7 Must-Have Herbs for the Ultimate Culinary Garden
Imagine, for a moment, that you had a large edible garden. In the winter, it would be filled with leafy greens and earthy beets; in the summer, plump heirloom tomatoes and bright yellow and green zucchinis. Maybe there’s an avocado or a Meyer lemon tree? Perhaps a small field filled with lavender for floral lemonade? Imagine the farm-to-table dinner parties you could host! Wishful thinking?
Now that you’ve snapped back to reality and find yourself in your tiny city apartment, don’t despair. There is one type of edible garden that you can cultivate anywhere: the herb garden. Fresh herbs are an overlooked ingredient that are crucial to adding a zip of flavor in everything from grain bowls to large slabs of beef. They’re also an essential component of sauces like pesto, salads such as Caprese, and cocktails. (What would the mojito be without mint?!)
Growing your own herb garden in a large pot or windowsill planter box will even save you money in the long run. At $2 a pop, you’ll never have to buy fresh thyme or rosemary again. Plus, you’ll become a more creative home cook when you’re forced to use a surplus of chives. If we’ve convinced you that you can’t live another day without parsley sprigs sprouting on your kitchen counter, here is a list of herbs necessary for the ultimate culinary garden.
Parsley is the one herb that is always in our fridge. It’s the workhorse of the herb world, with a mild grassy flavor that brightens up any dish. We recommend opting for the Italian flat-leaf variety over its curly counterpart—it has a more complex flavor profile. Sprinkle liberally over sole fillets, stir into delicious quinoa cakes, and blend into a refreshing green juice. Not to mention, parsley also has a slew of health benefits. It grows well in moist soil and full sunlight, but is drought tolerant, so it’s resistant to your forgetfulness to water it once or twice.
Although cilantro can be an acquired taste, we love this flat, bright strongly flavored herb. It’s been used by cooks dating back 3000 years and is a prominent seasoning agent in Mexican, Asian, Caribbean, and Indian cuisines. Cilantro thrives in humidity and well-drained soil that’s in full to partial sunlight. This herb is one of the more finicky to grow as it’s sensitive to heat and will grow flowers if it’s too hot. Like parsley, cilantro is a finishing herb that adds a punch of crisp flavor and bright coloring to the dish. Sprinkle the delicate cilantro leaves onto chicken tortilla soup, spicy shrimp, and salty Cambodian-style wings.
Mint is a selfish and wild herb. It’s super easy to grow, but it will take over your entire garden if you let it. It thrives in moist soil and partial shade. To ensure that it doesn’t spread, place mint in its own personal container. Spearmint is the most common cooking variety and is great in both sweet and savory preparations. Experiment with mint by making strawberry mint cake, coconut brown rice, or a classic mint julep.
Chives are a member of the onion family and thus have a very light onion flavor. They can be used in just about any dish, but some of their most common preparations are scrambled eggs and potato salad. They are easy to grow, and they even sprout flowers in the springtime. These herbs require moist soil and at least six hours of bright sunshine.
Thyme adds a subtle earthy savoriness to soups, stews, and roasted dishes. It plays a supporting role and is often paired with another herb in a seasoning blend, like herbes de Provence. There are over 400 different varieties of thyme, so be sure to research what kind you want to plant. Thyme doesn’t need constant watering and attention, but it does require full sun. Use fresh thyme to make slow-cooked tomatoes, roast chicken, or caramelized onion and goat cheese tartlets.
From cocktails to creamed corn, rosemary is an incredibly versatile herb with a distinct aromatic lemon-pine flavor. Rosemary grows year round in well-drained soil that gets a lot of sunlight. When cooking with rosemary, use the needle-like leaves and compost the woody stem. Rosemary can also be used to make homemade scrubs and herbal tea.
If you love cooking Italian food, you’ve got to plant basil. This important herb is essential to pesto, Caprese salad, and Margherita pizza. It’s partner in crime is the tomato, so be sure to grow basil during the summer. Basil thrives in well-drained soil and warm climates. It needs six hours of sun each day, so put the pot by a sunny window.
Ready to grow your own herbs? Find everything you need to start your herb garden below.