We have often been asked for advice on how best to grow herbs and spices at home. To help, we’ve compiled a list of the most popular herb plants that are grown in home gardens and in pots.
Many herbs are very easy to grow and many are surprisingly hardy plants. If you do not have a garden position to grow herbs and spices, then pots are a very good alternative.
Growing herbs in pots allows you to move the plants as the seasons change and normally most herb plants do not take up too much space when grown in pots.
Some herbs are not only grown for the kitchen; many are grown for other uses, such as lavender for potpourri (air fresher).
A Quick Guide to Growing Herbs and Spices
Following is a quick and easy guide to planting and growing herbs.
We have included tips and hints for a large number of herbs and spices and have divided the guide alphabetically into 2 parts: A-L and M-Z.
Please browse through our guide (A-L and M-Z) for interesting information on various garden herbs and spices. We hope that you learn something and are encouraged to start your own herb garden. It is very a rewarding pastime.
And please, always ensure that the herbs you use are suitable for your intended purpose.
Anise produces tall green feathery stems and to around 60cm tall. The plant has white flowers and produces seed pods which are used in cooking.
Uses: The licorice flavoured seeds are used in baking and they are also used to create licorice flavoured liqueur.
Growing: Anise is an annual hardy plant that is grown from seed. Start the seeds off in punnets and then plant out as seedlings in early spring. Plant at a depth of around 1cm and space around 15cm apart. These plants grow in alkaline soil.
Picking: Remove the seed heads once they turn brown and shake heads onto some paper and then store seeds in a jar.
This plant is a hardy perennial. The flowers are poker shaped coloured lavender-blue, pink or white flowers. These plants are related to mints and grow to around 1m tall. The plant is commonly used as a boarder plant.
Growing: Grow from splitting plants or by seed. They like to grow in a sunny spot. They will grow in a wide variety of soil types. Plants will self seed. Anise hyssop can also be grown in containers.
Uses: The seeds are dried and used in baking. The leaves can also be used to make a tea. Various parts of the plant are also used in potpourri.
For many people, cultivating basil is their first experience of growing herbs.
There are many types of basil, the most commonly used is sweet basil. The plants are fast growing and have small white flowers. Generally the plant grows to around 60cm tall.
Uses: Used extensively in cooking especially with tomatoes and in Italian dishes.
Growing: Basil is a soft annual and grows best by seed. Place the seed in small punnets and then plant out as seedlings in spring. Space around 30cm apart. They also grow well in containers.
Bay plants are hardy trees growing to around 4m. They can be grown as a hedge, standard plant or grown in containers.
The tree has hard, dark green leaves and is considered ornamental.
Uses: The dried leaves are most commonly used in cooked. However, growing herbs gives you access to fresh produce and freshly picked Bay Leaves are more aromatic than dried ones.
Bee balm is native to North America, it is also known as Bergamot. It is an aggresive clump forming hardy perennial plant. In summer the plants bear red, pink, white and purple flowers.
Plants grow to around 1.2 mtrs and are often used as a boarder plant.
Growing: Bee balm grows best in full sun in a well drained soil. Soils can be sandy or poor and the plant still grows well. It is grown mostly by division but also by seed.
Catmint & Catnip
(Nepta mussinii & Nepta faassenii)
The flowers of both these plants is blue. The leaves of both catmint and catnip are similar- gray-green, serrated and spear shaped.
Uses: Cats love both these plants and will roll around in the foliage.
Growing: Sow seeds directly into the soil. Soils need to be well drained. Space plants around 1m apart in full sun positions. Catnip can also be grown in pots.
Caraway plants resemble carrot tops. They have feathery green leaves and small white flowers.
Growing: Sow seeds in early spring directly into the garden. Caraway likes a sunny position in well drained soil. Caraway will self seed each year.
Uses: Seeds are used in cooking
Growing herbs that you use frequently makes money-saving sense. If you enjoy chamomile tea, perhaps you should consider growing the plant yourself.
Chamomile is a hardy annual with feathery grey-green foliage. The flowers are daisy like white with a yellow centre. The plants commonly grow to 45cm tall.
Uses: The leaves are used fresh or dried to make a tea and as an aid to digestion. The dried leaves can also be used in potpourri and used as an insect repellent to repel moths.
Growing: Sow seeds directly into the garden in spring. Pick a sunny spot with well drained soil, space around 15cm apart.
This hardy annual produces clumps of soft, feathery leaves on erect stems topped by flat, white flower clusters. The finely cut foliage has a smooth spicy, aniselike flavor.
Growing: Plant Chervil seeds outdoors in spring several weeks before the last frost date, or in autumn. This berb does best direct-seeded into a sunny, well-drained location. Cover the seed just enough to anchor it.
The plants will tolerate crowding, but they are best spaced at least 6 inches (15cm) apart. Make succession sowing every 3 to 4 weeks to ensure a continuous supply of fresh leaves.
Chilli peppers are not only the source of hot chilli flavour, but the fruits of its many varieties are also highly ornamental. The bushy 30cm to 120cm tall plants have dark green, smooth, spear-shaped leaves and round, cone-shaped, or tapered fruits, which usually change from green to red when ripe.
The degree of hotness can also vary among varieties. Both the fruits and the seeds are useful as a garnish.
Growing herbs – and spices like Chilli peppers – allows you to experiment with both green and red Chillis.
Growing: These tender hardy annuals are best grown from seeds started indoors 8 weeks before outdoor planting. Sow the seeds 5mm deep. Chilli peppers relish a warm, fertile soil in a sunny location. A mulch of plastic over the soil encourages the earliest, heaviest yields.
Chilli peppers are attractive grown in containers of at least 1 gallon. Some varieties have a spreading habit and are suitable for hanging baskets. In the garden, space plants at least 60cm apart.
Uses: Used extensively in Asian cooking, Indian, Chinese and Southeast Asian dishes. The juice of chilli fruit makes an effective organic pest control on fruit and vegetables.
When growing herbs, it’s nice when the plants have a dual purpose. Chives are a case in point, being both edible and pretty when flowering.
Chives are a hardy perennial growing in compact clumps of spiky, round, hollow, onion-flavoured green leaves up to 30cm tall. In late spring they produce pink flowers. Chives can be so ornamental they are often used as boarder plants in the garden.
Growing: Chives are grown by seed and by division of the bulb clusters, they self-seed readily. When sowing from seed either direct sow 5mm deep where plants are to bloom several weeks before the last frost date, or start indoors by sowing thinly into a seed starting tray.
When the seedlings reach 10cm they can be transplanted into the garden.
The bulbs can be separated at any time and transplanted, though this is usually done in autumn. Plants prefer spacing at least 15cm apart and demand a sunny position to flower. Chives make excellent container plants.
Uses: The leaves are chopped fine and used in cooking. The chopped leaves can be frozen.
Coriander is a hardy annual clumping plant. Also known as Chinese Parsley. Plants grow to around 90cm tall.
Growing: Coriander prefers full sun positions and well drained soil. Sow seeds directly into the garden several weeks before the last frost date, covering with just enough soil to anchor the seed. Although these plants can tolerate crowding, the seedlings are best thinned to stand at least 30cm apart. Give them full sun and good drainage.
Uses: Cooking, mainly Asian cooking. The leaves should be used fresh.
Curry plants are perennial and will grow well in most temperate to warm temperate climates. They can be grown as an annual in colder climates. The plants grow to around 60cm tall. They have narrow needle like, silver leaves and small yellow flowers in late summer.
Growing: Grow from seed. Start seeds off in punnets in a sheltered position. Cover seeds with just a light layer of soil. Curry plants require full sun and good drainage, and will tolerate hot, dry conditions. Space the plants around 60cm apart.
Uses: Cooking mainly Asian and Indian dishes.
Dill is a tall growing annual plant which can grow to around 1.2m tall. It has fine grey green foliage on an erect stem. The flowers are yellow. All parts of this plant including the seeds are aromatic and useful as a flavouring.
Growing: Dill is easily grown from seed sown 5mm deep, directly into the garden. In fact, it is one of the most aggressive self-seeding of all herb varieties. Once you have a clump established in your garden, all you have to do is cultivate the volunteer seedlings that spring up around the previous years plantings.
Plants tolerate crowding, but are best thinned to 16cm apart. Make succession sowing every 4 weeks to ensure a continuous supply.
Uses: Cooking. The leaves may be stored dried or frozen.
Once you start growing herbs, you become aware of the varieties within some families.
There are many varieties of thyme, with varying degrees of aromatic content. Some of those popular in herb gardens are quite tall and bushy, others are low and spreading. Leaf color can vary from dark green to yellow and silver. The masses of tubular flowers that usually occur in summer can range from white through many shades of pink to purple.
English thyme is the plant most associated with herb gardens. It adds a spicy flavor to most meat dishes, including poultry and beef. English thyme grows to 2 feet and is covered in slender short evergreen leaves that resemble pine needles.
Growing: Thyme is a hardy perennial that is most easily propagated by division. Plants like full sun, but tolerate poor soil, provided drainage is good. They will grow well on dry walls between flagstones. Use the low-spreading kinds as an edging along paths and plant them among cracks in paving.
Uses: Cooking. Lemon thyme (Thyme citriodorus) has a pleasant citrus aroma and mosquito repellent properties when rubbed on exposed skin
Fennel is an annual sprouting plant with a bulbous root which is used in cooking. The foliage is green or a bronze colour and fern like. Fennel generally grows to around 1.2 m tall. The flowers are yellow. The foliage and seeds have an aniseed aroma and taste.
Growing: This herb is best grown from seeds either direct-sown 5mm deep . Plant will self seed in most temperate climates. Fennel will grow in full sun in most soils, even heavy wet soils.
Uses: The bulbous root of Fennel is used in Italian cooking. Fennel should be used fresh. The seeds can be stored and used as an aniseed flavouring.
Garlic chives are evergreen plants that resemble chives. Garlic chives grow much larger than chives to around 60cm tall. In summer the plants produce star-shaped white flowers.
Growing: Garlic chives are easily propagated by division of established clumps, each bulblet produces a new plant. The black seeds also germinate readily. Sow into the ground at a depth of 5mm. They tolerate a wide range of soils provided drainage is good and the site is sunny.
Uses: Cooking. Use fresh leaves or they can be frozen.
Garlic is closely related to onions. The foliage is tubular, long and green. flowers are white. The bulbs or cloves develop under the ground and are used extensively in cooking.
Growing: Although garlic is a hardy perennial it is best grown as an annual from cloves that should be planted into the garden in late summer or early autumn, of the year prior to harvesting. Plant the cloves just below the ground surface.
The cloves will sprout leaves, survive even harsh winters, and produce large edible bulbs by midsummer. Give them full sun, and a fertile, well-drained, humous rich soil.
Uses: The chopped bulbs are useful as a flavour enhancer in almost all cooked dishes, but especially those of Mediterranean and Asian origin, such as stir-fry, pasta. The bulbs can be dried for storage and hung with their dried stems or crushed and kept in the fridge for easy use.
The bulbs can be squeezed and mixed with water to create a potent organic insect repellent in the vegetable garden.
Geraniums (for scented leaves)
(Pelargonium graveolens and others)
Sometimes, growing herbs and growing flowers combine fortuitously.
There are many kinds of scented-leaf geraniums, most of which are native to South Africa.
The most popular is the rose-scented geranium, but there are also lemon scented, nutmeg-scented, pineapple-scented and other varieties. Most scented geraniums produce a bushy growth habit up to several feet tall. Not only are the leaves different shapes, colours and textures, but they can be vastly different flowers.
To capitalise on their fragrance, group several different varieties of scented-leaf geraniums around a bench, for the mere action of the sun shining on a leaf or the slightest touch, will release their aromas into the atmosphere.
Growing: Scented leaf geraniums are best propagated by tip cuttings or from root cuttings. Geraniums are perennial plants suited to most temperate climates (no heavy frosts in winter).
Geraniums grow well in most soils and are a very hardy group of plants. They will also grow well in containers and pots and do not require a lot of water.
Uses: Scented leaf geraniums are an important component of fragrance in the garden and they also make great potpourri.
Germander (for scent)
Germander is a woody perennial, Germander grows a dense weave of branches and glossy, spear-shaped leaves. Small pink flwers appear in summer. These plants are evergreen in mild winter areas. There is a handsome silvery tender species, T majoricum, that grows to 5 feet in frost free areas and can be used as a decorative hedge.
Growing: Germander is usually grown from cuttings taken after flowering and held over the winter in cold frames to produce transplants for the following spring. The plants prefer full sun and good drainage. For a hedge effect, space plants 12 inches apart.
Uses: Potpourri. They can be dried by hanging upside down bunches and used as an air fresher.
Ginseng grows in shaded situations in humus-rich acidic soil. A North American native plant. Ginseng grows clusters of serrated, pointed leaves that are arranged in a fan like leaf. They emerge in spring from a fleshy root that resembles a forked parsnip.
Ginseng plants grow to 2 feet (60cm) tall and produce inconspicuous greenish white flowers that turn into bright red berries.
Growing: Ginseng can be propagated by seeds, the seeds do germinate erratically and some can take years to germinate – not really what you want when growing herbs. However, Ginseng plants can be purchased from some nurseries or over the internet. Plant Ginseng at least 3 feet apart and never allow the soil to dry out.
When growing Ginseng from seed, it is best to create a special nursery bed in a lightly shaded area, with boards used to raise the soil at least 12 inches above the existing soil level.
Sprinkle the seed lightly and cover with just enough soil to anchor it. Keep the bed cool and moist seedlings can take up to 7 years to reach full maturity.
Uses: Ginseng root is grated into a powder and dried to make an herbal tea.
(Humulus lupulus, Humulus japonicus)
If you like to make home brewed beer, you really should be growing herbs like hops.
There are two kinds of hops commonly used in herb gardens, both are vigorous vines that need a strong arbor or trellis for support and must be trained to climb. The two types are the European hop (H.lupulus) and the Japanese hop (H.japonicus).
Both are hardy perennials, though the European hop is more hardy than the Japanese. They have grapelike foliage and clusters of unusual, papery green fruits called bitters, that are the source of a flavouring for beer. There are some variegated forms of hops available, notably ‘Aureus’ a European hop with gold leaves.
Growing: The Japanese hop grows quickly from seed and will top a 12 foot pole or trellis in a single season. The European hop is much hardier and it is best propagated from root cuttings. Space the plants at least 4 feet apart in full sun. The soil must have good drainage.
Uses: The fruit (bitters) are an important flavour ingredient in beer.
Horehound resembles mint, but has a dusky, grey-green leaf and a camphor like aroma. It is not a particularly attractive plant, growing loose clumps of 3 foot tall stems topped with inconspicuous white flowers.
Growing: Horehound is usually propagated by cuttings and division. The plants prefer full sun and good drainage, space them at least 3 feet apart. Because of its bushy habit one plant is sufficient for any garden. Horehound can also grow well in containers.
Horseradish is a hardy perennial, its 3 foot tall stems grow wavy, broad, dark green, pointed leaves with small, inconspicuous white flowers. Though horseradish is usually grown as a root crop in sandy soil, it is one of a small group of herbs that will grow contentedly with its roots permanently submerged in shallow water. This makes for an interesting project for children who are wish to try growing herbs.
The roots are thick, yellow-skinned, and pungent. When peeled, the white pith can be shredded and combined with vinegar to make a mustard-like hot condiment.
Growing: Horseradish is usually propagated from sections of roots containing a growing point. Since the main idea is to grow a shapely, parsniplike root, the soil should be sandy to a depth of 2 feet, fertile and humus-rich, in full sun. Space the plants at least 2 feet apart.
Hyssop is a lavender like, bush, hardy perennial plant that grows to 2 feet. The leaves are narrow, sharp, and pungent like mint, the blue flowers appear in midsummer.
Growing: Hyssop can be propagated from seeds, cuttings and division. Start seeds indoor 6 weeks before outdoor planting, sowing them just below the soil surface. Transplant the seedlings to a sunny spot with well-drained soil after danger of severe frosts has passed, space plants at least 2 feet apart.
Uses: Seasoning in cooking.
Lavender cotton grows as a silver mound up to 2 feet. Its tightly packed, finely indented, aromatic leaves resemble a dwarf evergreen cypress. In midsummer, plants of both species are covered in yellow button like flowers.
Growing: These hardy perennials are best propagated from cuttings and division. They tolerate dry conditions, and demand a sunny, well-drained positions. For hedging effects, space plants 1 foot apart.
At the end of each growing season the plants should be pruned to maintain a low-mounded shape. Both forms take heavy pruning to create low hedges for knot gardens.
Uses: The lavender-scented leaves and yellow flowers are used dried in potpourri.
Related to mint, this bushy hardy perennial grows to 2 feet and produces serrated, oval, lemon flavoured leaves and inconspicuous white flowers that bloom in midsummer on erect, square stems.
Growing: Lemon balm readily self seeds. The plants may be divided every 2 years to prevent their spreading aggressively. This herb prefers full sun, tolerates poor soil and enjoys good drainage. Space the plants at least 2 feet apart.
Uses: Seasoning in cooking and for making herbal teas.
If you enjoy cooking the food of Southeast Asia, you’ll find growing herbs like Lemon grass saves you a trip to the grocer.
Lemon grass is a perennial herb grass from India it has decorative fountain like foliage. It has long slender, arching bright green leaves. It makes a beautiful accent in the landscape, growing to around 3 feet tall.
It is at is very best when grown in a decorative container. The leaves impart a lemon aroma when picked, the more the leaves are picked, the more leaves are produced.
Growing: Lemongrass is best propagated by division. A healthy clump can be separated into dozens of juveniles, each with tuft of leaves. Plant this herb outdoors only after frosts have passed.
Lemongrass grow quickly in bright light during warm weather, and tolerate heat and poor soil provided there is good drainage. Space plants at least 3 feet apart.
Uses: Asian cooking.
Lovage is a hardy plant resembles a large specimen of celery. It has strong erect leaf stalks up to 5 feet tall and sharply indented, aromatic leaves. Yellow flowers bloom in midsummer, clustered in flat umbels.
Growing: Lovage is usually grown from seed directly into the garden several weeks before the last frost date. Or, seed can be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before outdoor planting. Sow seeds 5mm deep. Choose a sunny position with well-drained, humus rich, fertile soil. Space the plants at least 3 feet apart.
Uses: Seasoning in cooking.
As you can see, growing herbs is generally a comparatively simple endeavour. It really is worth choosing some of your favourite and giving it a go.
Herbs like Basil flourish in pots. See here to learn more.
Plants like Bay Leaves can be grown as hedges. For more on Hedging Plants, see here.
If you’re interested in cultivating Mushrooms at home, read this.
For all things Citrus, see Our Ultimate Guide.
Click here to learn all about the Best Native Australian Plants for your garden.