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Growing Herbs for Cooking

Posted Jan 18 2009 1:19am

Herbs for cooking are plants whose leaves, seeds, fruits, flowers or other parts are used fresh or dried for flavoring food. (A spice--broadly speaking--denotes a flavoring derived from the seed, fruit, bark or other part of a plant grown in warm, tropical regions.) A "potherb" is a plant you cook in a pot.


Herbs generally grow well with little care. Plant herbs in good loose soil. A sunny spot close to your kitchen is important. Plant perennial herbs in a part of the garden set apart from annuals; they will grow there for three or more years.


Planning an herb garden. The best way to plan your herb garden is to make a list of the herbs you regularly use. You can do this by taking inventory of the herbs in your kitchen cabinet. The best location for an herb garden is right outside the kitchen door--or in a bright kitchen window. Herbs do not require a lot of space; you can include them in a flower border if space is limited. Annual herbs--which complete their life cycle in one season--are best set apart from biennial herbs which live for two seasons and perennial herbs which live for three or more years.


Plan to get your herb garden going early in the season so that you can make full use of the plants you grow. Many herbs are harvested before they flower; these herbs may be ready for the kitchen in just a month or so.


Growing herbs in the garden. Most herbs require 6 hours of sunlight per day and well-drained, moderately rich, well-cultivated soil. Be careful not to over-fertilize herbs or they will grow tall and leggy.

Annual and biennial herbs are easily grown from seed but are often readily available as plant starts at garden centers. Perennial herbs are often started from divisions or cuttings.

Plant annual and biennial herbs as you would vegetables, in spring or summer.

Plant perennial herbs in spring or fall.

Be sure to give herbs room to mature so that they do not crowd their neighbors.

Plant herbs that easily spread--such as mint--in containers.

Keep herbs evenly moist and planting beds well-weeded.


Growing herbs in containers. Annual herbs are easily grown indoors in a windowsill.

Place potted herbs in a window that gets at least 5 hours of sun each day; the optimal indoor growing temperature is 65° to 70°F.

Plant herbs in a container at least 6 to 12 inches deep.

Use a soilless potting-mix that is light and well drained; this will help avoid soilborne diseases.

Water evenly and lightly. Herbs do not grow well in wet soil.

Use a fertilizer only labeled for edibles.

Snip or pinch plants regularly to encourage full, bushy growth. Never harvest more than one-third of the plant.

Avoid using pesticides on herbs; spray away pests with water whenever possible.


Harvest herbs when they are full flavored.


Here are 19 commonly used herbs for cooking; the annuals listed (see the note in Description) here can be grown in containers indoors.


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