I love gardening, and I love cooking. Using fresh veggies straight from the garden is so satisfying to me. But, to be honest, nothing beats freshly cut herbs straight from the garden to put on your food. Nothing.
The smell, quality and flavor of herbs straight from your backyard cannot be beat. There’s nothing fresher, nothing more delicious. Just good, delicious herbs for cooking that you grew with your own two hands right in your backyard or even your windowsill.
While there’s a list a mile long of all the culinary herbs you can use, I stick with these 10. I try to keep some of them growing in the windowsill all year, and I still others I grow outdoors in the warm months. I tried keeping them in pots and bringing them in, but unfortunately that didn’t work for us. It may for you, so don’t think you can’t container garden to keep yourself in fresh herbs. It’s worth taking the chance to see if it will work.
It’s kind of sad that when you read recipes or go out to eat it seems the only seasoning people know about anymore is salt and pepper. But, for centuries, herbs have been a great way to add flavor to our dishes, make herb butters and oils to add to our dishes, and even make flavored vinegars. I don’t know what went wrong, but I love adding herbs to our foods, especially straight from the garden.
Benefits of Growing Your Own Herbs for Cooking
- Herbs aren’t picky. While they like evenly moist, fertile soil. Most will grow in less than spectacular soil, making them super easy for most beginners to grow with very little maintenance.
- They’re inexpensive. Even picking up starts at the local store isn’t super expensive. You can have yourself a decent herb garden for pretty cheap even if you don’t start your own seeds.
- You can grow several indoors. Yep, many herbs can be set out in containers when its warm and brought inside in the winter.
- They’re prolific. Anyone that has ever started a mint plant knows that herbs of all types have a tendency of taking over. It doesn’t take much for them to spread, so if you don’t want a huge bed of a particular herb, make sure you keep them pruned back and don’t allow them to spread.
- Many are hardy perennials. Lots of culinary herbs are perennial, meaning you plant them once and they’ll continue providing you with delicious plants year after year.
- They’re a beautiful addition to the garden or windowsill. Herbs are beautiful, while keeping the flowers pruned results in the best tasting herbs, the leaves on the plants are just as beautiful.
10 Herbs for Cooking You need to Grow
Everyone needs some garlic in their life. If you have a recipe calling for two cloves, you’ll want to add 10 in my experience. Garlic is an amazing herb, it’s delicious, and a base in almost every savory dish we make in the kitchen.
Garlic is simple to plant, but you generally start it in the fall. Simply throw a clove in the ground and wait. By spring you’ll have garlic scrapes coming up (which are delicious in their own right) and by the middle to end of summer you’ll have whole heads of garlic ready for harvesting just below the soil. Garlic keeps a long time when picked fresh and braided, so make sure you plant plenty.
Like garlic, basil is another must have culinary herb. And while I typically have a jar of dried basil in my cupboard, the flavor of fresh basil cannot be beat.
Most varieties of basil do best outdoors, planted in the spring. If you want to keep basil indoors, the smaller, globe types are best, but it will do well in containers as long as they’re large enough. It is an annual herb and will need replanted each year. Make sure you pinch off the flowers during the growing season as soon as they show up to keep the leaves nice and flavorful all season long. You’ll also want to make sure you pinch the stems as you harvest to keep the plant from flowering. You won’t need many plants unless you plan to make pesto, just a few will keep you in fresh basil unless you’re planning to make and freeze your own pesto for winter.
Another favorite of ours, it’s the best Italian herb there is. We put it in our lasagna, spaghetti, and pizza. It’s also great as a blend in sausages and atop many meats. Fresh oregano does not do well cooking for prolonged periods, though so either add it in at the end of the cooking time or dry it and use it that way.
Oregano is a very prolific herb, it will spread quickly. To keep the plants in check and flavorful, cut them back to a third of their size. This herb is most flavorful in mid-summer, just before it blooms. Remove any flowers before it starts, and cut the plant down to its bottom set of leaves which will encourage it to grow again for another cutting in late summer. It can be overwintered indoors if its grown in containers.
I love throwing parsley in our meat dishes as well as eggs. In fact, I can’t think of much that parsley isn’t good with. It’s just one of those herbs that can take something from good to amazing with a simple sprinkle.
Parsley grows well and keeps its flavor best when used fresh or frozen. Drying it works, but it loses a lot of flavor. It is a prolific herb and cutting the stems at the bottom when harvesting will encourage new growth.
I’ll admit, I actually used to hate the flavor of rosemary. I think because I had only ever had it dried and never had the opportunity to eat it fresh from the garden. Rosemary is great blended with other herbs on chicken and pork, and has quickly become a must have for our little garden.
Rosemary is a tender perennial and does best in its second year, so if you have the ability and live in colder climates, plant it in a container that you can bring inside in the winter to make it easier. If not, plant it somewhere against a wall that will protect it from the cold winter winds, or dig it up to bring it indoors in the cold months. Mulching helps keep the plant cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but keep the mulch away from the crown.
Mint… this is one of those plants that will easily grow, everywhere. Even where you don’t want it. In one of our old houses that we lived in several years ago, the previous owners had planted lots and lots of mint and it was growing alllll over the yard. Mint is one of those must haves for that fresh, well, minty flavor that it affords to everything it touches. I actually love this herb.
You can keep mint halfway tamed by planting it in containers. Otherwise, it makes a fantastic ground cover (and smells amazing). Mint is a hardy perennial that should be moved and replanted every 3 to 4 years to keep it nice and flavorful. It’s definitely a plant that can get way out of hand, so make sure you pull up any wayward runners and keep the flower buds picked off.
Since we’ve started making our own sausages from harvested pigs and deer, sage is an absolute necessity. It makes those dishes and chicken delicious, and suddenly became a must have when we started making our own things. My mom used to love the fragrance of sage and I’ve grown quite fond of it myself.
Sage, in most climates, is a hardy perennial and will come back stronger every single year. However, it can stop being as productive after 4 years or so, so you may want to dig it up and start with fresh. It’s easiest to prune the plants back every spring to encourage new growth and keep harvesting to a minimum its first year to promote growth.
8. Bay Laurel
Bay leaves are an amazing addition to soups and stews in the winter time. The dried leaves pack a bigger punch than their fresh counterparts, but both are delicious. Note I wouldn’t recommend the dried ones at the store that have been sitting for who knows how long, they don’t have much flavor at all by the time they reach your kitchen. Some people simply throw a few dried leaves in their stew to add flavor and pull them out when the dish is finished. I actually find grinding them up to add much more flavor to the dish, so that’s what I typically do.
Bay laurel is something that us northerners must grow in pots to avoid having to start over with new, small plants every year. You can bring them in every winter and set them back out in the spring and summer after the last frost. They’re pretty forgiving, and really easy to grow. They do best pruned in the spring and if you keep them next to a cool window in the winter, they will go dormant and resume active growing when set outside again the following spring.
Thyme is an amazing herb, goes great in savory dishes and slow cooked dishes alike. It adds a great flavor to anything lemon-y flavored as well. This herb is very easily dried, and a beautiful evergreen addition to the garden. I wouldn’t be without it.
Thyme does well in containers as well as in the garden. It does need excellent drainage, so plan accordingly. It is very easy to grow and requires very little maintenance. You can lightly prune it after its first year, and pinching the stems helps keep the plant bushy. However, do not prune or harvest close to the first frost so it isn’t too tender with the cold weather coming. You can bring container plants indoors to overwinter as well.
Onion chives are one of my favorite things. I really like growing them in a container and bringing them indoors in the winter for a source of some fresh green things to add to my dishes in the cold, winter months. It’s like therapy knowing I have something green and fresh available to use instead of my dried or frozen herbs.
Chives can be used for their leaves as well as their flowers and give off just a light onion flavor, so they’re best added at the very end as cooking will destroy their flavor. If you pinch off the flowers, the plants will produce more leaves, so I usually do. These are really low maintenance plants, only requiring regular watering and some fish emulsion fertilizer every few weeks, especially if you harvest often. After 3 to 4 years, you can divide the clumps to create more containers (or sections) of chives. Super simple, beautiful, delicious plant to grow.
Herbs are pretty low maintenance additions to your garden or kitchen windowsill. These, by far, are not the only culinary herbs there are. But, these are the ones we use again and again.
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