Let me be clear right off the bat. I in no way consider myself a gardening expert of any kind. But, that’s the wonderful thing about growing herbs! For the most part they are very low maintenance. Minimal effort pays off big time when you have a multitude of bright, fresh and versatile flavors right at your fingertips to take any dish up a notch. At least a handful of you have asked for posts about my garden and some have specifically asked about herbs. So, here it is!

One of my favorite things about herbs aside from their contributions to my cooking is that they grow wonderfully in containers, meaning you can save precious space in your regular garden beds for things that need more dedicated space, such as vegetables. What type of container you use totally depends on what works best in the space available to you. I wanted my herbs on our back but didn’t want them taking up actual floor space. I decided to try out these railing planters last year and I have loved them so much, I bought two more already this summer (and will likely still add in two-four more!) If you have any space that could work with these, I cannot recommend them highly enough! Another important thing to keep in mind is if at all possible, grow them near the kitchen so you don’t have far to go in case of bad weather. Much more convenient to have them nearly within arm’s reach!

What herbs you should grow is entirely up to you and what you enjoy cooking with and eating the most! Here’s what I have growing this year:

  • Rosemary
  • Basil (four plants – I always grow LOTS of basil because I use it most)
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Chives
  • Peppermint
  • Spearmint
  • Lavender
  • Cilantro
  • Epazote

There are many others that I do not grow simply because I don’t use them often enough or at all, but you might want to consider them depending on what you prefer. These are just a few that I see pretty widely available.

  • Dill
  • Sage
  • Marjoram
  • Tarragon
  • Lemongrass

Starter plants can be found at many home and garden stores, but I highly recommend checking your local farmers market first. Support local agriculture, and you might also find some interesting varieties that you won’t find in big chain stores. I was so excited to find epazote at my market this year since I have seen it called for in so many Rick Bayless recipes!

Even if you think you don’t have a green thumb, herbs really don’t need a lot of attention once you have them planted. If it hasn’t rained in a couple of days I will water mine but otherwise, I let nature do the rest. The main thing is when they start to develop flowers (also known as “going to seed”) it is important to pinch those off. Cilantro does this very quickly and has been one I have had a hard time maintaining in the past. Basil will do this eventually too, so just keep any eye out for it.

You can use fresh herbs in place of dried in any recipe that calls for them. In general, the guideline is to use 1 tablespoon of fresh herb per 1 teaspoon of dried. I’ll be honest and say that I basically never, ever measure fresh herbs when I cook with them.  (Maybe with pesto…maybe. But then it’s more like estimating.) They are pretty forgiving and I have yet to have a moment when I thought, “Man, I really should have measured the basil!” What can I say? It works for me!

There are many obvious uses for fresh herbs in savory cooking, but don’t forget to think outside of the dinner plate and keep them in mind for adding a delicious herbal note to cocktails or a unique pop of flavor in desserts. I once had a sage infused caramel sauce at Girl and the Goat that was truly incredible! I still dream about it months later. Also remember they can be minced and mixed into sugar or salt for an extra special seasoning option.

It almost feels silly to list recipes that are great with fresh herbs because you certainly shouldn’t feel limited to recipes that already incorporate them, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of my own favorites. Just writing this post has given me inspiration for several new recipes so be sure to stay tuned for those! What are some of your favorite herbs to grow, and your favorite uses for them?

  • Melissa Brooker

    Thank You! I love this post!! i will be giving it a shot this summer! in the summer i use dill like its going out of style, so i definitely want to try that! And this year i have actually managed to get over my basil aversion! i started small by adding little bits, now i quite like it!

    I also never measure fresh herbs, it’s hard to overdo them!

  • Heavypen

    My wife and I grow rosemary, basil, thyme, and mint. Started sage and tarragon. Hoping to add more to the garden as we go along. We’re both really busy with family and work, but the garden is our way to take it all down and relax in our backyard. And having fresh herbs ready anytime also helps with our other hobby: cooking! Thanks. Great post.

  • jaye

    We also have herbs close to the house on the back porch, these are for kitchen use. Then I have more herbs in pots around my garden I grow just to attract ladybugs, bees and butterflies. I let those herbs bolt and flower. I mix in snapdragons, milkweed, zinnas, and marigolds.

  • Angela

    This is rad. Cilantro is my favorite. Cocktail wise, mint and grapefruit with jalapeño and vodka or tequila is delicious.

  • Emily @ Life on Food

    I love fresh herbs. They are always the bulk of our garden. It is never regretted and always enjoyed.

  • I love this! I started with mint (I forget which kind) last year and added lavender this year. I need to do more because I love the ability to just go outside and get what I need!

  • Dana

    Yay!!!! Thanks so much, Annie!!! I want to do an herb garden exactly like this – on my balcony, too – such a great use of space. Thanks again!!!!! :)

  • Dana

    Also, I only have a 1-2″ metal railing at the top of our balcony. If my husband is handy with zip ties, do you think that will still work? Was reading a bunch of the reviews on your railing planters and a large amount of them said they had to use their own fastening devices….. as the brackets that come with the product didn’t work for their balconies…..

  • Laurel Nippert Miller

    The epazote sounds so intriguing. I haven’t seen that plant (or seed) before. Basil is my favorite herb. It’s great in savory dishes and in jazzy simple syrups for cocktails.

  • Dawn

    Love this! We are spending most of the summer in university graduate housing, but we do have a little balcony. We aren’t allowed to keep things on it, so we can’t buy pots, but we do plan to buy hanging planters just like these for herbs. :) I appreciate the tip on the farmers market as a source for starter plants! We have a great one in town, but it hadn’t occurred to me to look for them there.

  • Hi Annie! I can’t live without my herbs. There is nothing like walking outside and picking your herbs before cooking. We’re in Bloomington, IN and herbs are about the only thing the deer won’t eat. I have to stay on top of spraying my plants. One plant you’ve got to try is the purple basil — it not only taste great but makes a fantastic addition to bouquets. Stay dry this weekend — I think it’s supposed to rain.

  • My Imperfect Kitchen

    And now I want a deck, so I can have planter boxes of herbs just like yours! It’s so beautiful!! I’m totally showing this to my husband for a summer project. Thank you!

  • Caroline

    What do you do with your herbs during the winter? Bring them inside? I live in Indiana too and would love to grow an herb garden but don’t know how it’s feasible with the snow! Thanks!

  • Hala Makssoud

    Can someone tells me which herb is no. 5?

  • Hi Annie, I grow all my own herbs to, but have trouble growing cilantro. Love the railing planters.

  • Annie

    In theory, you definitely can pot them and bring them inside. I have never done this but I really should. Usually my problem is that by the time I have thought of it, I have lost most to a frost or two. Maybe this year I’ll make it happen!

  • Annie

    Yes, I was worried about hanging them based on many of those comments as well. We lucked out that they *just* fit our railing but I’m confident you would be able to rig up some way to hang them.

  • Juli Marie

    There are some that come back the next year. This winter I left my herbs out (I don’t have a place to put them in the winter) and my chives started growing again in March and are still going strong!

  • Cilantro likes cool weather! It will go to seed when it gets too hot. http://www.JennsFarmTable.com

  • I love in Dallas and I put them in pots all over my apartment building. When I need to cook with them I just bring the pot in the kitchen! I love the railing planters. I have a self watering railing planter right now full of purple petunias. I think I will use this for herbs when the flowers are spent. Thanks for the post! http://www.JennsFarmTable.com XO -Jenn