I love herbs!
They smell delicious and make a wonderful addition to recipes. The flowers they produce are loved by all sorts of pollinators, like honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies, hover flies, lace wings and many others. They make great companion plants to many vegetables, by either deterring pests, attracting pollinators or both.
Whether you have room for a vegetable garden, or not, there’s always room to add a pot of herbs. Even if you don’t have outdoor space, a pot of herbs will grow wonderfully next to a sunny window.
Check out my list of top 10 “must have” herbs for your vegetable garden.
Included at the end of this post is a recipe that you can download for free. In it, I not only provide the recipe, but also the step-by-step techniques to make it.
10 “Must Have” Herbs for Your Vegetable Garden:
- Basil (Ocimum spp.) – an annual herb that originated from central Africa and Southeast Asia, basil is a member of the Mint Family. It grows easily from seed and prefers a sunny location. Can be grown in a pot or in the garden. Makes a great companion plant for tomatoes. If you plant basil and tomatoes next to each other, basil will help to improve the tomato’s flavour. Coincidentally, tomatoes taste better when cooked with basil. Cooked basil has a more intense flavour, than raw. Be sure to pick basil leaves regularly to encourage the plant to produce more leaves and to delay the onset of flower production. If basil does begin to flower, it will stop producing leaves and the flavour will weaken.
- 3 Common Basil Varieties:
- Italian Genovese Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese’) – this basil variety is reputed to be the best one for making pesto. Originating from Italy, it has large bright green leaves and an appealing aroma.
- Red Rubin Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Purpurascens’)- a reddish-purple leafed basil, with a stronger flavour than Sweet Basil. Add it to salads for enhanced flavour and colour contrast. Makes a lovely garnish.
- Sweet Thai Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Horapha’) – commonly used in Thai cuisine, its leaves have a sweet liquorice flavour and aroma.
FernLeaf Dill (Anethum graveolens) – use fresh or dried dill leaves in cooking, add them to salads, drinks, marinades, fish recipes, soups, stews, rice, etc. Use the seeds for pickling. Grows easily from seed – either sow in place in the garden or grow in a container. Attracts beneficial insects, like lady bugs, lacewings, hover flies and parasitic wasps. Be sure to clip dill regularly to prevent it from going to seed. For regular harvesting, sow dill seeds every few weeks throughout the growing season.
Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgar subsp. hirtum ‘Greek’) – a perennial herb with dark green leaves, that are slightly hairy. Clip leaves throughout the growing season and add them to pizza, pasta sauce, fish, meat, eggplant dishes, vegetarian dishes, roasts, salads and much more. Oregano may be used fresh, dried or frozen. Known for its health benefits.
Italian Parsley (Petroselinum spp.) – biennial herb – produces leaves in the first year. In the second year, it produces flowers followed by seeds. Seeds may be saved and used in cooking or sown again. Prefers a sunny or partially sunny location, with good drainage. Harvest leaves with stems and use in omelettes, soups, stocks, bouquet garni, fish dishes, garnishes and much more. Clipping the leaves encourages continuous leaf production. Italian parsley freezes well, but loses much of its flavour when dried.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – tender perennial – will not survive our cold winters. May be brought inside at the end of summer, but be sure to water it occasionally, to prevent the plant from drying out. Rosemary is a woody herb, with evergreen needle-like leaves. Comes in various forms – columnar, trailing, blue, with arching branches, dwarf size, a ground cover and many more. It is very easy to grow and can withstand drought. Rosemary has a very recognizable scent and a high essential oil content. Popular in Italian food. Try it on a pizza with thinly sliced potatoes, rosemary, goat cheese and caramelized onions.
Sage (Salvia spp.) – perennial herb – prefers full sun and a warm/dry soil. Pick individual leaves for use in recipes. A very easy herb to grow, that requires little maintenance. Sage flowers are beautiful and edible. Sage is available in many varieties and colours, so consider adding it to your rock gardens, herb gardens and annual containers for contrast. Flowers are loved by bees. Leaves may be dried or eaten fresh. Add it to bouquet garni, soups, turkey stuffing, roasted chicken, rice, pork, veal and vegetable dishes like potatoes.
- 2 Common Sage Varieties:
- Three-Colour Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’) – has a green leaf centre, with purple stems and variegated green and white leaves. Milder flavour than common sage, with an upright growing habit.
- Golden Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’) – has yellow and green variegated leaves and a milder flavour than common sage.
French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus French) – perennial herb with liquorice flavoured leaves. Best grown from cuttings, because the plant doesn’t produce seed. Use freshly picked sprigs in recipes and be sure to pick often. Extra tarragon freezes well, but loses its flavour when dried. Use fresh in omelettes, salads, with chicken and to flavour white wine vinegar.
Thyme (Thymus spp.) – a hardy perennial, this herb has a beautiful spilling habit or a creeping nature. Very strong scented. Delicious when added to roasts, soups, stuffing, bouquet garni, stocks, stews, bbq’s, vegetables and more! Produces lovely little flowers that range in colour from white to lilac and are attractive to bees and other pollinators. Flowers are edible. Grows easily from seed. Sow seeds in containers or in place in the garden. Prefers a sunny location, with good drainage. Will grow well in sandy soil and makes a lovely addition to a rock or alpine garden. Clip stems to prevent them from becoming woody and setting flowers. Herbs may be used raw or dried.
- 3 Common Thyme varieties:
- Caraway Thyme (Thymus herba-barona) – leaves have a distinct caraway scent. Add to stir fries and meat dishes. Produces lovely violet flowers.
- Lemon Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) – leaves have a distinct lemony scent. Add to chicken or fish dishes. May also be added to cocktails.
- Orange-Scented Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus ‘Fragrantissimus’) – leaves have an orange scent and clippings may be used in place of orange peels in recipes. Produces lovely pink flowers.
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) – leaves have a very fresh and bright flavour, but the herb is controversial. To some it tastes delicious and to others it tastes like soap. The reason behind some people experiencing a soap-like taste is genetics. These individuals have a similar olfactory-receptor gene, which allows them to pick up on the smell of aldehyde chemicals. Soap and cilantro have aldehyde chemicals.
Delicious when added to Mexican dishes, like salsa, tacos, fish, chicken, soups, etc. Tastes delicious in guacamole. Often used in Indian and Asian cooking, as well. Clip the leaves often, to prevent the plant from going to seed. If the central stem starts to elongate, becomes woody and develops seeds, leave them on the plant to dry, then harvest and use them as coriander seed. Seeds also taste delicious green and may be harvested and used fresh by adding them to salads, pickling them, added them to cocktails and more.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – perennial herb from the Allium family. Chives are delicious when added to egg salads, omelettes, potato salads, leafy green salads, to flavour sour cream, topped over fish, etc. Clip leaves regularly and use as you would green onions. Flowers are also edible and may be added to dishes or as a garnish.
I hope you consider adding some, if not all of these herbs to your gardening plans. Even if you don’t use many herbs in cooking, consider planting them anyway. They don’t all need to be harvested, in order to enjoy them. Only harvest what you need. For the rest, simply brush past them to release their delicious scents. Pair them with other plants for a visual feast. Leave them to flower and pollinators will thank you for it.
Another way to enjoy some of these herbs, is in my recipe for Bouquet Garni. Click on this link, fill in your email address and I will send you my recipe, directly to your inbox.
Photo credit: Peter Dusek Photography