Herb buying guide

Herb buying guide

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

83 guides

Easy to grow and harvest, herbs can be used to add a fresh twist to all your home-cooked meals. Chives, coriander, mint, parsley, bay leaves, tarragon and basil can all be grown in the vegetable garden or in pots to flavour anything from meat and fish to sauces. Read on for our top tips on growing herbs at home.  

Important features

  • Perennial
  • Sun exposure and soil type
  • Characteristics of common herbs
  • Annual and biennial
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Herbs are aromatic plants with at least one edible part – usually the leaves! Used to add flavour to food, these plants are easy to grow in the garden or in planters and pots, provided that you meet the individual needs of each plant.

Herbs are generally categorised according to how often they flower and their overall lifespan. There are two basic types of herbs: annual and biennial plants, and perennials.

Annual and biennial herbs

Annual plants only last one season from sowing to harvest. Basil is a good example of an annual herb. Biennial plants tend only to produce leaves in their first year before going to seed in the second and eventually dying off (parsley and chervil, for example). 

If the leaves are what you are after in these plants, it's best to sow them every year as you would any annual plant as the leaves of these plants lose a lot of their taste in their second year.

Perennial plants

Perennial plants live for a number of years. They can be woody, like bay leaves, and generally feature evergreen leaves. Otherwise, they can be non-woody, but will still be able to live out the winter underground in the form of a bulb, tuber, or rhizome. Chives and mint are good examples of perennial herbs.

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Pots and planters

There is a wide range of different types of herbs to choose from. Be sure to pick plants that are suited to the climate where you live and the type of soil you have. Pick a spot that leaves enough room for the plant to mature and grow.

As a general rule, the soil should be aerated and well draining – even when it comes to plants that prefer a bit more moisture. While most herbs require a sunny spot, some can get by with partial shade (parsley, for example). With that in mind, it's entirely possible to grow different plants in the same planter. Place a planter in full sun and the taller plants will create shade for smaller plants that prefer partial shade. 

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Planter

In cooking, we use far fewer herbs than we do other ingredients. It's important to keep that in mind when sowing or planting. Rather than buying a big bag of seeds – most of which will never get used – you may be better off purchasing a single young plant in a pot.

Plant

Propagation method

Life cycle

Exposure

Soil type

Edible parts

Main uses

Dill

Direct sow in April - May

Annual

Direct sun, sheltered from the wind

Cool, well drained

Fresh leaves

Fish

Basil

Sow in pots in April or plant in May

Annual

Direct sun, sheltered from the wind

Slightly moist, rich in humus

Fresh leaves

Pesto, tomato salad

Chervil

Direct sow in May

Annual

Direct sun or partial shade

Any kind of well-drained, cool soil

Young fresh leaves

Salad, omelettes, soups

Chives

Sow in March-April

Perennial

Direct sun

Any type of well-drained soil

Fresh leaves

Salad, omelettes, steamed vegetables

Coriander

Sow in spring or September

Annual

Direct sun

Any type of soil

Fresh leaves and seeds

Salad and fish, soups

Tarragon

Sow in spring

Perennial

Direct sun or partial shade

Light and well-drained soil, rich in humus

Young, fresh leaves

Eggs, chicken, various cold sauces

Bay leaves

Plant directly in the ground

Perennial (shrub)

Direct sun

Any type of soil

Dried or fresh leaves

Sauces, stock

Mint

Sow in spring, divide plant regularly

Perennial

Direct sun or partial shade

Cool soil enriched with compost

Fresh or dried leaves

Tabouleh, drinks

Parsley

Sow or plant from March to September

Biennial

Partial shade

Cool and light soil, rich in humus

Leaves and stem

Raw vegetables, omelettes, sautéed vegetables

Rosemary

Sow in the spring

Perennial (shrub)

Direct sun, sheltered from frost

Dry, preferably limestone

Young leaves, fresh or dry

Sauces, baked or grilled fish

Sage

Sow in the spring, divide plant regularly

Perennial

Direct sun

Dry or even very dry soil

Fresh or dried leaves

Sauces (pork, lamb, etc.)

Thyme

Sow in the spring

Perennial (shrub)

Direct sun

Dry soil, preferably limestone

Fresh or dried leaves

Grilled meats, stock, meats with sauces

Savory

Sow in March in pots or April in the ground

Annual or perennial

Direct sun

Dry soil

Fresh or dry leaves

Grilled meats, stews, ragouts

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    Planting

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    Guide written by:

    John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge, 83 guides

    John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

    When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy.   At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood.   I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.

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