1) Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil is a warm weather plant, it needs warm air and warm soil. Plant after the danger of a late Spring frost. Seeds can be started indoors 6 weeks before the predicted last frost date. After it is plenty warm, seedlings can be transplanted outside or grown indoors in a sunny window. When planting seedlings, leave about 10 inches between each plant.
As your basil plant grows, you can harvest leaves regularly; a mature plant can afford to lose entire stocks at a time. Routine pruning and removing flowers will encourage new growth.
Basil is remarkable when used fresh, but it can be dried and used through out the winter. Basil is also an herb that freezes very well and this method tends to maintain flavor better than drying. Simply place whole stocks in an airtight bag and freeze, or loosely chop the leaves, place in an ice cube tray and cover with olive oil. Place the whole tray in the freezer and enjoy handy, flavor filled cubes until next Spring.
2) Cilantro/Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Cilantro does not do well in the heat of Summer, but it will thrive in the cool weather of Spring and Fall. Plant in spot with partial shade and place seedlings 8 inches apart. In proper weather, cilantro will grow very quickly. Young cilantro needs ample amounts of water in order to become established. Once a plant has matured it does not need to be watered as frequently, but do make sure the soil stays moist.
Cilantro leaves can be harvested as needed throughout the growing season. The entire plant is edible so if you are using it fresh, you can dice up the stems as well as the leaves. The leaves dry nicely and maintain good color and flavor. The coriander can be harvested when the plant starts browning. Collect the entire head and store it in a dark, dry place until the seeds fall off. Store the dried leaves and seeds in an airtight container and just like that, you have this tasty herb ready to use.
3) Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme can be difficult to grow from seed so getting your hands on seedlings or cuttings is the most sure-fire route to success. That being said, do not be discouraged to grow from seed! Simply be prepared to experiment a tad. Plant your seedlings 18 inches apart after the last frost.
Thyme is a beautiful plant and regular pruning will ensure it doesn’t get to bushy or leggy. When using fresh thyme, keep in mind that the new growth will be the most tender and flavorful. Just make sure you leave enough for the plant to continue growing. As Winter rolls around trim back your thyme and lightly mulch the base through to coldest months.
If you are have used a spice blend you are probably familiar with dried thyme. It can be used in many types of popular cuisine. Trim off entire stocks, bunch them together and hang in a dark, very dry place. Leave your bunches there until the leaves become brittle, at which point you can break off the leaves and store in a spice jar.
4) Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Dill does not transplant well, so plant directly where you want to grow after risk of frost. Dill weed can grow quite tall and wild so give your plants at least 18 inches of room and plenty of sunlight.
Although dill is an annual, it is an amazing self-seeder so if you would like your very own patch of returning dill, let some of your plants flower and go to seed. You will notice that your dill will grow quickly and although it looks fragile, a mature plant is quite resilient. Harvest entire stocks at a time and your plant will continue to grow.
Fresh dill can have its life extended by placing cut stocks into a jar with a small amount of water. Place the whole jar in the refrigerator and harvest the leaves as needed. Change the water often and remove any dead leaves to prevent mold from growing. Of course this method is only temporary, but luckily dill dries very well!
5) Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
French tarragon is a plant you will want to grow from seedling. You can easily buy sprouted tarragon or get a trimming from a mature plant. Give your seedlings 24 inches between plants and allow them part-full sun.
Tarragon enjoys being harvested regularly and like most perennials, it will be better off if it is mulched during the cold winter months.
French tarragon sprigs are quite similar to thyme in they way the from and grow. They also can be preserved the same way; trim entire stocks, bunch together and hang to dry. Tarragon can very easily loose its flavor if it is left to dry too long, so keep a watchful eye on it and put the leaves into a spice jar as soon as they become brittle.
6) Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
Peppermint is an herb that grows well indoors due to the fact that it is not a very picky plant. Low light-bright light, drought-monsoon, peppermint doesn’t really care, it will grow well under most conditions. Outdoors, give each plant at least 2 feet of space and understand they will use every inch of it. Mint has horizontal “runners” that sprawl out in all directions if not maintained. If you do choose to grow it in a container make sure to keep it well pruned, as it will quickly outgrow its pot.
Fresh peppermint is remarkably more flavorful than dried peppermint, but this is an herb that freezes very well. Place loosely cut leaves in an ice cube tray and cover with water. When you need some, thaw out a cube or two and retrieve the leaves. They won’t be as vibrant as fresh leaves, but they will maintain flavor.
7) Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla )
German chamomile is the variety you will want to grow for tea. It grows well from seed, but it is unique in the sense that the seeds need light to germinate. Gently poke the seeds into the soil every 4 inches and do not cover. You will be able to tell when your chamomile is in bloom by the delightful fragrance that suddenly fills up your garden. The flowers smell sweet and delicious. Like dill, chamomile self-seeds and after a few seasons it will sprout up in colorful little patches all over. It also is said to act as pest control.
Harvest the flowers once they are fully open. They can be used fresh or dried. The leaves can also be used, but tend to be slightly more bitter. To dry chamomile, place the flower heads in a paper bag and store somewhere dry.
8) Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Parsley is a slow starter so start it indoors up to 8 weeks before the last frost. It is a more frost tolerate plant so it can also be started outdoors in early Spring. Place seeds or seedlings 8 inches apart in part-full sun. A moist soil will help your parsley grow strong stocks that won’t flop over.
Fresh parsley stores well in a jar with water. Flat varieties are typically easier to chop and cook with, whereas curly parsley makes a beautiful garnish. Both are super-foods that do wonders for your health! Dry it like most herbs buy bunching and hanging.
9) Sage (Salvia officinalis)
When planting from seedling, give plants 2 feet of room and plant in soil that drains well. Sage is a plant that needs full sun to thrive so keep that in mind when finding the perfect spot.
In the first year of your sage’s life, go easy on the harvesting. It needs that first year to really get established. You certainly can harvest from it, but just not as heavily as you’ll be able to in its later years. Prune your sage well in the fall before the cold of winter.
Sage remains flavorful and aromatic even after being dried. Its leaves also hold their shape well, so they can be very pretty stored in a glass spice jar. Aside from bunching and hanging, sage and other herbs can be dried in the oven. Put the leaves on a cookie sheet and bake on the lowest heat, opening often to allow air flow. Check on them frequently and remove after the leaves become fragile. This will take around 3-5 hours.
10) Rosemary (Rosimarinus officinalis)
Rosemary is a very hardy plant and is tolerate to both the cold of winter and they heat of summer. It is easy to acquire rosemary plants of various ages, from a barely sprouted seedling to a nearly mature bush. When planting your rosemary make sure to leave it plenty of room. They can grow to be over 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide!
A mature plant can afford to lose ¼ of all of its growth in a single harvest. Even if you aren’t harvesting that much, still prune fairly regularly to promote new growth and keep your plant from getting too leggy.
Like thyme, the most flavorful and tender leaves are the new growth. When cooking with fresh rosemary, look for the newest sprigs to harvest. The stems tend to be quite woody, but they leaves can be easily removed by gently pinching and running your fingers from the base of the stem to the tip. The best way to dry rosemary is to place whole sprigs in a paper bag and put it in the refrigerator. When air dried, the leaves can become very hard and difficult to cook with.