The One Edible You Must Grow

Herbs. If you grow nothing else yourself, if you buy all your lettuce and tomatoes and chard and cucumbers at the market, promise me you will at least grow your own herbs. Now I might be bit biased because I did my culinary externship at a restaurant known for its herb-enhanced cuisine, but I can’t imagine a better bang for your garden buck. Nothing else will add so much flavor to your food and so much market value to your harvest in so little space.

Don’t believe me? Fresh herbs in the average grocery store, if you can get them at all, usually come in little plastic herb coffins that look like this:

Amazon Fresh (Amazon’s Seattle-based grocery delivery service) is selling this .75 ounce of fresh tarragon from Mexico for $2.29. That sounds about right, maybe even a bit on the cheap side, based on what I’ve seen at various markets around town. So that’s $3.05 an ounce.
I grow tarragon, and in my yard it’s a perennial, meaning every year it just shows up and offers me its aromatic love with barely any work on my part. Yesterday I noticed my tarragon was getting a bit straggly so I gave the new growth a nice trim. 
Once I was out there, Felcos in hand, I got on an herb harvesting roll, and ended up cutting oregano, lemon balm, rosemary, parsley and mint, in addition to the tarragon.

I used a big bunch of mint and parsley with our dinner, and Nick made some tasty Pisco Mojitos.

The rest of the herbs I tied in bundles with twine and hung up to dry gently.

Just for fun, I weighed the tarragon I harvested. It was a moderate size bundle; I’ll probably get another cutting the same size at the end of the summer. It was 10 ounces. That $30 worth of tarragon, and it took me approximately two minutes to harvest it (and maybe another two minutes to find the twine and tie and hang the bundle).
Growing your own herbs is really the only cost effective way to use them as they deserve to be used: with abandon.
In summer, when the cucumbers come on, I will make tabouli that is bright green with parsley. It will be a parsley salad garnished with cracked wheat and feta and summer vegetables. In fall, basil pesto – made in late summer and frozen – will get dolloped into brothy vegetable soups a quarter-cup at a time. A simple minestrone will sing from the addition of herb and oil. In winter, I’ll strip a cup or more of tarragon from the dry stems I hung yesterday and mix the fresh crumbled herb with mayonnaise. The mayo will be pale chartreuse and will coat cod or halibut or chicken breast. Slowly roasted, the fish or poultry will emerge from the oven moist and perfumed with the appealing, mildly anise flavor of tarragon.
When you grow your own, you can skip past the miserly garnish sprinklings and be gracious with your herb use.
There’s really no excuse not to grow herbs. In the Maritime Northwest, all the hardy herbs are reliable perennials. I harvest rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram and bay all through the winter. Tarragon, mint, lavender, chives and lemon balm pop up in spring and make cheerful growth all through the fall. Basil, cilantro and flat leaf parsley I start as annuals every year, though parsley is a cold hardy biennial and overwinters just fine most years before going to seed in spring. 
Many herbs are happy in a shadier patch of the yard, and many reseed with abandon (ask me how I came to be in possession of 4, 5-foot tall angelica plants – and by the way, what do I do with a lot of angelica?). 
For those without a yard, an entire herb garden can be accommodated on a small patio, and since many of the most versatile hardy herbs come from a Mediterranean climate with fast draining soil and dry summers, these tend to do especially well in pots.
What’s growing in your herb garden? If you aren’t growing herbs, why not?


  1. says

    I can give you a great reason why I don't. I don't know anything about this Herb guy. Seriously, I am a halfway decent cook and use only a handful of spices I've got on hand, all dried. I wouldn't have a clue what to do with most fresh spices. My huge mature rosemary died without so much as a twig taken from it. All I know is the bees liked it. Sad, isn't it? When I grow up I'll go to culinary school and figure it out.

  2. Be Grim says

    I just harvested my cilantro and made a big batch of cilantro/spinach pesto (spinach also from garden!). I've been herb-inspired this year and want to do a better job at harvesting/preserving. It's a bit too cold & wet here for some plants to over-winter; I just bought a new tarragon and rosemary. I'm trying to start some parsley from seed, but it's really taking its time to germinate. Thanks for the inspiration; I'll go out today and harvest some oregano, thyme, and lemon balm!

  3. says

    The very first things I planted when I had a yard were herbs. Since I've moved, I changed the focus of the herb garden from medicinal/historical to culinary/medicinal, but I still grow them!

    I must have mint (four kinds right now) and rosemary, and basil in the summer. I also grow oregano, majoram, thyme, sage, pineapple sage, horseradish, lavender, chives, feverfew, lemon balm, stevia, valerian, catnip, borage (more for the bees) and lemon verbena. I want yarrow, but I think it might be a bit too wet here for it to do well. I also miss my dill, even though it happily seeds itself all over the yard.

  4. says

    You are right…Fresh herbs is the way to go….This the first year that I've grown alot more. Fresh dill chopped in the salad, along with chives, Italian parsley, oregano..So much better tasting…Trying horseradish this bought jars seem to loose their kick fast…Seems like you can use alot more of the fresh than the dried..have to get used to this.

  5. says

    You are so right! I never was much for herbs in my cooking because I always used dry. I never could go through the fresh pack in time. Then I started growing my own and it was so easy and they tasted so good and they didn't go bad because they were still growing! Woot.

  6. says

    All mine are in pots as I'm a houseparent at a boarding school and don't have my own garden. Basil, thyme, lemon oregano on the steps. Tarragon, more oregano & thyme, & purple basil in the tops of my bottom-hanging tomatoes. And cilantro & some kind of oregano billed as "hot and spicy" overgrowing their nursery containers and waiting not-so-patiently for me to find them a home. I wish I had some dill and flat-leaf parsley, and wouldn't mind mint either.

  7. says

    Green goddess dressing just isn't the same without tarragon…

    I have a big herb pot on my deck, and the tarragon hasn't been coming back in as well this year as it has in the past. I also have marjoram in the same pot and let it grow a little too out of control last year, so I'm wondering if it crowded out the tarragon.

    • Lemongrass says

      every spring i make a new plant from the mother tree to keeps things going. i notice if the plant is in a pot the second year it gets a bit feeble. i try to keep 3 plants going, while i use from one the other two are grow. right now i have one mama plant a three babies. have to gift one to a friend.

      Tarragon makes a great tea, that increases your appetite and guarantees a pleasant night’s sleep.

  8. Dionne Ramsey says

    The first things I focused on last year (second growing season in our house) was herbs! Rosemary, thyme, oregano, borage, basil, lemon balm, catnip, lemon mint, sage, dill, lavender…

    I think that was all last year. This year I’d like to continue collecting more variety and adding more plants around the property for the bees. I’ll keep the culinary ones closer to the house and more tidy, and let the others do their thing and flower away :)

    I’m going to steal a chunk of chive from my mom, as it has been a proven winner year after year in her garden…then we’ll see what else I’ll collect!

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