Mary Lennox, the lonely orphan from Hodgson-Burnett’s The Secret Garden, got it right. She asked not for toys, books, or dolls, but for “a bit of earth… to make things grow—to see them come alive.” The wonderment and satisfaction of watching things grow turned a sallow-faced girl into an exuberant gardener and a mindful steward of nature.
Everyone longs to grow something. Gardening is foolproof. You are more than capable of taking a tiny seed and nurturing it into something that serves and delights you.
Before we go any further, please stop saying that you have a black thumb. There is no such thing. You were born with a green thumb. You have to remember that plants have basic needs to flourish— much like humans. They need decent soil ( like we need nutrients), water (like us), and sunlight (again, like us). Farming does not have to be in your DNA to grow a thriving garden.
Why Should You Grow an Herb Garden?
Great rewards result with the smallest effort on your part. The herb garden is a simple way to enliven your cooking, provide healthful alternatives to toxic cosmetics and household products, and dispense of medicinal properties.
Nurturing a garden of any kind connects you to Creation and cultivates a sense of stewardship. Even the smallest backyard or container garden offers a meditative reprieve from the commotion of daily life.
The Best Herbs to Grow
The “10 best herbs to grow” list applies to the novice gardener as well as the farm girl who drives her own John Deere. The herbs that made this list did so because of their hardiness and versatility.
Herbs are willing to grow just about anywhere as long as you hydrate and harvest them. From a balcony in Manhattan to a raised bed in Kansas, herbs will thrive.
Growing in Containers
Containers need drainage holes. It is easy to forget to puncture several small holes in the bottom of your pot to allow proper drainage. Before you plant your herb in a container, check to see the maximum growth height of the plant. Make sure the container is deep and tall enough for your herb.
Growing in Soil
Novice gardeners should start with a small herb garden of 18 feet long × 12 feet wide. Consider adding a bench so that you can sit and enjoy the aroma. The only herb that requires confinement in a container is mint. This herb has superhero strength. Trust me on this!
For herbs that are annual, you can grow from seed or buy the plant. For perennials, I recommend that you buy the plant.
Select the Genovese variety for its authentic flavor for pesto sauce and Meditteranean dishes. Basil is a key ingredient in ethnic dishes around the globe. Because of its popularity, horticulturalists propagate a myriad of varieties to offer to consumers. Don’t let allow this to cause basil decision fatigue. If you are a novice gardener, stick with my recommendation.
Basil may prove to be a permanent resident of your annual herb garden, so there is time to spread your agricultural wings with next year’s crop.
Plant Height: 4-8″
Culinary: pesto sauce, Mediterranean dishes, poultry dishes, vegetable dishes, and salads.
Household: add to floral arrangements,
Medicinal: aids digestion, and alleviates mental fatigue
Plant Height: 12- 30″
Culinary: adds color and mild tang to rice, salads, and soups
Household: use as a natural dye or food coloring, add to creams, and baths, brightens floral arrangements
Medicinal: has an antiseptic property for skin
The Munstead variety, a strain of English lavender, offers a fragrant bloom.
Plant Height: 12-18″
Culinary: flavors jams and baked goods,
Household: laundry detergent, soaps, lotions, and carpet room freshener, adds an English garden touch to floral arrangments
Medicinal: stress reliever, headaches, anxiety, insomnia
Lemon Balm (perennial)
Lemon balm occupies a huge space in my raised herb bed. In 1696, the London Dispensary claimed: “Balm given every morning will renew youth, strengthen the brain, and relieve languishing nature.” With claims such as these, everyone should plant lemon balm.
Culinary: use in salads, infuse in beverages, and jams.
Household: use to craft your cleaning products, and bug repellent (with eucalyptus)
Medicinal: ADHD or “brain fog,” sore throats, insomnia
Note: There is some concern that lemon balm may have thyroid inhibitory properties and would not be appropriate to use if you suffer from hypothyroidism.
Site: Sun/part shade
Plant Height: up to 2 feet, can become invasive so plant in a container.
Culinary: use to flavor beverages, vinegar, desserts, meats, and salads
Household: use as mice and ant deterrent, cosmetics, and soaps, a hardy, fragrant addition to floral arrangments
Medicinal: add mint to tea to help digestion, colds, and flu
Site: Sun/part shade
Plant Height: 18-24″
Culinary: salads, meats, stews, soups, sauces, pizza, and marinades
Household: add leaves to bath, make potpourri
Medicinal: infuse as a tea for headaches, colds, coughs, and stomaches aches
For too long restaurants relegated this herb to the corner of a plate as a pesky garnish that ended up under your plate rather than in your mouth.
Plant Height: varies according to variety but on the average: 10-18″
Culinary: salads, sandwiches, soups, garnish, vegetable dishes, and meats
Household: mouthwash (contains a high level of chlorophyll, a key ingredient in many breath freshening products)
Medicinal: helps to heal bruises (blend parsley and water in a blender then freeze in an ice-cube tray and use for first-aid situations), infuse as a tea for coughs, colds, and bronchial issues.
Rosemary (tender perennial)
Plant Height: 18-60″
Culinary: salads, meats, soups, desserts, and vegetables
Household: often partnered with lavender for shampoo, rug cleaner, facial scrub, adds texture and an earthy aroma to floral arrangments.
Medicinal: stimulates circulation and use as an antiseptic
Plant Height: 1- 2 1⁄2ft
Culinary: pairs well with meats, egg dishes, stuffings, potatoes, rice, beans, and tomatoes.
Household: use in facial steam or toner
Medicinal: infuse as a tea and gargle to help with mouth ulcers.
Site: Sun/part shade
Plant Height: 3-15″
Culinary: add to stocks, meats, marinades, sauces, and soups
Household: mix with castile soap, white vinegar, and water to make a household disinfectant cleaner, glass cleaners, or bathroom scrub
Medicinal: infuse as a tea to soothe a cough or sore throat, and soothes sore muscles
I invite you to grab a little earth of your own and start an herb garden. Herbs offer not only a kaleidoscope of beauty but an arsenal of weapons to fight off illnesses and a basketful of flavors to fill your larder.
These are some of my favorite resources for herbs. Enjoy your harvest year round by using herbs in the kitchen, the medicine cabinet, and your make-up bag.
Seeds: Johnny’s Seeds