Perennial Herbs and Spices — Selecting and Growing Fresh Herbs

Lemon Grass, a tropical
perennial used in Thai
cooking. Easy to grow in
pots; overwinters indoors.

Perennial herbs and spices are plants that survive colder conditions and return the following year to produce again in the garden. Protect your perennials by placing them in a marked area of the garden so that there is no danger of disturbing their roots when tilling for the new season. Herbs prefer direct sun, good drainage and average soil. Very rich soils actually work against developing good herbs because the plants are encouraged to focus on growth at the expense of production of some of the oils for which their foliage is valued. Herbs need only occasional watering, once per week, and are troubled by few pests. Many can tolerate harsher conditions, though with compromised productivity.

Herbs can be categorized by their use. The culinary perennial herbs group contains old favorites like sage, thyme, marjoram and savory as well as chive, sorrel, tarragon, borage and even mint. Lovage, rosemary, marjoram and mint are examples of aromatic herbs, bringing their pleasant scents to food. Ornamentals are grown for their appearance. Lavender, mint, thyme and chives are considered ornamentals, but like many herbs, they fall under multiple categories because of their many uses.

Herbs and spices can also be sorted by families. Fennel and lovage are actually members of the carrot family. Aromatic leaves are a mark of the mint family, also known as Lamiaceae. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, the group includes diverse members–from oregano, marjoram, sage, rosemary, savory and thyme to catnip and lavender. Beware of mint family members. Some can become invasive and will spread readily to take over areas of your garden.

Winter savory, as the name implies, is intended for savory dishes like meats and stews. Sage, rosemary, oregano and lemon balm are good on meat or vegetables. Sage is probably best known for its use in stuffing. Thyme and tarragon are used similarly but also applied to vegetable dishes and soups. Angelica, rosemary and bee balm are used in stew, while sorrel, lemon balm and bee balm are used to create soups. Lovage can be called upon for baking and creating flavored butters. Fennel is extremely versatile, applied to everything from baking to cheeses.

Burnet tastes of cucumber and makes a good addition to both salads and cool dishes. Chives can be used in place of green onions. Angelica can be added to salad, sweet marjoram to both sauces and salads, while marjoram is used on meats and in salads. Many herbs also make flavored vinegars when used alone or in combination. Mints, chamomile, feverfew, bee balm, horehound, anise hyssop, lemon balm, scented geranium and catnip make lovely teas. Some savory herbs also make delicious teas, including rosemary and marjoram. Lemon verbena is used in cool drinks. Spearmint and peppermint, lavender, scented geranium and bee balm can also be added to flavor jellies. Horehound is useful in candy making. Scented geranium is good in desserts, while anise hyssop is added to sweetened baked goods. Bee balm and lavender have edible flowers.


  • West Virginia University Extension Service: Growing Herbs in the Home Garden;
  • University of Missouri Extension: Growing Herbs at Home;
  • University of Idaho Extension: Herbs for Idaho Gardens;
  • University of Minnesota Extension: Herbs;
  • North Carolina Cooperative Extension: Growing Herbs for the Home Gardener;

For Further Reading:

  • Virginia Cooperative Extension: Herbs;
  • N.C. State University Horticulture: Edible Flowers;
  • University of Florida Extension: Herbs for Fall;

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