Growing Culinary Herbs *adapted from
University of Rhode Island GreenShare Factsheets
Culinary herbs are usually distinguished
from spices, although the two categories overlap.
Culinary herbs generally consist of fresh or dried
leaves, while spices are seeds, roots, fruits, flowers
and bark. Culinary herbs usually have a mild flavor,
while spices tend to have a stronger, pungent flavor.
Several common spices are cinnamon sticks, anise seeds
and ginger roots. This fact sheet discusses primarily
the common culinary herbs for home gardens and landscapes.
The beginning herb gardener might want to start by
growing herbs such as basil, chive, dill, oregano,
parsley, sage and thyme. These herbs can be grouped
in "classic" herb gardens, and can be incorporated
into flower beds or vegetable gardens.
Most herbs will grow well with the same sunlight,
fertility, soil, growing conditions, and cultural
techniques required by vegetables grown in the Northeast.
Gardeners should pay special attention to drainage
and moisture requirements of certain herbs, since
many are very sensitive to soil moisture conditions.
Sage, rosemary and thyme require a well-drained, slightly
moist soil, whereas parsley, chervil and mint grow
best on soils which retain moisture. Raised beds may
provide the necessary moisture and drainage requirements
for herbs that require good soil drainage.
Basil, French basil or sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum)
is a popular, tender, annual herb. Basil is native
to India and Asia and is grown for its aromatic leaves.
Basil can be direct-seeded or transplanted to the
garden in late spring, after all danger of frost is
past. The seeds normally germinate in 8-14 days. Basil
requires full sun and prefers moist and well-drained
soil. Typical spacing for basil is 12 inches between
plants and 24 to 36 inches between rows. Japanese
beetle, Fusarium and powdery mildew are potential
insect and pest problems on basil plants.
Chives, Allium schoenoprasum, are perennials (you
can cut them back to the ground and they will regrow.
weeks. Chives reach a height of 18 inches and a width
of 1-2 inches the first year from seed; they will
spread to 10-14 inches in subsequent years. Chives
require full sun and well-drained soil. Will reseed
themselves if allowed to grow. Although no serious
pest or disease problems are common, both downy mildew
and rust can infect chives.
Dill, Anethum graveolens, is native to the Mediterranean
area and southern Russia. Dill is a hardy annual.
Butterfly larvae feed on dill, making it an ideal
plant in butterfly gardens. Dill should be direct-seeded
in spring; allow 10 inches for each plant. Since dill
has long tap roots, it should not be transplanted.
Dill does not have any serious pest or disease problems,
although phoma blight, rusty root and stem rot have
French tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus, originates
from southern Europe (Russian tarragon, Artemisia
dracunculoides, is much coarser, has paler leaves,
and a more bitter taste). French tarragon is a woody
perennial that will grow 2 feet tall. It produces
few seeds, and must be propagated by stem cuttings
or division. Plant in full sun in rich, well-drained
soil. Divide the plants every three to four years.
French tarragon is prone to root rot in heavy and
Mints, Mentha spp., are a group of herbs that are
mostly native to Europe and Asia although some are
indigenous to South America, America and Australia.
With the possible exception of Corsican mint, mints
are such rampant growers that they will quickly overwhelm
other plants. Invasive mints should be planted in
sunken clay pots to inhibit spreading.
Japanese mint (M. arvensis var. Piperescens),
peppermint (M. xpipita) and spearmint (M. spicata)
are the most commonly cultivated species of mint.
Peppermint does not produce viable seeds and can only
be propagated by cuttings. Mints can be planted in
full sun or partial shade and require rich, well-drained
soil with a soil.. Mint is susceptible to verticillium
wilt, mint rust and mint anthracnose. Spider mites,
loopers, mint flea beetles, mint root borers, cutworms,
root weevils and aphids are all potential pest problems
on mint plants.
Oregano, Origanum vulgare subsp. hirtum (also referred
to as O. heracleoticum and O. hirtum), is native to
the Mediterranean region of Europe and central Asia.
Oregano is a perennial and can be propagated by seeds.
Direct-seed in the garden and do not cover seeds--they
need sunlight to germinate. Flavor can vary greatly
among seed propagated plants--propagate by root divisions
or cuttings from plants that are known to have strong
flavor. Oregano reaches a height of 12-24 inches and
a width of 10-20 inches. It requires a site with full
sun and well-drained soil. Potential pest and disease
problems for oregano include aphids, leafminers, spider
mites and root rot.
Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, is a tender perennial,
hardy to zones 8 to 10. It is native to the Mediterranean
region, Portugal and northeastern Spain. Rosemary
can be started from seeds, but germination rates are
very low. Rosemary grows slowly from seeds, and eventually
reaches a height of 72 inches and a width of 36-72
inches. Plant rosemary in a sunny location with well-drained,
slightly acidic soil. Rosemary can be harvested year-round.
Pest and disease problems of rosemary include aphids,
spider mites, scale, mealybugs, root rot and botrytis.
Thyme, Thymus vulgaris, is native to the western Mediterranean
region. It is a small, many-branched perennial shrub.
Start seeds indoors and transplant seedlings to the
garden once all danger of the frost is past. Thyme
reaches a height of 12 inches and a width of 10-12
inches. Pest and disease problems include spider mites
and root rot.