Adapted from Pub. NE 208 published by the Cooperative Extension Services of the Northeast States
|History of Herbs||Definition, Number, and Types of Herbs Available|
|Herbs for Beginning Gardeners||Outdoor Herb Culture Tips|
|Indoor Herb Gardening||Drying Herbs|
|Herb Description, Culture, Harvesting, and Use|
|Savory (Summer)||Savory (Winter)||Spearmint||Tarragon||Thyme|
History of Herbs
Herbs have played an important part in man's life for countless years -- in his politics, romance, love, religion, health, and superstition.
Celery was used by the Abyssinians for stuffing pillows. Ancient Greeks and Romans crowned their heroes with dill and laurel. Dill also was used by the Romans to purify the air in their banquet halls.
Some herbs were given magical properties, probably because of their medicinal uses. The early Chinese considered artemisia to have special charms. In France during the Middle Ages, babies were rubbed with artemisia juices to protect them from the cold. Ancient Greeks used sweet marjoram as a valuable tonic, and parsley as a cure for stomach ailments. Rosemary was eaten in the Middle Ages for its tranquilizing effects and as a cure-all for headaches.
Chives, still a common herb often found growing wild, had economic importance throughout Asia and many Mediterranean countries. Odd as it seems now, the early Dutch settlers in this country intentionally planted chives in the meadows so cows would give chive-flavored milk.
Mint, another popular herb today, also had its beginnings early in history. Greek athletes used bruised mint leaves as an after-bath lotion. In the Middle Ages, mint was important as a cleansing agent and later was used to purify drinking water that had turned stale on long ocean voyages. Mint also was given mystical powers It was used to neutralize the "evil eye" and to produce an aggressive character.
Mustard was lauded by Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician, and Shakespeare called it a desirable condiment in several of his plays.
Other herbs with importance dating back to early times include basil, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme.
Early settlers brought herbs to America for use as remedies for illnesses, flavoring, storing with linens, strewing on floors, or burning for their pleasant fragrances. Some herbs were used to improve the taste of meats in the days before preservation techniques were developed. Other herbs were used to dye homespun fabrics.
Herb gardens were almost an essential feature of pioneer homes. They were placed in sunny corners near the house to be readily available to the busy homemaker. As the population of the new country grew, people from many nations brought herbs with them. This resulted in an exchange of slips, seeds, and plants.
Many herbs familiar to settlers from other countries were found growing wild in the new country. These included parsley, anise, pennyroyal, sorrel, watercress, liverwort, wild leeks, and lavender. American Indians knew uses for almost every wild, nonpoisonous plant, but they used the plants chiefly for domestic purposes -- tanning and dyeing leather and eating.
Definition, Number, and Types of Herbs Available
Early herb gardens were the major source for food seasoning. The need for homegrown herbs, however, declined with the advent of modern stores. Today, many gardeners are rediscovering the joy and pleasure of producing their own herbs.
Definition of Herb
From the botanical viewpoint, an herb is a seed plant that does not produce a woody stem like a tree. But an herb will live long enough to develop flowers and seeds.
Number of Herbs Available
A true herb connoisseur can select from a wide variety of common and not-so-common herbs. For example, the E & A Evetts Ashfields Herb Nursery of Shropshire, England, lists 57 herbs, 16 mints, 17 onion-type herbs, 20 sages, and 17 thymes in a recent catalog.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbook on Herbs lists 73 different types of herbs.
Some herbs fit into one or more classifications according to use -- culinary, aromatic, ornamental, and medicinal.
Culinary herbs are probably the most useful to herb gardeners, having a wide range of uses in cooking. These herbs, because of their strong flavors, are generally used in small quantities to add flavor. Parsley, produced in the largest amount, is used mostly as a garnish. Next in popularity is sage -- an important flavoring in pork sausage. Other popular culinary herbs include chives, thyme, savory, marjoram, mint, and basil.
Aromatic herbs have some novel uses and are not as popular to grow. Most have pleasant smelling flowers or foliage. Oils from aromatic herbs can be used to produce perfumes, toilet water, and various scents. For home use, the plant parts are used intact, often to scent linens or clothing. When dried, many aromatic herbs will retain their aroma for a considerable period. Some common aromatic herbs include mint, marjoram, lovage, rosemary, and basil.
Ornamental herbs have brightly colored flowers and foliage. Many have whitish or light-colored flowers. Valerian has crimson blossoms while borage and chicory are blue-flowered. Such herbs as variegated thyme, mint, lavender, and chives produce variegated foliage.
Medicinal herbs have long been thought to have curative powers. But while present medical knowledge recognizes some herbs as having healing properties, others are highly overrated. Medicinal herbs should be used carefully. Some herbs are harmless while others can be dangerous if consumed.
Herbs also can be classified as annuals, biennials, and perennials. Annuals bloom one season and then die. Biennials live for two seasons, blooming the second season only. Once established, perennials overwinter and bloom each season.
Herbs for Beginning Gardeners
Beginning herb gardeners may have a problem deciding which herbs to plant because of the large number of herbs from which to select. A quick check of your supermarket shelf will give you some idea of the types of herbs used in cooking and also will serve as a planting guide. Many cookbooks also offer information on uses of various herbs as flavorings.
Following is a good variety of flavors and uses of recommended herbs for beginners:
-- winter savory, rosemary, sage
Herbs strong enough for accent -- sweet basil, dill, mint, sweet marjoram, tarragon, thyme
Herbs for blending -- chives, parsley, summer savory
As your interest and needs increase, you can add to the variety of herbs in your garden. Keep in mind that herbs can be annuals, biennials, or perennials when selecting herbs to grow for the first time.
one season and die) -- anise, basil, chervil, coriander,
dill, summer savory
Biennials (live two seasons, blooming second season only) -- caraway, parsley
Perennials (overwinter; bloom each season once established) -- chives, fennel, lovage, marjoram, mint, tarragon,
thyme, winter savory.
Outdoor Herb Culture Tips
Most commonly used herbs will grow in the Northeast. If you have room, you can make herbs part of your vegetable garden. However, you may prefer to grow herbs in a separate area, particularly the perennials.
Herb Garden Size
First, decide on the size of your herb garden; this will depend on the amount of variety you want. Generally, a kitchen garden can be an area 20 by 4 feet. Individual 12- by 18-inch plots within the area should be adequate for separate herbs. You might like to grow some of the more colorful and frequently used herbs, such as parsley and purple basil, as border plants. Keep annual and perennial herbs separate. A diagram of the area and labels for the plants also will help.
Site and Soil Conditions
When selecting the site for your herb garden, consider drainage and soil fertility. Drainage is probably the most important single factor in successful herb growing. None of the herbs will grow in wet soils. If the garden area is poorly drained, you will have to modify the soil for any chance of success. To improve drainage at the garden site, remove the soil to a depth of 15 to 18 inches. Place a 3-inch layer of crushed stone or similar material on the bottom of the excavated site. Before returning the soil to the bed area, mix some compost or sphagnum peat and sand with it to lighten the texture. Then, refill the beds higher than the original level to allow for settling of the soil.
The soil at the site does not have to be especially fertile, so little fertilizer should be used. Generally, highly fertile soil tends to produce excessive amounts of foliage with poor flavor. Plants, such as chervil, fennel, lovage, and summer savory, require moderate amounts of fertilizer. Adding several bushels of peat or compost per 100 square feet of garden area will help improve soil condition and retain needed moisture.
Sowing Herb Seed
Nearly all herbs can be grown from seed. Although rust infects mints, very few diseases or insects attack herbs. In hot, dry weather, red spider mites may be found on low-growing plants. Aphids may attack anise, caraway, dill, and fennel.
A few herbs, such as mints, need to be contained or they will overtake a garden. Plant them in a no. 10 can or bucket; punch several holes just above the bottom rim to allow for drainage. A drain tile, clay pot, or cement block also can be used. Sink these into the ground; this should confine the plants for several years.
Herbs can also be grown in containers, window boxes, or hanging baskets. These methods will require more care, especially watering.
If possible, sow seeds in shallow boxes in late winter. Transplant seedlings outdoors in the spring. A light, well-drained soil is best for starting the seedlings indoors. Be careful not to cover the seeds too deeply with soil. Generally, the finer the seed, the shallower it should be sown. Sow anise, coriander, dill, and fennel directly in the garden since they do not transplant well.
Most biennials should be sown in late spring directly into the ground. Work the soil surface to a fine texture and wet it slightly. Sow the seeds in very shallow rows and firm the soil over them. Do not sow the seeds too deeply. Fine seeds, such as marjoram, savory, or thyme, will spread more evenly if you mix them with sand. Some of the larger seeds can be covered by as much as one-eighth of an inch of soil. With fine seeds, cover the bed with wet burlap or paper to keep the soil moist during germination. Water with a fine spray to prevent washing away of the soil.
Cutting and Division
Cutting and division also are useful in propagating certain herbs. When seeds are slow to germinate, cuttings may be the answer. Some herbs, however, spread rapidly enough to make division a main source of propagation. Tarragon, chives, and mint should be divided while lavender should be cut.
Fresh leaves may be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. To ensure good oil content, pick leaves or seeds after dew has disappeared but before the sun becomes too hot. For dry, winter use, harvest leaves before the flower buds open. Pick the seed heads as the color changes from green to brown or gray. Wash dirty leaves and seed heads in cold water; drain thoroughly before drying.
Perennial and biennial herbs should be winter protected. Many herbs are shallow-rooted, which makes them susceptible to heaving during spring thaws. Mulch with straw, oak leaves, or evergreen boughs 4 inches deep to protect the plants. Apply the mulch after the ground has frozen in early winter. Do not remove the mulch until plants show signs of growth in early spring. Early removal could result in some early frost damage.
Indoor Herb Gardening
Herbs can also be grown indoors for year-round enjoyment. Growing herbs indoors is no more difficult than growing them in the garden.
Indoor plants will need essentially the same conditions as herbs grown outdoors -- sunlight and a well-drained soil mix that is not too rich.
Select a south or west window. Different herbs have different light requirements, but most need a sunny location; in winter, "grow lamps" or fluorescent lamps are helpful in supplementing light.
When planting, mix two parts sterilized potting soil and one part coarse sand or perlite. To ensure sweetness of the soil, add a cut of ground limestone per bushel of soil -- or 1 teaspoon of lime per 5-inch pot. There should be an inch of gravel at the bottom of each pot to ensure good drainage.
Consider the water needs of each herb. Growing plants need more water as do plants in clay pots or hanging baskets. Misting and grouping the plants on a tray of moistened pebbles will help keep them in a humid condition. Don't drench herbs -- avoid getting herb roots soggy.
Annual herbs can spend their full life cycle in a pot indoors. Perennial herbs, however, will do better if you place them outdoors during the summer. Plunge the pot in soil up to its rim, or keep it in a protected location on the porch or patio.
Herb plants need sun during the summer months, so place them accordingly. To prevent the loss of foliage and avoid plant damage, bring herbs indoors before frost. A light frost is helpful on mint, chives, and tarragon; it tends to induce a rest period and make the resulting new growth firm and fresh.
You can maintain an indoor herb garden indefinitely by periodic light feeding, yearly repotting, renewing annuals, seasonal moves outdoors for perennials, and occasional pruning. Water plants as needed. Use several planters or a divided one to allow for different moisture needs of plants.
If you have an herb garden, you'll find that home-dried herbs can be just as tasty as those bought at the store. However, proper handling is as important to the success of your herb harvest as good cultural practices.
Most herbs are at their peak flavor just before flowering, so this is a good time to collect them for drying and storage. To be certain, check drying directions on specific herbs in a reliable reference book. Cut off the herbs early in the morning just after the dew has dried. Cut annuals off at ground level, and perennials about one-third down the main stem, including the side branches.
Wash herbs, with the leaves on the stems, lightly in cold running water to remove any soil, dust, bugs, or other foreign material. Drain thoroughly on absorbent towels or hang plants upside down in the sun until the water evaporates.
Strip leaves off the stalks once plants have drained and dried, leaving only the top 6 inches. Remove all blossoms.
Natural or Air Drying
Herbs must be dried thoroughly before storing. Herbs with high moisturecontent, such as mint and basil, need rapid drying or they will mold. To retain some green leaf coloring, dry in the dark by hanging plants upside down in bunches in paper bags. Hanging leaves down allows essential oils to flow from stems to leaves. Tie whole stems very tightly in small bunches. Individual stems will shrink and fall. Hang in a dark, warm (70o-80oF [21.1o-26.7oC]), well-ventilated, dust-free area. Leaves are ready when they feel dry and crumbly in about 1 to 2 weeks.
Seeds take longer to dry than leaves, sometimes as much as 2 weeks for larger seeds. Place seed heads on cloth or paper. When partially dry, rub seeds gently between palms to remove dirt and hulls. Spread clean seed in thin layers on cloth or paper until thoroughly dry.
You also can dry herb seeds by hanging the whole plant upside down inside a paper bag. The bag will catch the seeds as they dry and fall from the pod.
For quick oven drying, take care to prevent loss of flavor, oils, and color. Place leaves or seeds on a cookie sheet or shallow pan not more than 1 inch deep in an open oven at low heat less than 180oF (82.2oC) for about 2 to 4 hours.
Microwave ovens can be used to dry leaves quickly. Place the clean leaves on a paper plate or paper towel. Place the herbs in the oven for 1 to 3 minutes, mixing every 30 seconds.
Silica Gel or Salt Drying
Silica gel or noniodized table salt can be used to dry or "cure" non-hairy leaves. Clean and blot dry leaves before placing them in a tray or shallow pan of the silica gel or salt. After the leaves have dried, approximately 2 to 4 weeks, remove the leaves from the drying material, shake off the excess material, and store them in glass containers. Before using, rinse leaves thoroughly in clear, cold water.
Another method of drying herbs is to remove the leaves from the plants, wash them, and spread them thinly on screens to dry, avoiding exposure to bright light. Cheesecloth makes a good screen material and stretches well.
Herbs also can be frozen. Harvest herbs according to recommendations. Wash them thoroughly and blanch them in boiling, unsalted water for 50 seconds Cool them quickly in ice water and then package and freeze them. Washed fresh dill, chives, and basil can be frozen without blanching.
When completely dry, the leaves may be screened to a powder or stored whole in airtight containers, such as canning jars with tightly sealed lids.
Seeds should be stored whole and ground as needed. Leaves retain their oil and flavor if stored whole and crushed just before use.
For a few days, it is very important to examine daily the jars in which you have stored dried herbs. If you see any moisture in the jars, remove the herbs and repeat the drying process. Herbs will mold quickly in closed jars if not completely dry.
Once you are sure the herbs are completely dry, place them in the airtight containers, and store them in a cool, dry place away from light. Never use paper or cardboard containers for storage as they will absorb the herbs' aromatic oils.
Herb Description, Culture, Harvesting, and Use
Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
Anise is a dainty annual that grows from 1 ½ to 2 feet high. It has finely cut, serrated leaves and very small, whitish flowers in flat clusters. The leaves and seeds have a warm, sweet taste that suggests licorice.
Anise grows rapidly from seed. Plant after all danger of frost has passed. If planted in rows, thin to 6 to 8 inches apart in rows 2 feet apart.
The green leaves can be cut whenever plants are large enough. Gather seeds about 1 month after flowers bloom.
Anise leaves can be used in salads and as a garnish. Use the seeds to flavor confections such as cakes and cookies. Oil from anise seed is used in medicine.
Basil (Sweet) (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil is an attractive annual, about 18 inches tall with light-green, fairly broad leaves. The flowers are small, white, and appear in spikes. There are several species of cultivated basil, one having purple leaves.
Basil grows easily from seed planted after all danger of frost has passed. Pinch stems to promote bushy, compact growth. Avoid lush growth as it may reduce the flavor.
Green leaves can be picked about 6 weeks following planting. It is best to cut leaves for drying just before flowers open.
Spicy-scented basil leaves are one of the most popular of all herbs used in cooking. Cooks favor basil for tomato dishes in either fresh or dried form.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Borage is a decorative annual with coarse, hairy leaves and stems and beautiful sky-blue flowers in a star shape. The plant grows about 2 to 3 feet tall.
Borage is easily grown from seed and will sow itself. This plant does best in dry, sunny places. Although it is difficult to transplant, you can stretch out the harvest by sowing three times at 4-week intervals.
Pick blossoms as they open. Use leaves fresh anytime; they are seldom dried.
Sprays of borage flowers and leaves are used to give a cool, cucumber-like flavor to summer drinks. Bees are attracted to the borage plant.
Caraway (Carum carvi)
Caraway is a biennial plant that grows about 30 inches tall. The flowers appear in flat, white clusters and, like the finely cut leaves, resemble those of carrots.
Caraway can be easily raised from seed. Usually, plants do not bear seed the first year they are planted, but if planted in the fall, they will bear seed the following year. This herb is not easily transplanted. If sown in rows, thin to 8 to 12 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart. Protect roots with mulch in winter.
Seeds can be picked when ripe, about a month after flowering, when they are grayish-brown in color.
Caraway seeds have a warm, aromatic odor and flavor and are popular in cooking. The oil of caraway seeds is an important ingredient in liqueurs. Use in Hungarian-type dishes, coleslaw, cheese spreads, meat stews, and fish casseroles.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Catnip is a hardy perennial plant that grows 3 to 4 feet tall. The heart-shaped leaves are green above and gray below. The plant has purple flowers.
Catnip is a hardy plant that will grow in sun or shade. It can be grown from seed or propagated by division. When young, the plants are decorative. As they grow older, however, they become scraggly. It's best to plant catnip as a background plant.
Cut and dry the mature leafy tops and leaves.
Catnip leaves are used for tea and seasoning and also are attractive to cats.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Chervil is an annual plant that grows up to 2 feet tall. It's lacy leaves resembe parsley but are a lighter shade of green. The flat heads have delicate white flowers.
Chervil can be raised from seed sown in the garden in early spring. Seedlings are difficult to transplant. Thin plants 3 to 4 inches apart. For denser foliage, cut the flower stems before they bloom.
Pick leaves just before the buds break. Cut and dry the green, tender leaves.
Chervil leaves are used much like parsley - in soups, salads, sauces, egg dishes, and cheese soufflés.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Chives are small, dainty, onion-like plants that grow in clumps reaching about 10 inches in height. They are a hardy perennial with decorative, light purple flowers.
Chives demand little care other than dividing when they become overcrowded. They are easily propagated by division or from seed and make attractive border plants.
Cut fresh leaves for use as they grow.
Chives are used to impart a delicious, subtle, onion-like flavor to foods.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Coriander is a dainty annual plant that grows about 2 feet tall. It has finely divided leaves that are both strong-smelling and ill-tasting. Small white or purplish-tinged flowers appear in small, flat heads.
Coriander is easily grown from seed sown in the garden in spring. This plant does well in any good garden soil. Thin plants 7 to 10 inches apart.
Harvest plants when 6 inches high or pick leaves sparingly when plants are 4 to 6 inches tall. Gather seeds as they ripen in mid-summer.
Coriander seeds, round and about one-eighth of an inch in diameter, have a delicious perfumed taste and odor and are used as a condiment in confections.
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Dill, a popular annual, has bluish-green stems that contrast with finely divided, yellow-green, plume-like leaves and yellowish flowers. Dill grows about 2 to 3 feet high.
Dill is easily grown from seed sown in the garden in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Sow the seed where you want it to grow as it is difficult to transplant. Stake tall plants.
For best results, pick leaves just as flowers open. Pick seeds when they are flat and brown.
Both the leaves and seeds of dill are popular for flavoring pickles, sauerkraut, and beet dishes. It can be combined with garlic and pepper to produce a highly flavored Mediterranean or East European pork roast (often cooked over a spit outdoors). The seeds yield a fragrant oil.
Fennel (Florence) (Foeniculum dulce)
Fennel is a perennial (but usually grown as an annual) that grows to about 3 to 4 feet tall. The leaves are finely divided into thread-like segments and are light green.
Fennel grows easily from seed planted in the garden in spring. Sow in full sun. Space rows 3 feet apart. Thin plants 10 to 12 inches apart and stake when 18 inches tall to protect from wind.
Pick seeds when ripe. The best stems for eating are the tender flower stalks just before they blossom.
Fennel seeds are used as a condiment. The leaves have an anise-like flavor and the stems can be eaten like celery. Seeds can be used in cheese spreads and vegetable dishes.
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
Horehound is a somewhat coarse perennial plant that is covered with a whitish down. The leaves are crinkled and tend to turn downward.
Horehound grows well in light soil and withstands full sun and intense heat. It is a hardy plant but needs protection where winters are very cold. Horehound can be propagated from seed, cuttings, or by division. Because of its weedy growth habits, it is best to place this plant in the background.
Leaves and small stems can be cut in May before plants bloom.
Horehound is the source of the familiar old-fashioned horehound candy.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
Hyssop is a hardy perennial that grows no more than 2 feet tall. It has woody stems, small pointed leaves, and spikes of small purple flowers. There also are forms with pink or white flowers. If kept clipped, it makes a good border or small hedge.
Hyssop will grow in rather poor soil and is easily propagated from seed. When it is established, it is a quite hardy plant.
Use the youngest leaves and stems as needed.
Hyssop's pungent leaves are used to flavor liqueurs and sometimes are used as a condiment. Oil obtained from the leaves is used in making perfume.
Lavender (Lavandula vera)
Lavender is a many-branched, somewhat woody, perennial plant growing 1 ½ to 3 feet tall. The narrow leaves are about 2 inches long and have a pleasing gray-green color. The small lavender flowers are borne on long-stemmed, slender spikes.
Lavender grows best in rocky, dry, sunny places with an abundant amount of lime in the soil. It can be propagated by seed or cuttings. If winters are severe, the plant needs protected.
Cut whole flower spikes when the first flowers begin to open, and dry.
Lavender is one of the most famous of all herbs for the fragrance of its dried flowers and the oil distilled from them. It is used most often in sachets and perfumes.
Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
Lovage is a hardy perennial with large, rich green leaves that resemble those of celery. The leaves are stronger tasting, but sweeter than celery.
Lovage does best in a rich, fairly moist soil and can be propagated from seed planted in late summer.
Use the leaves fresh, or dry them at any time.
The leaves and stems of lovage give a celery flavor to soups and salads. Blanch stem bases before eating.
Marjoram (Sweet) (Marorana hortensis)
Sweet marjoram, usually grown as an annual, is one of the most fragrant and popular of all herbs. Its growth habit is low and spreading, and it reaches a height of about 8 to 12 inches. It has small, oval, gray-green leaves that are velvety to the touch.
This plant can be easily grown from seed or cuttings. In colder climates, it is best treated as an annual or kept overwinter as a pot plant. Its color makes it an attractive border plant.
Sweet marjoram leaves can be used anytime. Cut the leafy stems at flowering and dry for future use.
Sweet marjoram leaves, fresh or dried, can be used as a flavoring in cooking. The oil derived from the leaves is used in making perfume.
Oregano (Wild marjoram) (Origanum vulgare)
Oregano, also called "wild marjoram," is a hardy perennial that has sprawling stems which can grow to 2 feet tall. This plant is much coarser than sweet marjoram and smells more like thyme. It has small pink or white flowers.
Oregano grows well in poor soil and can be propagated by seed or division. Thin plants 10 to 12 inches apart. Stimulate foliage by cutting back flowers. Replant when plants become woody in 3 to 4 years.
Use fresh leaves as needed. Preserve leaves by drying.
Oregano leaves are used extensively as a flavoring on pizza. Sprinkle leaves over lamb or steak rubbed with lemon juice. Add to other Italian-type sauces.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Parsley is a hardy biennial that is usually treated as an annual. It is popular because of its much-divided, sometimes curly leaves which have a characteristic flavor and smell.
Cut parsley when the leaves are of suitable size. Leaves can be used fresh or dried.
Parsley is one of the most familiar of all herbs and is used for both garnishing and flavoring. It is relatively high in vitamins A and C and iron.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Peppermint is a perennial plant with spreading rootstalks and many upright stems 2 feet or more in height. Its dark green leaves and reddish-tinged stems have a characteristic warm, spicy scent. Tiny purplish flowers appear in thick terminal spikes 1 to 3 inches long.
Peppermint does best in a rich, moist soil. Propagate by division or cuttings. The plant will grow in sun or shade. It is best to renew beds every 3 to 4 years.
The more frequently the sprigs are cut, the better the growth. Use leaves at any time. Leaves to be dried are best taken just as flowers begin to appear.
The leaves are used in tea and for other flavoring. Oil from the plant is used in products such as chewing gum, confections, toilet water, soap, and liqueur.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary is a hardy evergreen shrub in areas where winter temperatures stay above 5oF (-15oC). In the Northeast, however, this perennial should be taken indoors and kept as a pot plant during winter. The narrow leaves have a leather-like feel and a spicy, resinous fragrance.
Rosemary grows best in well-drained, sunny locations in lime-rich soil. It can be propagated by cuttings or grown from seed. Pinch the tips to direct growth.
Use fresh leaves as needed.
Rosemary is a popular flavoring for meats and dressings or as a garnish on large roasts. Oil from leaves is used in medicine.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is a woody, hardy perennial plant with oblong, wooly, gray-green leaves that are lighter underneath and darker on top. Sage grows 2 to 3 feet or more in height and has a tendency to sprawl.
Start from seed or cuttings. A slow starter, sow seed indoors and transplant. Plant sage where it will receive full sun. Space plants 2 to 2 ½ feet apart. Plants eventually become woody and should be renewed every 3 to 4 years.
Pick the leaves before or at blooming. Cut back the stems after blooming.
This aromatic and slightly bitter herb is noted for its use in stuffings for poultry, rabbit, pork, and baked fish. It also can be used in sausage or meat loaves.
Savory (Summer) (Satureja hortensis)
Summer savory is a tender annual that grows up to 18 inches tall. It has small bronze-green leaves and very small white or lavender flowers. The leaves are pungent and spicy.
Summer savory grows best in a well-worked loamy soil. Seed can be planted in the garden in spring.
Cut leafy tops when the plants are in bud. Hang in an airy, shaded place until crisp and dry.
Summer savory is popular as a condiment with meats and vegetables and is generally considered sweeter than winter savory.
Savory (Winter) (Satureja montana)
Winter savory has dark green, shiny, pointed leaves much stiffer in texture than summer savory. It is a woody perennial plant growing to 2 feet in height with small white or lavender flowers.
Winter savory does best in a light, sandy soil. Keep dead wood trimmed out. Propagate by cuttings or raise from seed.
Pick young shoots and leaves at any time. The leaves are almost evergreen but not as pungent in winter. It is best dried for winter use.
Winter savory is a condiment often used as a flavoring in liqueurs. Its taste is not as sweet as summer savory.
Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
This hardy perennial plant has pointed, slightly crinkled leaves that are a lighter shade of green than peppermint. The whole plant has a sweet characteristic smell.
Spearmint grows best in a somewhat moist soil and can be propagated by cuttings or division. Renew beds every 3 to 4 years. Growth is enhanced by frequent cuttings.
Pick the fresh leaves and leafy stem tips for use at any time. For drying, it is best to cut leaves just as flowering begins.
Spearmint leaves are used in teas and to flavor cold drinks and make mint sauce. The oil is used in confections.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Tarragon is an herbaceous perennial that grows to about 2 feet tall. It has multibranched growth with narrow, somewhat twisted, green leaves.
Tarragon will grow in full sun but seems to do better in semishade. It can be propagated from root cuttings or by division. It needs protection in winter in cold climates. Make new plantings every 3 to 4 years.
It is best to use fresh young leaves and stem tips. Flavor is lost when tarragon is dried.
Tarragon leaves have a distinctive flavor similar to anise and are used in salads, marinades, and sauces. Leaves yield flavor to vinegar when steeped.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is a low-growing, wiry-stemmed perennial that reaches about 6 to 10 inches in height. The stems are stiff and woody and leaves are small, oval, and gray-green in color. The lilac flowers are borne in small clusters and the leaves are very aromatic.
This plant grows best in light, well-drained soil. Thin plants 8 to 12 inches apart. It is best to renew the plants every few years. Propagate with cuttings, divisions, or by direct seeding. Thyme is an attractive edging plant or a spreading plant among and over rocks.
Cut leafy tops and flower clusters when first blossoms open and dry.
Thyme is widely used as a seasoning. Oil of thyme is used in medicines and perfumes. It goes well in gumbos, bouillabaisse, clam chowder, poultry stuffings, and slow-cooking beef dishes.
Woodruff (Sweet) (Asperula odorata)
Sweet woodruff is a low, spreading, perennial plant that forms clumps about 8 inches in height. The slender leaves are borne in starry whorls. The flowers are tiny and white and form in loose clusters. When the plant is crushed, it has a sweet scent similar to freshly mown hay and vanilla.
Sweet woodruff can be grown as a perennial if winters are not too severe, but it needs winter protection or should be taken indoors in cold climates. It will thrive in semishade and makes an attractive ground cover under taller plants.
Harvest and dry plants in the spring when fragrance is the strongest.
Sweet woodruff is most often used in flavoring German May wine and in other drinks.