If you enjoy cooking and gardening, growing your own culinary herbs is an excellent way to always have the freshest ingredients on hand for your favorite recipes. Fresh herbs are super versatile, and they can be used as a garnish, or they can be blended into sauces, soups, stews, salads, and other sweet and savory dishes. Even better, if you like preserving, herbs can also be dehydrated, allowing you to make the most delicious homemade dried herb blends to use in cozy winter dishes!
No matter the size of your garden, you can always find room for a few herbs. Most herbs are very easy to grow, and their small size makes them suitable for growing in vegetable gardens or small containers on an outdoor balcony or sunny windowsill. However, if you’re new to working with herbs, you may not know what cooking herbs will grow best in your garden.
In the list below, you’ll find some of the most popular herbs for cooking that will elevate your favorite recipes with tons of fresh flavor and color. From common basil to lesser-known herbs like stevia, you’ll find the essential herbs for the kitchen right here.
Table of Contents
The Best Herbs For Cooking
How To Cut Herbs For Cooking?
While fresh leaves from herbs can be used whole in recipes, most home chefs chop their herbs before cooking. Depending on your recipe, herbs can be roughly chopped or minced into very fine shreds.
Just keep in mind that finely chopping herbs will speed up the cooking process. Also, if you want herbs to retain their color, it’s a good idea to add them to dishes at the end of cooking.
You can cut most herbs with a sharp knife, mezzaluna, or kitchen shears. Bunching or rolling herbs tightly together before chopping them is a great way to speed things up and produce more uniformly cut herb leaves.
And, if you dry herbs for preservation, giving them a whir in a coffee mill can make cutting them a breeze!
Can You Use The Leaves And The Stems?
You can technically eat the stems and leaves of most herbs; however, herbs like rosemary or thyme have woody stems that are quite tough and unpleasant to eat. One option is to cook these herbs whole and then pick out the stems after cooking. Alternatively, you can use a handy tool like an herb destemmer to remove the stems from woody herbs for you.
22 Herbs For Cooking
Fresh basil is one of the most popular herbs and is a key ingredient in pesto and other pasta dishes. Sweet basil can also be used fresh in salads and sandwiches, and both the leaves and stems can be blended into sauces and salad dressings.
Genovese basil is a type of sweet basil often used in pesto making, but you can also try out cultivars like purple basil, which has spectacularly colored, deep purple leaves.
Curly parsley is easy to find at the grocery store, but storebought herbs are usually not the freshest and they’re often packaged in a plastic bag, which can create a lot of waste. But curly parsley is super easy to grow from seeds and is a tasty addition to so many recipes.
Curly parsley can be used as a garnish, or its leaves and stems can be blended into flavorful sauces like chimichurri and other dishes.
When blended with tomato sauce, oregano makes a fantastic pasta or pizza sauce, but this herb is very versatile and can be used to flavor roasted chicken, veggies, and other foods.
Oregano has a low water content, so it’s easy to dry. However, if you want to cook with oregano, removing its woody stems is usually best!
Thyme is a common ingredient used to flavor meat dishes, but thyme’s strong flavor blends beautifully into other recipes too. A cold hardy herb, thyme grows quite well in cooler climates, and its small size makes it easy to keep in pots.
While common thyme is a classic choice, you can also grow other thyme varieties, like lemon thyme or orange balsam thyme.
Sage has a deep, earthy flavor that’s ideal for roasted dishes and soups, but it also complements the flavors of pasta, pizza, and gnocchi nicely! Compared to other herbs, sage is a tall plant, but it can still grow in container gardens if you provide your plant with at least a 10” pot.
When kept in full sun, sage plants are prolific bloomers, and their darling purple flowers are highly attractive to bees and other pollinators.
Flat Leaf Parsley
Also known as Italian Parsley, flat-leafed parsley can be used like Curly Parsley as a garnish or flavor accent in recipes.
Flat-leaf parsley tends to be easier to chop than curly varieties, and professional chefs prefer the taste. However, this is often a matter of personal preference, and these two plants have the same growing needs.
If you love home canning, you need to grow plenty of dill for dill pickles and treats like dilly beans. But even if you haven’t experimented with preserving yet, dill’s fresh flavor is a perfect way to brighten up dishes like potato salad and seafood.
Just keep in mind that dill weed will bolt in heat, so you may want to only grow it in spring and fall, or you can succession plant seeds every 2 to 3 weeks to extend your harvest window.
A close relative of onions and leeks, fresh chives are a great addition to salads and soups, but with a bit of black pepper and sour cream, chives also make the perfect topping for baked potatoes! Chives are a perennial herb that can thrive in both inground gardens and pots.
In spring, chives will also bloom pretty, pinkish-purple flowers that are edible and very attractive to pollinators.
Tarragon has a unique flavor with notes of licorice, which may not be everyone’s “cup of tea.” However, if you love seafood, tarragon is one of the best herbs to keep, and it also makes a fantastic, flavored butter.
Beyond its use as an edible, tarragon also blooms stunning, golden-orange flowers that are so pretty that some gardeners grow tarragon purely as an ornamental!
Lemon balm is a popular herb to grow for herbal teas, but its zingy, lemony flavor also works well in sweet treats and desserts. A member of the mint family, lemon balm can sometimes spread aggressively, so many gardeners keep this plant in pots.
During summer, lemon balm also flowers prolifically, attracting all sorts of butterflies and other beneficial insects to your garden space.
Like lemon balm, mint plants can spread, which is why it’s usually recommended to keep mint in containers or dedicated raised beds where they won’t compete with neighboring plants. Today, there are lots of delicious mint varieties to choose from, including peppermint, chocolate mint, and pineapple mint.
If you like baking and making homemade candies, mint can be used to add flavoring to many desserts and pastries, and it makes a refreshing summer tea too.
Marjoram is another woody herb that should have its stems removed before using its deep, green leaves to flavor recipes. Though it’s slightly more complex and sweet, Marjoram has a flavor reminiscent of oregano.
However, unlike oregano, marjoram is not particularly cold hardy, and it’s grown as an annual in zones 8 and below.
A main ingredient in salsas and Tex-Mex cuisine, fresh cilantro has a refreshing, summery flavor that can uplift many different recipes. Like dill, cilantro grows best in cool weather and will bolt in the summer heat.
If you want to extend the growing season of cilantro, try succession planting seeds every 2 to 3 weeks from spring through early fall.
Many gardeners don’t think about growing bay leaves, a staple ingredient in soups and homemade broths, but this plant is easy to keep. Bay leaves come from the bay laurel tree, which can grow up to 55’ tall!
However, this plant grows exceptionally well in pots, and since it’s only hardy from zones 8 to 10, many growers keep it as a houseplant in winter.
Chervil is a less commonly grown herb that’s a close relative of parsley. Like parsley, chervil has feathery leaves that can be eaten, stems, and all! Plus, chervil’s flavor is very similar to parsley but with added notes of anise, making it a bit more complex.
In most areas, chervil grows as an annual, but it’s easy to keep and makes an attractive container plant.
Rosemary is another popular herb that’s ideal for container gardens. While rosemary can be grown in inground beds, it’s not cold hardy, and many gardeners overwinter potted rosemary plants indoors in growing zones 7 and below.
Fresh rosemary is often used in roasted vegetable and meat dishes but is easy to dry.
The most common type of oregano you’ll encounter at plant nurseries is Italian oregano, but if you do a bit of hunting, you can usually get your hands on Greek oregano too. This powerful herb has a deeper flavor than Italian oregano and a subtle hint of camphor that will take dishes to the next level.
Use Greek Oregano in classic Greek fare or homemade salad dressings, or roasted potatoes.
Thai Basil or Asian basil is another tasty herb with a subtler flavor than Genovese basil. This herb is less commonly grown than other basil types but has the same growing requirements as standard sweet basil.
Thai basil is a must-have plant if you love dishes like pho and spring rolls!
Like many other woody-stemmed herbs, lavender doesn’t need much water and has similar growing needs to rosemary, thyme, and oregano. While lavender is commonly cultivated for its fine fragrance, some varieties are edible and absolutely scrumptious in teas and desserts.
English lavender is the usual choice for eating, while other lavender varieties make stunning ornamentals and pollinator plants.
We have written other posts on herb gardening, explore more herb guides here: Planting Lavender In Pots, Lavender FAQs, Pruning Oregano, Mint: How To Care For And Plant This Fragrant Herb
In warm areas, lemongrass can be grown as a perennial, but it’s only hardy in zones 10 and 11. In cooler spots, lemongrass can be cultivated as an annual, or it can be kept in pots and overwintered indoors.
Lemongrass has a rich and aromatic flavor that’s excellent in stir-fries, curries, and herbal teas.
Stevia is used as a sugar substitute, and you can purchase it in powdered form at your local grocery store. But many people don’t realize that stevia comes from a plant that is easy to keep in home gardens!
Stevia grows as an annual in cool climates, but you can use this herb fresh or dried in desserts or teas.
Chamomile is another excellent choice for tea making and desserts, a cheerful-looking plant with small, daisy-like flowers that are highly attractive to bees and other pollinators. You can choose between low-growing Roman chamomile, a perennial, or the taller German chamomile, an annual.
Both plants grow beautifully in pots or inground gardens, and their dried flowers are easy to store in your spice cabinet for later use.
What To Look For When Buying Herbs
Many herbs can be grown from seed, but if you want to harvest herbs earlier in the season, you can also purchase most herbs as nursery starts (typically in 4″ pots) from your local garden center. If you go this route, always check your plants over carefully to ensure you’re getting a healthy plant ready to thrive in your garden.
Healthy herbs should have a rich, green coloration to their leaves, and their stems should be firm and sturdy. While a few yellow leaves may not cause worry, it’s best to avoid plants with pronounced yellowing or browning leaves or droopy stems.
Also, check your plants for signs of pests, including leaf stippling, spiderweb-like webbing, or a sticky honeydew residue, which can indicate pests like spider mites and aphids.
How To Store Herbs To Maintain Their Freshness
Fresh herbs with tender stems, like cilantro and parsley, can be kept in your refrigerator for about a week. The best way to do this is to place the cut herb stems in a jar with a bit of water — just like how you would keep a bouquet of cut flowers.
On the other hand, woody-stemmed herbs, like rosemary, should be loosely wrapped in a damp paper towel and placed in a Ziploc bag in your fridge. Stored in this manner, your herbs should stay fresh for about a week or two.
You can also dry herbs with hanging or a food dehydrator for longer storage. Or you can place herbs in an airtight baggy in your freezer.
For even easier food prep, try blending your fresh herbs with a bit of water and then freezing them in an ice cube tray. When you need fresh herbs, take an ice cube of herbs out of our freezer and pop it into your recipe!
Tip: If you want to get even more great flavor out of your herbs, try steeping herbs in olive oil or vinegar to make your own infused herbal oils and vinegar for salad dressings and other uses!
Growing your own herbs is the best way to have the tastiest herbs on hand for your favorite recipes. Plus, it will help you save on your weekly grocery budget. With a home herb garden, you can grow different types of herbs that aren’t readily available at grocery stores, and you can even harvest herbs early in the morning, which is the best time to pick herbs for peak flavor.
There are so many reasons why growing an herb garden at home makes sense. Homegrown herbs have the best flavor but are also fun to keep and attract bees and other pollinators. Plus, herb gardens reward you throughout the season with the freshest herbs for cooking, teas, and more. And what’s not to love about that?
Lauren Landers is a Master Gardener and gardeing writer livig in Maine. After running a small organic farm in New England for several years, Lauren transitioned to freelance writing and loves helping others discover the beauty of organic and pollinator gardening!
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