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Growing Herbs from Seed

by Matt W (Greenhousestores) Growing Herbs

Most herbs can be propagated from seed, also germination conditions and times vary widely depending on what is being grown. Refer to sowing and spacing instructions on the seed packet, or barring that, look them up online.

Important germination variables can be soil and air temperature and moisture, light exposure, pot and planting depth, and soil type.

Many herbs can also be grown from stem cuttings of adult plants, either propagated in water or directly in soil.

Growing herbs indoors

Many herbs take well to growing in a sunny kitchen window, although some will bolt, as in send up a flower stalk and try to set seeds, much earlier at room temperature. Constantly harvesting indoor-grown herbs can keep them in a constant state of renewal.

Growing herbs in a greenhouse

A greenhouse is a perfect place to get herbs started for the season, and also to grow more tender or tropical selections like basil, bay leaf, marjoram, and lemongrass.

Growing herbs outdoors

Outdoor herbs can be sown directly, or transplanted from the greenhouse when temperatures allow. Selections in the carrot family, with deep taproots and a tendency to be biennial or perennial are good choices for outdoor cultivation. Other perennial herbs, like those in the onion family (chives, garlic chives), can also benefit from having a permanent home in the garden: this saves the effort of sowing year after year.

Growing herbs in pots and planters

For all those special, summer selections, especially those that appreciate dry and hot conditions (like rosemary, curry plant, oregano, and tarragon), the best place for them can be in a pot or container in a warm sunny spot, like a balcony or patio. Growing in a pot or container gives a better likelihood of adequate drainage, and also provides a warm microclimate.

Common Name Binomial Name(s) Basic Description Uses Growing Tips
Basil

Ocimum basilicum, and others

A fragrant cousin of mint, basil comes in a baffling array of colours and flavours. The green, broad-leafed variety with which most are familiar is sweet or Genovese basil, but there are also hybrids like Thai basil, lemon basil, Asian “holy” basil, and the striking ornamental “Magic Mountain” basil.

This spicy herb is a fixture in Italian cuisine, forming the base for dishes like pesto.

It’s also antibacterial, antifungal, and has been demonstrated to repel mosquitoes.

Basil can be grown from seed or cuttings, but requires a warm, humid environment and cannot tolerate a draft or freezing temperatures.

It is a full-sun plant, and generally does not tolerate drying out.

Bay Leaf

Laurus nobilis

Bay leaves are the fragrant dried foliage of the Mediterranean bay tree.

These leaves are often used in soups or stews, and have antibacterial as well as antifungal properties.

Ued as a poultice, bay leaves reportedly have anti-inflammatory properties as well, and improve circulation.

Bay trees require a Mediterranean climate, which means hot and dry. They should be over-wintered in a greenhouse or indoors in cooler climes.

Black Cumin

Nigella sativa

Nigella flowers are striking and delicate, but the plant is predominantly cultivated for the numerous black seeds it produces, which have an onion-like flavour.

The seeds are used in breads and cheeses, especially in Middle

Best grown from seed in the warmest parts of summer, these plants appreciate a sunny and dry spot in the garden.

Caraway

Carum carvi

Caraway is a member of the carrot family, and it is predominantly the seeds that are used as an herb.

Caraway seeds are often found in Northern European cuisines, especially in rye bread and havarti cheese.

Caraway is biennial and grows a deep taproot, so an undisturbed area in the vegetable patch is best.

Catnip

Nepeta cataria

Another member of the mint family, this herb is intensely attractive to cats.

Though it can make a relaxing herbal tea, it is mostly grown as an ornamental, or as a treat for felines.

Catnip should be grown out of reach of cats, who will trample and roll around in it as soon as they find it.

Chervil

Anthriscus cerefolium

This European carrot family favourite tastes faintly of anise, and is one of the four fines herbes used in French cooking.

Chopped chervil leaves can be added to poultry, roasted vegetable, or other savoury dishes just before they are finished cooking. It can also be used in making sauce bernaise.

Medicinally, it is a digestive aide.

Chervil has a long taproot, so like caraway, it should be grown in an undisturbed site with room to penetrate deeper soil layers.

Chives

Allium schoenoprasum

Chives are a small perennial onion, cultivated around the world.

Eat for their greens and not for their bulbs, chives can be used as a lighter alternative to onions. The flowers are also edible.

Like other onions, they have antiseptic and antifungal qualities.

As perennials, they can be grown in the garden or in a container for many years. Chives can tolerate full sun or partial shade in a well-drained soil.

Coriander

Coriandrum sativum

Also called chinese parsley, this is another member of the carrot family.

Coriander can be in everything from salsa, to guacamole, to chana masala, to hummus. It’s a versatile culinary herb from which both the seeds and greens can be used.

An annual, Coriander self-seeds prolifically. It will grow in a variety of conditions, but should not dry out.

Curry Plant

Helichrysum italicum

Curry plant is a plant in the aster family with pale silver foliage.

Though the leaves smell like curry blend, they have a much more camphor-like flavour when cooked. Curry plant leaves can be used where rosemary is used.

Curry plant is a perennial that thrives in a hot, dry location.

Dill

Anethum graveolens

Dill is a tangy-tasting member of the carrot family.

Used as a raw garnish for foods like smoked salmon, or as a flavouring agent for dill pickles, the leaves are where the majority of the culinary appeal resides.

Dill is a short-lived annual that requires cool and moist conditions to maximise the harvest window before the plant “bolts” (goes to seed).

Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare

Fennel is a Mediterranean perennial in the carrot family.

While the feathery leaves are used in a variety of dishes, the base of the leaf stalks are also eaten as a vegetable.

Fennel can tolerate a variety of conditions, but thrives best in a warm, sunny, well-drained undisturbed site.

Garlic Chives

Allium tuberosum

This Asian species of onion grows like chives, and is eaten like chives, but has a strong scent of garlic.

Garlic chives can be used as a milder addition wherever a recipe calls for garlic.

These plants require much the same in the way of growing conditions as chives do.

Lavender

Lavandula spp.

There are 39 species of plant that fall under the “lavender” umbrella.

Lavender can be used as a spice where rosemary is used: in seasoning dishes like lamb, for example.

The flowers are often used in aromatherapy, and their essential oil has a soothing effect.

Lavender thrives in hot, sunny spots with good drainage. Whether the plant is annual or perennial depends on the species.

Lemon Balm

Melissa officinalis

A member of the mint family, lemon balm’s small white flowers attract bees, which makes it an excellent honey plant.

The leaves have a citronella-like scent and have long been thought to repel mosquitoes.

The leaves can be eaten in salads, or cooked with dishes like fish.

This perennial spreads both by seeds and by runners. It will grow in a variety of conditions, and can quickly overwhelm a garden plot.

Lemon Verbena

Aloysia citrodora

A South American shrub, lemon verbena was imported to europe in the late 1700s. Since then, it has been an important herb.

The leaves are primarily used for extracting the lemon-scented essential oil, but can also be cultivated for tea.

Lemon verbena is hardy to -10 ?C.

Lovage

Levisticum officinale

Lovage, also called chinese celery, is an imposing carrot family perennial herb. In optimal conditions, the plant can be up to 2.5 metres in height.

Lovage leaves, roots, and seeds are all regarded to be both edible and medicinal, being both culinary herbs and digestive aides.

Lovage needs adequate space to grow an immense network of taproots, and due to the height of the plant, should be planted on the borders of the garden. It can be difficult to eradicate once established.

Marjoram

Origanum majorana

Closely related to oregano, this mint-family herb has perfumed notes of pine and citrus.

Used in herbes de Provence and the Middle Eastern za’atar spice blend, marjoram is often used where oregano is.

Marjoram is a cold-sensitive tender perennial, growing best in dry, sunny locations.

Mint

Mentha spp.

There are between 13-18 species of mint, and countless hybrids between them. Fruity mints that smell of strawberry, orange, lemon, and grapefruit can be found just as easily as spicy spearmints.

Mint tea has long been used as a digestive aide, and mint tea is a classic soothing remedy for an upset stomach.

In cooking, mint is used on everything from desserts, to tzatziki, to meats like lamb.

Mints are vigorous plants that spread via underground rhizomes, so it can quickly become invasive. Many gardeners opt to keep mint contained to a planter or raised bed.

Parsley

Petroselinum crispum

Parsley leaves and roots are popular components of Eurasian and North American cuisines.

The leaves can be used as a garnish or base for a sauce or soup, and the roots can be cooked as a vegetable in stews.

Parsley, like many other member of the carrot family, is biennial. It appreciates a well-drained, undisturbed soil with room for a taproot.

Oregano

Origanum vulgare, and others

A European perennial, oregano is a shrub like member of the mint family.

The leaves of oregano are used in spice mixes for seasoning savoury dishes. It is often more pungently flavoured when dried.

Oregano can be a tender plant in harsher climates, but will over-winter in a protected spot. It requires a warm, well-drained location and plenty of sun.

Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosemary is a woody, shrub like evergreen that is native to the Mediterranean.

Rosemary is often companion-planted in the garden for biological pest control.

The blade-like leaves are can be cooked for a long time without losing their flavour, so they are often added to dishes at the beginning of the cooking process.

Rosemary plants love heat, and can withstand long periods of drought.

They require a sheltered location in order to successfully over-winter.

Sage

Salvia officinalis

Though a number of plants are colloquially called sage, culinary sage is this species.

Sage is often used in garnishing pork dishes, or in soups. Like rosemary and thyme, is retains its flavour even after being cooked for a long time.

Sage thrives in hot, sunny spot.

Savoury

Satureja hortensis and Satureja montana

Summer savoury and winter savoury are both mint family plants.

The essential oils from these plants are used as an antibacterial, antifungal, and antiinflammatory medicine. They are also used in the treatment of insect stings.

They both have a sweet, rosemary-like flavour.

Savoury requires similar conditions to other Mediterranean herbs. Winter savoury is more likely to successfully over-winter.

Sorrel

Rumex acetosa

Sorrel is used as a sweet seasoning or as a pot herb. Due to the presence of oxalic acid, it shouldn’t be eaten in large quantities.

Sorrel is used in stews like borscht, as well as in sauces, soups, and salads. It has a sweet flavour.

It is a tall perennial that thrives in grassland-like spots in the garden: growing best in well-drained soil with other perennials.

Tarragon

Artemisia dracunculus

Tarragon is an herb in the sunflower family.

It has a faint taste of anise, and is often eaten fresh, or used in sauces.

Tarragon like a dry, sunny spot in the garden. It is a perennial.

Thyme

Thymus spp.

There are 350 species of this mint family plant.

Thyme can be cooked for long periods without losing flavour. It is also regarded as medicinal, having antimicrobial and antifungal properties.

Thyme grows in a variety of circumstances, depending on the species. It is generally perennial.

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