Growing Herbs at Home
Growing your own herbs is not only a hugely therapeutic and rewarding hobby but also a great way to save money and become more self sufficient.
If you’re new to gardening, especially at home, herbs are a great starting point. The great thing about herbs is you don’t need to have a garden. You can grow them in window boxes or small pots on your balcony as you would in a vegetable patch or garden bed.
What are the different types of herbs?
On a basic level, especially when it comes to cooking, most people will refer to herbs as being woody or soft. Woody herbs such as rosemary or thyme tend to be a little more hardy and won’t usually be eaten in their raw state and instead used in casseroles or roasting. Soft herbs, like basil or mint are a little more delicate and can and often are consumed raw in salads, tea, fresh sauces or scattered over as a garnish.
If we were to step it up a gear and be more specific on a botany level, there are three main categories of herbs:
- Planted at the beginning of each growing season and go from seed to flower and back to seed in a single growing season.
- Planted once and can be slow to grow but come back year after year, in spring and often tend to grow in size each year. Perennials should if possible be sown and grown in a permanent area outside.
- Quick to grow and have a two year life cycle.
Annual Herbs include:
Perennial Herbs include:
- Mint (best kept in pots as it tends to take over when planted in a bed)
- Bay Leaf
Biennial Herbs include:
Depending on your climate and growing season there are some herbs that will fall into both the annual and perennial category but it’s nothing you need to worry too much about. So long as you are clued up on the herb or herbs you’ve chosen to grow and the conditions they prefer and care they require, you will be fine.
What Are The Easiest Herbs To Grow at Home?
As I’ve touched on in the introduction, on a whole, herbs are pretty low maintenance and thus relatively easy to grow and can be grown even in the tightest of living spaces. If you’re looking at starting your own herb garden, my personal favourites and top suggestions are listed below:
Once established, be aware that mint spreads like “wildfire”. Although it’s not compulsory, in order to prevent it from completely taking over your garden, it is recommended to plant mint in pots so that you can contain the roots. Like with basil, by pinching off the tips, especially any small flowers, you’ll encourage the leaves to grow and produce a bushier plant.
Thyme plants take care of themselves, in fact the more you leave them alone, the better they will grow. They enjoy dry but well drained conditions and sunny spots. They are best suited outdoors, be it in a plant pot of garden bed. Thyme are hardy herbs and once established will come back year after year.
It’s not just an easy herb to grow but it’s also a wonderfully delicious and versatile herb. Aim to sow basil seeds from March onwards ensuring they’re in a sunny spot, be it on a windowsill or in a greenhouse. When the weather is warmer basil plants can go outside. Much like mint, by snipping off the tips you’ll encourage a bushier plant.
A wonderfully versatile herb that requires little maintenance, they are best planted during spring or autumn months in sunny but sheltered areas and well drained soil. Rosemary bushes do tend to grow fairly large in size so although you can plant them in pots, they are best planted in garden beds (which are easily reachable) where they have sufficient room to flourish.
Be it in pots or garden beds, bay leaf plants are best suited to sheltered spots with full or part sunlight and well drained soil. They add wonderful aromatic flavour to casseroles and stews and are a staple herb in many a garden or patio.
A relative of the onion family, chives seeds should be sown into the ground and ideally between March and April. They prefer sunny spots and require a decent amount of moisture in the soil so be sure to keep them well watered.
My best advice is to pick one or two herbs that you know you’re going to use on a regular basis. If I had to pick two, it would be Mint (for my daily morning and evening cup of mint tea) and Thyme because I simply love it’s taste and versatility in cooking. Both herbs are also incredibly easy to sow and grow and tend to need little if any maintenance.
What are The Best Conditions For Herbs to Grow?
Like any plant, sunlight is one of the key considerations when it comes to growing herbs. Although the amount differs from each species, on average they’ll need at least 4 hours of sunlight each day. So whether you’re planting them in a window box, in a plant pot or in a garden bed, it’s important to choose a location that will deliver sufficient sunlight throughout the day. As well as sunny spots, herbs also prefer sheltered locations (i.e. away from overexposure to extreme winds etc) and well drained soil but whichever herbs you decide to grow, just be sure to read up on exactly what conditions each one thrives in to ensure you produce the best crop. Following the checklist below and you won’t go wrong:
- Location - Sheltered
- Soil - Well drained
- Sunlight - At least 4 hours a day
- Water - Keeping the soil moist and being sure not to over-water
How Often Should I Water My Herbs?
Indoor herbs usually need watering every two or three days. You’ll easily be able to see if they’re looking thirsty when the top soil is looking dry. If your herb plants have wilted due to lack of water, you’ll be surprised by how quickly they come back to life once you give them a drink. If your herbs are outdoors, they may need watering a little more often, perhaps once a day or during the warmer months, twice a day. Be it indoors or outdoors, the soil will be your guide and the best indication as to whether more moisture is required. It’s also good to remember that all herbs will have different individual needs so although most herbs require good drainage, be sure to do your research and equip yourself with the knowledge of how best to care for each separate plant.
Harvesting Your Herbs
It’s really important that you pick and harvest your herbs on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid or think that you’ll be harming them or stumping their growth because you will in fact be doing quite the opposite. Frequent picking of your herbs will encourage the plant to grow, often producing more foliage and a bushier shrub. Make the most of your hard work and reap the joys of the wonderful produce on your doorstep.
This article will also show you how to further extend the use of your herbs even at the end of the season through preserving techniques such as freezing or drying so you can enjoy them throughout the year and beyond.
How to Store & Preserve Herbs
Herbs are best enjoyed when they’re fresh but there are a host of different ways you can preserve them for future use and still retain their flavour. Furthermore, preserving methods such as jarring in oil or drying for decoration and fragrance make wonderful homemade gifts.
Preserving your own herbs won’t just save you money and extend their shelf life but will also open your mind to their diversity and the variety of ways they can be used and enjoyed all year round.
If you are considering Jarring in Oil, be sure to Sterilize your Jars. See our Article - Sterilizing Jars for Jams, Pickles, Fermenting, and Canning (Opens in a new tab) for all the information.
Some of my favourite ways to preserve herbs at home include:
1. Jarring in Oil
A great and delicious way to preserve and extend the use of herbs. Rosemary would be my top suggestion here. Simply push a few spears (twig included) into your preferred oil (eg. Olive, Rapeseed) and leave it to infuse and work it’s magic. The longer it’s left the better but leave it for at least a month before using in whichever way you wish. Add it to salad dressings, use it when you’re sweating down onions or vegetables, swirl it into your soup or simply pour into a small dish and treat it as a dip for fresh bread. Yum!
There are a couple of options when it comes to freezing herbs. Woody or hardy herbs such as Rosemary, Thyme or Bay can be frozen in their full state, kept on the stem and simply put in an airtight container. Alternatively, softer more leafy herbs like Basil, Parsley, Mint, Tarragon or Dill can be placed into ice cubes trays (whole or chopped), topped up with water or stock. For example, mint ice cubes can be added to a cocktail or a simple glass of water whilst iced stock cubes can be dropped into soups, stew, or casseroles.
Drying is probably the method of preservation that many people will first consider but it’s important to remember that a lot of herbs have a relatively high water content which means they are prone to rotting. Dried herbs aren’t just useful for cooking but can also be used for homemade gifts such as scented lavender bags which add the most wonderful fragrance to draws and wardrobes.
The main methods of drying herbs include:
Air Drying - This is the slowest method of drying herbs but nonetheless still a very effective way to preserve them. You air dry herbs in a bundle or spread them out over racks which does take up more room but as the herbs aren’t tightly packed together it helps avoid mould or rot during the drying process. Either way, be sure to dry them away from direct sunlight and in a room that is well ventilated. Larger leaves such as Bay Leaf are great for air drying.
Oven Drying - Quicker than air drying but the thing to be careful and aware of here is the avoidance of burning your herbs. You may have a few failed attempts before you understand the best temperature you should set your oven at for each individual herb. Simply strip the herbs from their stems and spread them over a wire rack, set the oven at its lowest heat (max temp of 100 degrees), place the rack in the oven for 30mins, leaving the door slightly open so that the excess moisture can escape. After 30mins is up, take the herbs out, turn them over and place them back in the oven for a further 30mins before switching the oven off and leaving the herbs inside to cool. Some methods suggest placing muslin over the herbs during their oven drying but it’s not always necessary. Hardy more robust herbs such as Thyme or Rosemary are ideal for oven drying.
Microwave Drying - This is by far the quickest way to dry herbs because microwaves specifically target water content. Drying your herbs in a microwave also retains their green colour as well as their fresh taste.
Dehydrating - This one requires some equipment, but is an incredible effective way to dry herbs, vegetables, fruit, and even meat.
What Are The Different Ways To Use Herbs?
Herbs brighten and heighten any meal, or drink so it’s no wonder that their most common use, especially if you’re growing them from home will be for consumption. Whether you’re cooking or preserving them, it is undeniable that having your own herb garden is a fantastic way to liven up your kitchen skills.
Herbs can of course be used for fragrance (eg. dried lavender bags, soaps, candles) and in medicinal remedies but, personally, the way they can elevate dishes in taste and appearance is their shining glory.
Here’s a run down of some of the most popular herbs, what ingredients and flavours they goes well with and some possible recipe ideas to explore:
Goes Well With: Tomatoes, Olive Oil, Mozzarella, Strawberries, Seafood, Chicken
Recipe Ideas: Pesto, Dressings, Marinades, Pizza, Fruit & Vegetable Salads, Pasta, Bruschetta
Goes Well With: Carrots, Chicken, Lamb, Veal, Honey, Vegetables, Garlic, Tomatoes
Recipe Ideas: Roast or Marinated Meats, Casseroles, Stews, Roasted Vegetables
Goes Well With: Eggs, Cheese, Cream, Potatoes, Tomatoes, Mayonnaise
Recipe Ideas: Omelettes or Scrambled Eggs, Potato Salad, Tomato Salad, Cream Sauces for Fish or Poultry, Soups
Goes Well With: Red Meat, Sauces, Stock, Eggs
Recipe Ideas: Tabbouleh Salad, Pesto, Chimichurri Sauce, Couscous or Quinoa, Grilled Fish, Grilled Lamb, Beef or Lamb Casserole
Goes Well With: Curry, Fish, Chicken, Tomatoes, Avocados, Garlic, Lemon, Carrots
Recipe Ideas: Guacamole, Salsa, Curry, Carrot Soup, Asian Soups, Stir Fries, Salads
Goes Well With: Eggs, Potatoes, Fish, Cucumber, Fennel, Cream
Recipe Ideas: Potato Salad, Cucumber Salad, Cream Sauces for Fish, Dips, Pickled Vegetables, Cream Cheese Spreads, Smoked Salmon
Goes Well With: Cream, Chicken, Fish, Veal, Eggs, Rabbit, Salmon, Baby Vegetables, Potatoes, Beans
Recipe Ideas: Bearnaise Sauce, Roasted Chicken, Chicken Casserole, Mayonnaise
Goes Well With: Tea, Strawberries, Yogurt, Pineapple, Peas, Citrus Fruit, Peaches
Recipe Ideas: Tzatziki, Mint Tea, Pesto, Mint Sauce and Roasted Lamb, Fruit Salads, Braised or Mushy Peas, Grilled Pineapple, Grilled Peach & Mozzarella Salad
Goes Well With: Chicken, Lamb, Pork, Beef, Oily Fish, Roasted Vegetables, Onions, Potatoes
Recipe Ideas: Roast Potatoes, Roast Meats, Grilled Fish, Marinades for Meat or Vegetables, Focaccia,
Goes Well With: Fatty Meats; Pork, Beef, Duck, Chicken, Goose, Onions, Pasta, Butternut Squash, Cheese
Recipe Ideas: Stuffing, Sausages, Pork Chops, Roast Pork, Buttery Sauces, Gnocchi, Stuffed Squash & Goat Cheese,
To help you get started
If herbs and the home growing of them is completely new territory just remember, like anything we do, practise makes perfect. This article will help get you started on your homegrown herb journey and in time you’ll learn which ones you love, the conditions and locations in your home or garden where they grow best and be an expert in all the different ways you can use them to make the most of enjoying the products of your labour.
Ian Hunter - Father of three, based in Southern Sweden. Author and Co owner of Grow Zone and growing Food all winter. See my full About Page here.
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Co written with Hannah Bramley, a Private & Virtual PA and Lifestyle Management Consultant based in the UK. With a background in managing and ensuring the organisation and preparedness of others, Hannah is now a freelance Personal Lifestyle & Business Consultant, with the ability to turn her hand to any task. Self Sufficiency being just one of her new found interests since the events of early 2020. She is a fitness guru, an ardent foodie, a social media wizard and entrepreneur, with a passion and natural flare for organising, bringing people together and making things happen.