Basil requires full sun, fertile, well-drained soil, regular water, and warm temperatures to thrive. Basil will rot easily under cool wet conditions. Seedlings are prone to a deadly fungal disease, damping off, caused by overcrowding and overly wet conditions. It is best to plant Basil outdoors in the ground when night temperatures are above 50 degrees. To grow Basil indoors, plant in any good potting soil and fertilize monthly with a liquid fertilizer that has been diluted by half. Place in an area that receives at least six hours of direct sun or consider supplemental light. Keep the soil moist, allowing to dry between waterings. Yellowing leaves can be a sign of overwatering.
Bay is surprisingly easy to grow in the Pacific Northwest. In its native habitat, the slow-growing tree can reach heights of 40 feet or more, but home-grown bay usually remains much smaller. It can easily be pruned into a bushy shrub, small tree, or even a topiary form.
Bay can be a bit frost-tender (it will suffer if temperatures fall too far below freezing, and may die in more severe cold), and does not prefer soggy soils, but if precautions are taken against frost and soil is amended to promote good drainage, bay is a care-free plant.
Commonly distilled into essential oil, it not only can help repel mosquitoes, but also help a bee keeper attract a swarm of honey bees. The leaves must be crushed and rubbed on the skin or extracted to be effective. Fresh and dried leaves are also wonderful in tea and essential for many culinary dishes.
This species grows enlarged leaf bases which are prized in Thai and Vietnamese dishes. It is wonderful in containers or planted in ground. Lemon grass grows up to 4’ tall and 2-3’ wide in full sun. It requires good drainage, and is drought tolerant. Hardy in zone 9, and requiring indoor winter protection in Portland and surrounding areas.
Vietnamese coriander is a member of the Buckwheat (Polygonaceae) family native to SE Asia. In its tropical home, it is a forest floor perennial, but here, it’s a tender annual that likes some shade, especially in the afternoon. Generous watering and some protection from the sun will keep the leaves delicious and tender. It is a fast- and low-growing sprawler with jointed leaf nodes. The bright green leaves have an attractive purple blotch at their centers.
This delicious herb has flavors of cilantro, citrus, and pepper, with very little pungency. Common in Vietnamese cuisine, it is eaten fresh in salads, spring rolls, soups, fish dishes, and is often found on fresh herb plates. In Laos and Thailand, it’s eaten with raw larb. Laksa soup, a Singapore staple, is topped with handfuls of freshly chopped Persecaria. It relieves indigestion and bloating, and is rumored to repress sexual urges.
With some shade and water, this herb will quickly produce an abundance of tasty leaves. If you enjoy the tastes of SE Asia, this herb is a must. It can be substituted for mint or cilantro in Vietnamese recipes, or add an inspired touch to any stir fry or summer soup.
Society garlic is a charming little bloomer from the Onion family (Alliaceae). It grows 1-2’ tall, and up to a foot wide in perennial clumps that are easily divided. The purple-pink flower clusters hover above the silvery gray-green foliage. It thrives with good sun exposure and well-drained soil, and is hardy to Zone 7. With little effort from the gardener, society garlic will bloom from late spring through summer!
The flavors and aromas of Tulbaghia are similar to garlic, but not so pungent. Its name refers to the fact that you could still have a polite conversation with a stranger after eating it. The leaves can be chopped and used like chives, fresh or cooked. The flowers are edible too, and make a great garnish for spring salads.
This plant is just as comfortable in a bulb/perennial border as it is in the herb garden. It’s cold hardy, deer repellent, drought resistant, and blooms beautifully for many months. Plant Tulbaghia for your kitchen, and you just might find a new favorite ornamental!
Sweet, red-purple flowers hang in loose spikes along this low evergreen shrub. Bloom time: Summer. Low growing, 1’ tall spreading to 2’. To keep neat, shear back once or twice a year to force side branching.
Plant in full sun. Can’t stand wet or poorly drained soils but will take ordinary watering where drainage is good. Garden Uses: Perfect use as edging, foreground, low clipped hedge, or small-scale ground cover.
Horseradish belongs to the Mustard family. It has a very thick, pungent, and fleshy taproot system, which gives rise to many fleshy side roots in the surface of the soil and is very vigorous. Plant 1’ apart in deep rich soil with crown 1” below soil level in late winter or early spring.
Does best in moist soils in cool regions. Grow it in a sunny, out-of-the-way corner. Horseradish can actually take quite a lot of neglect. It is a vigorous, spreading plant not requiring fertilizer. Dig roots in the fall, after the tops have been exposed to frost. Store in a plastic bag in the fridge.
The basic requirements for successfully growing lavender are full sun and good drainage. Lavender is a hardy plant and will tolerate neglect, but it will flourish best if these two requirements are met.
Pruning is the best way to maintain healthy and vigorous bush. Pruning should be done at least once a year for the whole life of the plant. Cut back one third of the bush in early to mid-autumn, it will flower in spring and then again in late summer/autumn.
What herb garden would be complete without mint? Highly aromatic, with uses in the culinary arts, herbal medicine, and crafting, mints are among the easiest herbs to grow. Use in summer drinks and teas, vegetable and fruit salads, or even with meat or savory dishes. Make a fragrant summer wreath or bouquet! Although it is rich in many volatile essential oils, it is menthol that is most recognizable as the “minty” smell. Menthol has antiseptic, decongestant, and analgesic uses.
Mounds of downy dark green leaves with small clusters of pink or purple flowers in summer. Best culinary choices: Greek, Italian, Compact and Richters Finest.
Keep it cut back to stay bushy or leave it alone and let it spill over a rock wall or hanging basket. Prefers full sun, but can tolerate part shade. Well drained, medium rich soil, moderate watering. Drought tolerant once established.
Parsley is a key ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes such as tabbouleh, and continues to be a popular garnish. Not only is it attractive on a plate, but it adds great texture and vibrant green to containers and gardens. Try a border of curly parsley and marigolds for something a little different.
Parsley is easy to grow and adaptable to many growing conditions. It is a biennial in our climate, which means it will last 1 ½ years. However if planted in fall it usually bolts (goes to flower) in the spring. The white lacy flowers attract beneficial insects and swallowtail butterflies! Parsley often reseeds in the garden so it is easy to get it naturalized. The seeds also make a tasty seasoning.
In the garden, rosemary is a fantastic, evergreen shrub for a hot, sunny spot. After a year of regular water, rosemary is extremely drought tolerant, and low-maintenance. Upright varieties grow between 4-7’ tall and wide and are ideal for an aromatic hedge. Typically rosemary has blue flowers that are quite showy and attract honey bees and butterflies. Most varieties bloom in the spring, but some such as ‘Prostrata’ bloom throughout the growing season.
Full sun in well-draining soil with poor to moderate fertility. Drought tolerant after a year of watering to establish plant. Most varieties grow in zones 8-10. Deer resistant! Prune heavily after flowering to keep a full shrubby plant.
Sage is an aromatic evergreen with gray-green, textured leaves, and mauve-blue flowers in summer. Prune frequently to keep it bushy. Cut back after flowering.
Plant in light, well drained soil, full sun, moderate watering. Drought tolerant. Good seasoning for poultry, stuffing, use in salads, vinegar and butter.
Shiso is a plant from the Mint family (Lamiaceae) that is native to much of East Asia, and is used popularly in Japan and Korea. The plant grows vigorously and appreciates full sun and slightly acidic soil. In our climate it is an annual, growing 3’x 2’. If allowed to flower, it may reseed. It can be harvested like basil, by cutting stems just above a leaf node. This will encourage the plant to bush outward and create more stems. There are green- and purple-leaved varieties available. Its leaves are rich in calcium and iron, and have a unique vegetal flavor reminiscent of anise, mint, cumin, and spicy cinnamon.
The leaves are typically used fresh, but can also be dried in a shady spot with good ventilation. The purple-leaved shiso is used to flavor and color umeboshi, pickled plums, and is also found in the resulting condiment, ume plum vinegar. The leaves can be wrapped around sushi or cooked meats. Try a chiffonade of the leaves in a soup or stir fry! They are also a great addition to any simple kimchi, or pickled on their own. There are many interesting recipes available online. Its attractive stems and leaves are also useful in floral arrangements.
Tarragon belongs to the Sunflower family (Asteraceae) and native to Europe and Central Asia. As the name suggests, it is also a member of the genus Artimesia, which humans have long valued as a source of many medicinal, culinary, and ornamental species. It is propagated by cuttings or divisions because its flowers are usually sterile. Tarragon grows best in well-draining soils rich in organic material. It likes sunny conditions but can tolerate some shade as long as the soil isn’t damp and heavy. It is a perennial, and will reach a size of 2’x 2’. You can harvest the fresh leaves a few at a time, or cut stems and hang them in a shady place to dry.
The leaves are the part used, and have a delicious, delicate licorice flavor. Their flavor complements many soups, stews, sauces and vinegars. It is also excellent with fish, meats, and especially eggs. It is the primary flavoring in sauce béarnaise, and is also a prominent ingredient in Georgian cooking – so popular, in fact, that they’ve got a tarragon-flavored soda!
Whether you’re shopping at the nursery or the grocery store, be sure to buy French tarragon – if “French” is not specified, it is likely to be Artemisia dracunculoides, which has similar appetite- and digestion-stimulating properties, but lacks Artemisia dracunculus’ sweet and delicate flavor.
Grows to 1 foot tall and 2 feet wide with gray-green narrow to oval leaves. The blooms vary from white to lilac in late spring or early summer. Great for containers or herb gardens. The leaves can be used fresh or dry for seasoning fish, poultry stuffing, soups, and vegetables.
Tolerates low fertility and sandy, dry soil. The tips of the plants are often damaged over the winter. Shear off dead branches to generate new growth in the early spring. The larger varieties of thyme may get leggy and woody with age. Shear down to about 6 inches above the ground and shape in the spring every 3 years or so to rejuvenate. Heavy pruning should be completed by late August so that plants have time to harden for the winter.
A great herb for tea, beverages, and desserts, Lemon Verbena can also flavor meat dishes. The flavor breaks down at high temperatures, so it is best used fresh or added to a recipe at the end of its preparation. Try infusing cooking oils with the leaves for a gourmet twist, or whip chopped leaves into butter. Leaves can also be used like a vanilla bean pod to flavor sugar.
Plant in rich, well-drained soil, in ground or in larger pots (at least 12” tall & wide), in full sun. Let soil dry slightly between waterings. Apply a balanced organic fertilizer once a month during the spring and summer. Over-fertilizing may cause a decrease in the production of the plant’s aromatic oils.