 1 to 3 feet tall. Zones 2-24, H1, H2.

5. ‘Berggarten’ sage. Tasty in chowders, stuffings, and gravy. Compact plant to 16 inches tall. Zones 2-24, H1, H2.

6. Conehead thyme. Leaves taste like thyme with the heat turned up; spicy purple blooms make good garnish for salsa verde. Mounding plant to 3 feet tall. Zones 13-17, 19-24.

7. Flat-leafed parsley. Fresh sprigs and minced leaves are a classic garnish. 6 to 12 inches tall. Zones A3, 1-24.

8. Greek oregano. Leaves have a spicy flavor that’s strongest if harvested when plant is in bud but before it flowers. To 2½ feet tall. Zones 8, 9, 12-24.

Other choices
English lavender. Aromatic leaves add a subtle floral flavor to honey, marinades, and desserts. Mounds of foliage to 2 feet tall and wide; unbranched flower stems rise 4 to 12 inches above foliage. Zones 2-24.

French tarragon. Thin, aromatic leaves are a classic flavoring for chicken and egg dishes. 2 feet tall. Zones A1-A3, 2b-10, 14-24.

Rosemary. Short, narrow leaves add an intense peppery flavor to grilled meat, especially lamb. 1 to 6 feet tall, depending on variety. Zones 4-24, H1, H2.

Sweet marjoram. Tiny gray leaves have a floral scent and milder flavor than Greek oregano; use in salads, vinegars, and tomato dishes. 1 to 2 feet tall. Zones 8-24.