It doesn’t matter if you’re new to gardening or if you’ve been growing vegetables for years – growing your own herbs is easy and rewarding (especially come pasta night when that fresh basil on your windowsill is going to start looking especially great). Starting an herb garden gets your hands in the dirt and lets you witness the miracle that is plant life, and you can be sure that a little herbal greenery will add a fresh look to your home, whether it’s on your windowsill, incorporated into a flower garden, or a just-for-herbs bed in the middle of your yard. And believe us, once you start adding fresh herbs into your recipes – again, think about the pasta – you won’t ever want to return to dried, store-bought seasonings again.
If you don’t have a green thumb, don’t worry. These six herbs are easy to grow, easy to use, and great for beginners.
If you’re only going to grow one herb this year, make it basil. This easy-to-grow annual does well in both pots and in the ground, and its slightly spicy flavor is will make a welcome addition to any dish. Pick leaves from the growing tips, pinching them off near the stem. This causes the plants to branch, giving you even more leaves to choose from. You can also pinch off forming flowers, extending the life of the plant through summer. Basil is tasty mixed with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, added to the top of your pizza, included in salads and sandwiches, and can even be thrown into a glass of ice water with some strawberries to make it a little more exciting.
A cousin to onions, chives are a perennial herb that once you start using, you’ll want to use in everything you make. Chives can be grown in containers, added to a vegetable garden, or even placed in a flower garden, as they grow pretty pink or lavender flowers that attract bees and other pollinators. Chives grow quickly and can easily be split into multiple bunches. Cut the green stems close to the ground and chop into small pieces for cooking. They can replace onions in just about any recipe and make a great addition to baked potatoes, omelets, and soups. Chives are also great to mix with butter, giving a little kick to your cooking.
An Italian cooking staple, oregano is a perennial herb that has a strong, spicy flavor. It grows easily anywhere, including in a pot on your back porch or in the garden. Pick the leaves of the oregano plant before it goes to flower for the best flavor, and the herb can be used fresh or dried. While oregano can be used in many dishes, the most common include pasta and pizza, and it makes a great addition to fresh bread dough.
Even if you think you can’t grow anything, chances are you can grow mint. While it’s a lovely herb to have in your yard, it is invasive so you shouldn’t put it in the ground unless you’re okay with it kind of taking over. Once it’s established, it’s near impossible to get rid of. Mint comes in a variety of flavors, including chocolate and apple, but peppermint and spearmint are by far the most popular. The herb is fragrant and can be added to cookies, fruit, or even homemade ice cream. The leaves can also be dropped into water for flavor and fresh mint makes any mojito taste better.
A biennial herb, parsley is often found on dinner plates at restaurants and is a common flavor enhancer in cooking. It’s easy to grow, and is great for both traditional and container gardening. Pick fresh leaves from the outside of the plant and use it in dishes with potatoes and rice or toss it into salads. Parsley balances out the flavor of garlic and is a great palate cleanser. Chewing on a few parsley leaves can also freshen the breath, especially after a meal.
Another perennial herb, thyme has a unique, woody flavor and aroma and often becomes a favorite of herb gardeners. It thrives both in pots and in the ground, and is often used to flavor meats, including beef, chicken, and fish, and with root vegetables. When harvesting, use the leaves and the stems, as both hold the flavor and can be added to dishes.