How to start a thriving culinary herb garden – the ultimate beginner guide

how to start a culinary herb garden

Setting up an herb garden is an ideal way to start experimenting with the many uses of herbs. Herbs are one of the easiest plants to grow and should have a place in any home cook’s garden.

Herbs have a long and interesting history, with many cultures using them for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Ancient Egyptians used herbs like anise and coriander in their embalming practices, while traditional Chinese medicine incorporates herbs such as ginseng and ginger to promote health and well-being.

In addition to their culinary and medicinal uses, herbs can also be used for natural cleaning and pest control. For instance, peppermint and lavender are known for their insect-repelling properties, while vinegar and lemon juice are popular natural cleaning agents that often incorporate herbs like thyme and rosemary.

green leaf plant

When it comes to cooking with herbs, the possibilities are endless. Fresh or dried herbs can be used to add flavor and depth to a variety of dishes, from savory soups and stews to sweet desserts and drinks. Some popular herb-infused dishes include pesto pasta, rosemary roasted potatoes, and mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Overall, herbs offer a wealth of benefits and can be a great addition to any kitchen or medicine cabinet. Just be sure to do your research and consult with a professional before using any herbs for medicinal purposes.

So, when it comes down to whether or not you should have an herb garden, the decision is a no brainer.

Starting an herb garden can be easy and rewarding. Often times people start herb gardens out of frustration from buying fresh herbs at the grocery store only for them to decompose into slimey gunk before you can use it.

Growing your own herbs can not only add flavor to your dishes but can also save you money. And even though there is an abundance of ways you can save and preserve fresh herbs for future use, it’s always best to be able to pick them fresh as needed.

vertical herb garden life on milo's farm

Herbs are also excellent as companion plants, and if you’ve done any reading into permaculture or fruit tree guilds, then you’ll soon realise that herbs – and plants in general – do have other benefits aside from being eaten.

Herbs also provide lots of different ground cover, food for other animals and even in some instances can be useful medicinally. Something like calendula and chamomile has amazing skin benefits, and I’ve been using chamomile to soothe my allergies since I was a kid!

This post is all about how to start a functional and useful herb garden for your homestead.

Designing an herb garden

There’s a few key points to remember when starting your herb garden. There’s lots of different ways to set this space up – from kitchen window pots to companion plants in fruit tree guilds – how you set up your herb garden is entirely up to you and what your usage is like.

potted plants on shelf in greenhouse

To design a herb garden, start by choosing a sunny location with well-draining soil. Decide which herbs you want to grow based on the growing conditions. Consider grouping herbs with similar water and light needs together. Use raised beds, containers, or borders to separate the different herbs. Add hardscaping elements like paths or trellises to create interest and functionality. Don’t forget to include seating and other features to make your herb garden a pleasant and inviting space.

I think one of the key things to remember here is that you don’t have to grow things you don’t use, but alternately, consider growing things you normally wouldn’t as it may provide other benefits such as with companion planting designs.

What is the best climate for growing herbs?

Herbs typically grow best in a mild climate with plenty of sunlight and well-draining soil. Some popular herbs, such as Basil and Cilantro, prefer a warmer climate, while others, like Rosemary and Thyme, can be grown in cooler climates. The best climate for growing herbs will depend on the specific type of herb you are trying to cultivate.

If you’re looking to grow herbs, it’s important to keep in mind that each type of herb has its own unique needs. Some herbs thrive in hot, dry climates, while others prefer cooler temperatures and more moisture. Here are a few additional points to consider when choosing a climate for growing herbs:

  • Mediterranean herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, and thyme, prefer dry, sunny conditions and are well-suited to hot, arid climates.
  • Herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley enjoy warm temperatures and plenty of sun, but they also need well-draining soil and regular watering to thrive.
  • For cooler climates, consider growing herbs like chives, mint, and lemon balm, which can tolerate lower temperatures and more moisture.
  • No matter where you live, it’s important to pay attention to your soil quality and make sure your herbs are getting the right amount of water and nutrients to support healthy growth.
potted green leaf plants

If all of the above is simply not feasible, there you can use a lighting setup and heat mat to grow fresh herbs year-round. Herbs need lots of light and during winter, this may not be feasible depending on where you are in the world. Using a timed light and heat mat may help provide the right light to replicate optimal growing conditions during winter.

By understanding the unique needs of the herbs you want to grow, you can choose the right climate and growing conditions to help them thrive.

To seed or not?

Don’t be alarmed or afraid to start with seeds. Seeds are a many affordable options to start with and there’s a huge array of seed companies online now where you can bundle seed purchases, buy in bulk, and buy for your region.

Look for companies that offer heirloom, non-GMO, open pollinated seeds for best germination and the ability to save them for future use. I use Happy Valley Seeds, but there’s also Survival Seeds Australia and many, many more.

green seedlings of parsley on marble desk

I picked up a Digger’s membership last year and upon entering my address, it tells me the exact things I can plant and at which time. It is an excellent, easy tool for new gardeners to understand what will work, and in which season based on where they live.

If you’re nervous about starting seeds, then you can always find a nursery or online company that can help by offering started seedlings. I use Mudbrick Herb Cottage because they’re in my region so the herbs and plants they grow, and sell are already suitable for my climate.

What type of herb garden will you have?

The best type of herb garden depends on several factors, such as the available space, sunlight, and the herbs you want to grow. However, some popular options include container gardens, raised bed gardens, or a simple windowsill herb garden.

If you have limited space, a container garden is a great option. You can use pots or planters to grow your herbs and move them around as needed to make the most of the available sunlight.

photo of potted plant

Raised bed gardens are another excellent choice, particularly if you have poor soil quality, as you can control the soil conditions.

A simple windowsill herb garden is perfect if you are short on outdoor space, and it allows you to have fresh herbs at your fingertips all year round.

Whatever option you choose, be sure to research the specific needs of the herbs you want to grow to ensure they thrive in their environment.

Maintaining an herb garden

To ensure that your herb garden thrives, there’s a few key points you need to have in mind. These tips are not that much different to regular garden maintenance needs, but it is very important to highlight that you will need to be a little more careful with your herb garden as some herbs are more delicate than others, or need more care.

green leaf plant
  • Mulching: Mulching around your herbs can help retain moisture in the soil, keep weeds at bay, and regulate soil temperature. You can use grass clippings, straw, or leaves as organic mulch.
  • Soil pH: Most herbs prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. You can test your soil using a home testing kit or by sending a sample to a local lab. If your soil is too alkaline, you can add sulfur or peat moss to lower the pH.
  • Sun protection: While most herbs need plenty of sunlight, some can get scorched in intense heat or direct sunlight. Consider shading your herbs during the hottest part of the day, or planting them in a location that gets partial shade.
  • Container gardening: If you don’t have space for a traditional herb garden, you can still grow herbs in containers. Choose pots with drainage holes, use a high-quality potting mix, and water regularly.
  • Winter care: Depending on where you live, your herb garden may go dormant or die back in the winter. To protect your herbs from frost or cold temperatures, consider covering them with a frost blanket or bringing them indoors.

With these additional tips in mind, you can keep your herb garden healthy and thriving throughout the growing season.

Types of culinary herbs

There are hundreds of culinary herbs to choose from when planning your meals, including basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, oregano, sage, mint, and dill, to name a few.

Culinary herbs are a great way to add flavor and nutrition to your dishes. Some of the more common herbs may be easier to start with as you may already have existing knowledge of them. Some of these herbs are listed below and have the following uses:

  • Basil is a versatile herb that pairs well with tomatoes, cheese, and meats. It is also a key ingredient in pesto.
  • Thyme is a fragrant herb that is commonly used in soups, stews, and marinades. It is also a great addition to roasted vegetables.
  • Rosemary is a woody herb that has a strong, pine-like flavor. It is commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine and pairs well with lamb, chicken, and potatoes.
  • Parsley is a mild herb that can be used as a garnish or added to salads, soups, and sauces for a fresh flavor.
  • Cilantro (also known as coriander) has a bright, citrusy flavor and is commonly used in Mexican, Indian, and Southeast Asian cuisine.
  • Oregano is a pungent herb that is commonly used in Italian and Greek cuisine. It pairs well with tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese.
  • Sage has a strong, earthy flavor and is commonly used in stuffing, sausage, and other meat dishes.
  • Mint is a refreshing herb that is commonly used in salads, desserts, and drinks. It pairs well with chocolate and fruit.
  • Dill has a tangy, slightly sweet flavor and is commonly used in pickles, fish dishes, and potato salad.

When growing your own culinary herbs, it’s important to note that some varieties are easier to grow than others.

Basil: This herb prefers warm, sunny weather and well-draining soil. It’s important to keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged. You can also pinch off the top leaves of the plant to encourage bushier growth.

Rosemary: This herb prefers warmer, drier climates and well-draining soil. It’s important to avoid over-watering, as rosemary is susceptible to root rot. You can also prune the plant regularly to encourage new growth.

Mint: This herb prefers moist soil and partial shade. It’s important to keep the soil consistently moist, but not waterlogged. You can also prune the plant regularly to prevent it from becoming too leggy.

In addition to their culinary uses, many herbs also have medicinal properties. For example, mint can help soothe an upset stomach, while sage has been used to alleviate sore throats and coughs. When using herbs for medicinal purposes, be sure to do your research and consult with a healthcare professional if needed.

Here are the major types of culinary herbs.

Annual Herbs

Annual herbs grow new plants each year from seed. These herbs have a distinct growing cycle. Young plants grow quickly in the spring, reaching maturity in about two months depending on the variety.  At the end of the season, the plants will flower, set seeds then die as winter approaches.

Annual herbs include basil, dill, coriander, savory, and borage. If allowed to go to seed in your garden, many annual herbs will reseed themselves. Dill and borage are annual herbs that reseed easily.

Tender annual herbs such as basil will only begin growing once the ground has warmed up a bit.  Hardy annual herbs don’t mind the cooler weather so can be planted earlier in the season and can often tolerate a bit of frost.

Biennial Herbs

Biennial herbs live for two years. Parsley, celery leaf, angelica, and chervil are examples of biennial herbs. Most of the leaf growth is in the first year. The biennial herbs can be harvested at the beginning of the second year until growth slows and the herbs begin to flower, then set seed.

Many biennial herbs are grown as annuals since the flavor is generally better in the first year. Older plant plants may be left in the garden the second year and allowed to flower in order to collect seeds for future plantings.

Perennial Herbs

Perennial herbs will live many years in the garden, some going dormant in winter, but coming back from the roots each spring.

The hardiness of perennial herbs will vary by growing zone, so it’s good to double-check the winter hardiness of each herb before planning your herb garden. Perennial herbs that are not hardy in your zone can be grown in pots and overwintered in a greenhouse, moved indoors, or grown as annuals.

Perennial herbs include Chives, Rosemary, Oregano, Thyme, Mint, Fennel, and Garlic.

Tender perennials may need to be replaced every few years for best results. Perennial herbs can be propagated by division, root cuttings, or seed.

Keep in mind growth is slower for perennial herbs and some may not produce a good harvest until their second year.

Evergreen perennials such as lavender and thyme will stay green all year. Growth will slow in the winter months, but the plants will stay green making a prettier landscape in the colder months.

Cooking with herbs

Cooking with herbs is a great way to add flavor and nutrition to your meals. Some popular herbs used in cooking include basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley, and cilantro. It’s best to use fresh herbs whenever possible, but dried herbs can also be used. It’s also good to remember to use herbs in moderation so they don’t overpower the other flavors in your dish.

photo of assorted herbs

In addition to adding flavor and nutrition to your meals, using herbs in cooking can also have some health benefits. For example, basil is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, while rosemary is believed to improve digestion and boost memory.

  • When using fresh herbs, be sure to wash and dry them thoroughly before using.
  • To release the full flavor of dried herbs, crush them between your fingers before adding them to your dish.
  • If you’re not sure which herbs to use in a particular dish, try experimenting with different combinations until you find the flavors that work best for you.
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to get creative with your use of herbs. For example, you can make a delicious pesto sauce with basil, or use cilantro to add a fresh flavor to salsa or guacamole.

So now that you’re armed with all this amazing info, are you ready to get out and design your own herb garden? I’d love to hear how you go!

Until next time, Happy Homesteading!

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