It’s time to get serious about growing a few herbs in pots. Sometimes, the huge plotted garden can seem overwhelming. Herbs in pots can be an easy, inexpensive, and cute solution to your garden dilemmas. Also try baskets, barrels, window boxes, or other containers. You don’t need to own any land and can grow right on your kitchen windowsill. Better still, there’s no weeding or bending over. Limp, store bought herbs are lacking in flavor. So if you’re new to the gardening scene, this is how to start. I love using herbs in most recipes and some drinks because they add tons of flavor minus the calories. You can grow from seed or buy plants from the local nursery. Some herbs are actually perennials making container gardening a logical choice as you don’t have to remember where you planted them the next year. A few might even survive the winter depending on your climate and if the pot is sheltered or brought indoors. But if not, you can always dry the leftovers. Here’s the essential list of herbs you must have right now!
Aromatic plant with pointed leaves that give off a bit of a spicy flavor. Grows to roughly 12 inches and very well from seed, which is how I’m growing most of mine. I’ll thin the seedlings when they get a bit bigger and then transplant into pots. Full sized plants work great too just be sure to plant both in full sun. I’m going to buy one plant for now to get started and then wait for the seedlings to catch up when I do need more leaves. The smaller, tender leaves always taste best to me and I pluck as needed. But all parts of the basil plant are edible. Most home cooks will use about 6 basil plants in a growing season. Plant more if you plan on drying as it’s one of the best for this purpose. When the top of the plant starts to go to seed, pinch off with your fingers to keep the plant thriving. Pairs so well with pasta and chicken, and really any Italian dish. Try both the green and purple varieties.
Hollow, grass-like leaves that crunch when you chomp on them. Mauve or pinky flowers in spring through summer, this perennial herb grows to be about 18 inches tall. Tasty just to chew raw they give off quite a pungent flavor! I remember munching on these all the time when I was a kid. You can start plants from seeds or from clumps. Plant in early spring as soon as the soil is workable but after all danger of frost has past. Every three years or so divide clumps to create more chives. Use scissors to snip leaf tips as needed. Add to soups, stews, and just about everything else. This year, I got 6 clumps of chives from a roadside stand in the middle of nowhere for $1. Can you beat that? Nope. But it was worth the ride out to the country for sure.
Can you imagine guacamole without cilantro? And is it even possible to try to replicate a burrito bowl from Chipotle without it? I didn’t think so. You need to grow this herb. Although I don’t love the way it dries, I’ve tried freezing it with some success. It’s funny how people either absolutely love or hate cilantro with some citing it as having a soapy-taste. True, I used to be in the hater group but since Chipotle I’ve been converted! I love cilantro now. The newer, greener leaves are preferable to the feathery secondary leaves, which have a tendency to be bitter. So if you haven’t liked cilantro in the past try those newer leaves. Cilantro thrives in rich, loose, and well-drained soil with full sun but will tolerate a bit of shade. Mine never gets taller than 12 inches. Don’t forget to water it because in my experience it takes just one super hot day to scorch it.
I’m not going to lie. My mint has completely taken over the side yard meaning it tends to get pushy and intrusive. However, it does have its uses. Mint is rich in aromatic oils. You can snip the tip of a branch, pour hot water over it, and have instant peppermint tea to soothe your tummy. Plants grow 12-18 inches high. Just be careful where you plant…okay….because seriously, the mint will take over. Planting mint in a container is ideal because it’s a great way to prevent spreading as you don’t have to worry about it squashing your other plants. It makes a great garnish for mint ice cream cakes and every drink you can dream up.
Bright green, crinkled leaves in aromatic mounds. It’s a biennial so give yourself two years before you’ll reap results. Maybe buy just one plant from the garden center this year before the others start to take off? There are two types of parsley: curly-leaved and flat-leaved. Curly-leaf parsley has a deep green, frilled or ruffled leaves on 10-24 inch tall plants. Mildly flavored, it’s most commonly used as a restaurant garnish. The 15-24 inch tall flat-leaf parsley, also called Italian parsley, has shiny, flat, and deeply cut leaves with a rich, sweet flavor. Parsley pairs well with so many foods from potatoes to every meat imaginable. Just snip or pinch a few leaves as needed. Then finely chop those leaves before adding to any recipe. I started mine from seed and they seem to be doing well but many experts recommend buying plants instead. Mine even seem to re-seed themselves every year because I notice them sprouting up in the landscaping where clearly I had not planted them. I love it fresh but have dried it with success too.
Fragrant, dark green leaves that can be propagated by division. Flavor largely depends on the variety you buy. Grows to be about 18-24 inches. Buying plants is probably best as I’ve tried growing from seed without much success. The good news? They are perennials and will be back the following year once you have a few established plants. I grow mine in a wood box so I remember where they are each year. They are thriving and humongous so I won’t have to buy any at $4 this year. Better still, they tend to hang over the edge of the pot making them quite ornamental. Oregano dries wonderfully and you’ll love adding it to your pasta sauce or sprinkled on your pizza.
Evergreen shrub plant with needle-like leaves and pale blue spring flowers. It has this woodsy flavor that I can’t resist. Rosemary plants love full sun and well-drained soil which is another reason I grow it in my wood box where it gets plenty of both. It grows to about 12-18 inches with some being upright and some being the trailing variety. Tricky to grow from seed, you’ll probably have to purchase these plants from your local garden center. In truth, my seedlings are not doing well and I just bought myself two plants. But I love plucking the needle-like leaves off to add to soups and stews, and I can’t imagine roasting potatoes without it. It is also delicious on any roast, a must-have seasoning. Plus, it’s super expensive to purchase bottled from the grocery store so grow extra and dry your own. Fresh or dried, it’s equally delicious. Overall, I’ve found my rosemary plant to be the most likely to survive the winter so I love also planting it in a small pot which I can keep on my windowsill.
A beautiful and ornamental plant in its own right, sage has gray-green foliage with purple-blue spring flowers. It can grow anywhere from 24-30 inches high and looks quite striking anywhere in the garden. Besides, you know you’ll need it for that next turkey, so make sure you plant at least one. Most cooks insist on using sage. Mine was coming back year after year until Tom said it was taking up to much room and yanked it. Sad! Anyhow, sage is a hardy perennial that loves full sun and well-drained soil (it was so happy in that raised bed). Difficult to grow from seed, try buying plants from a nursery. Sage is a wonderful herb for drying!
Pungent plant with narrow, dark green leaves with a somewhat anise-like flavor. Don’t ignore this herb and try it if you’ve never grown it before. It really adds the right flavor to food. I love pairing it with chicken. Our family has a tradition of seasoning our chicken pot pies with tarragon as it creates a unique and pungent flavor. Starting from seed is nearly impossible so I’d recommend buying the plants. It enjoys full morning light, and probably (like most of us) wants a bit of shade by afternoon. You can start harvesting when the plant gets to be about 8-10 inches in height. And buy a few plants because it dries very well and you’ll love sprinkling it on meat all winter long. Remember, these herbs add flavor, not calories to food. And that’s the way to go!
Strong scented evergreen with tiny spiky leaves and lilac flowers in summer. Propagate from cuttings if you wish for more plants. These hardy perennials are mostly low growing and some are considered ornamental with just a slight flavor. But most have leaves and stems that are rich with fragrant oils. Most varieties grow under 12 inches but are fun to grow between stepping-stones in the garden where they’ll release a wonderful scent. Dries well! Expensive to buy in the store so drying your own makes sense for the off season.
How do you add flavor without adding a ton of calories to your food?