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prepared by Margaret E. Coon, Home Horticulture Center, The Ohio State University
reprinted from Landscape Facts, Cooperative Extension Service

Herbs, botanically, are non-woody annual, biennial or perennial plants that die back each year after flowering. They are plants valued for flavor, fragrance or medicinal uses.

In culinary (flavor) usage, there is a distinction between herbs and spices. Herbs, generally are leaves of low growing shrubs and herbaceous plants; spices are primarily derived from bark, flower buds, fruit, or roots or perennial, tropical plants.

Herbs can serve as landscape decorations and to give new or different tastes to cooking. Distinctive and pungent flavors necessitate small quantities be used in cooking. If drying quantities, for winter use or as gifts, grow more plants. The number and types grown will change as you become familiar with various herbs and develop favorites.

Culinary types

Annual: anise, basil, borage, chervil, cress, coriander, cumin, dill, marjoram, nasturtium,
summer savory.

Biennial: caraway, celery, fennel, parsley.

Perennial: angelica, burnet, chives, dittany, garlic, horseradish, lemon balm, lovage, mints,
oregano, rosemary, rue, sage, sorrel, sweet cicely tarragon, thyme, winter savory.

Try anise, basil, chervil, fennel, or thyme for fine delicate flavor or aroma. Garlic, mints, oregano, sage, savory are stronger and more pungent.


Herbs are not difficult to grow and seem to thrive when neglected. They can be grown in a small
area of the garden, in shrub borders, in containers, and some (chives, oregano, basil, rosemary, savory, parsley, thyme, lemon balm) will tolerate indoor conditions. For fresh use, a location near the house may be desired and will give over-winter protection to tender herbs as rosemary, basil, marjoram, Corsican mint, lemon verbena.

Sun-grown plants have more distinct flavor and fragrance. A dry, loose, well-drained soil is best bur herbs grow in any soil type. They require very little fertilizer, too much produces poor flavor and fragrance. Continual removal of foliage (chives, basil, parsley, etc.) necessitates a light application of a general fertilizer early in the growing season.

Mints, parsley, cress, chervil, lovage, angelica, and celery grow better under moist soil conditions. Sage, rosemary, thyme thrive in slightly moist soil. Burnet, thyme, rosemary grow well in neutral to slightly alkaline soil (7.0-7.5 pH).

Keep weeds under control and conserve moisture by applying mulch. Give tender perennial herbs a winter cover by growing in pots indoors, or treating as annuals.

Very few diseases or insects attack herbs. Rust infects mints In hot, dry weather red spider mites may be found on low growing plants such as sage and lemon balm. Aphids may attack anise, caraway, dill and fennel.

A few herbs such as mints and artemisias, need to be contained or they will take over. Plant them in no. 10 can or a bucket (puncture closed end for drainage). A drain tile, clay pot, cement block, etc., can be used also. Sink these into the ground and they should confine the plants for a few years.

Herbs can also be grown in containers, in window boxes, or used in hanging baskets. These methods will require more care, especially watering.


Most herbs, particularly annuals, can be grown from seed. Germination varies from 12 to 30 days; check catalog or seed packet for specific times. Rosemary, with a long germination time, can be planted directly in the ground in the fall. Lemon balm, rosemary, sage, winter savory will grow from cuttings. Chives, garlic, mints, horseradish are increased by division of the clumps as new spring growth is developing.


Fresh leaves may be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. To ensure good oil content, pick leaves or seeds after dew has disappeared, but before sun becomes too hot. For day, winter use harvest leaves before flower buds open. Pick seed heads as color changes from green to brown or gray. Wash dirty leaves and seed heads in cold water; drain thoroughly before drying.


Dry herbs thoroughly before storing. High moisture content herbs as mint and basil need rapid drying or they will mold. To retain some green leaf coloring, dry in dark (hang in paper bags). Provide adequate, dust-free air circulation around drying herbs by spreading leaves on screens or cheese cloth. Tie whole stems very tightly (stem shrinks and may fall) in small bunches. Hang in dark, warm (70-80 degrees), well-ventilated, dust-free place. Seeds take longer to dry. Place heads on cloth, paper, or hang in paper bags. When partially dry, rub gently to remove dirt, hulls, etc. Spread clean seed in thin layers of clean cloth or paper until thoroughly dry.

For quick drying, care must be used to prevent loss of flavor oils and color. Place leaves or seed on a cookie sheet in an open oven at low heat (less than 180 degrees) for about 15 minutes.

Silica gel or non-iodized table salt can be used to dry or "cure" non-hairy leaves. Clean and blot leaves dry before placing in material. After drying, remove leaves from material, shake off excess and store in glass containers. Before using, rinse leaves thoroughly in clear water.

Herbs can also be frozen. Harvest, wash thoroughly, blanch in boiling, unsalted water for 50 seconds, cool quickly in ice water, package, freeze. Washed, fresh dill, chives, and basil can be frozen without blanching.


Glass or dark containers, tight covers, and storing away from heat preserves and protects delicate flavors and colors. Store leaves whole or crumbled. Label. Check containers after several days for moisture; if noticed, remove herbs and dry again.