Growing food is one of the most satisfying things I’ve done in my life. I’ve climbed corporate ladders (and climbed back down), played competitive sports (and completed a mini triathlon), built teams, performed on stage, launched businesses, travelled to different countries, executed on various sustainable lifestyle challenges like going vegan and interviewed some amazing people doing some remarkable work. But the sense of accomplishment and joy that I feel when I care and nurture a plant to its maturity is unmatched. Really. If you’ve had the good fortune to grow your own food, you will likely share similar feelings.
There are many other benefits to growing your own food aside from the emotional ones: you save money, it’s healthier for you since it’s free of synthetic chemicals (unless you choose to spray), it’s fresh and tastes way better, you reduce your impact and waste, you can also give away or swap some food with neighbours, friends and family, save seeds for the next growing season, and you can freeze, preserve, ferment, can and dry excess surplus.
Now I understand that not everybody can grow the large varieties of fruit, nuts and vegetables like we do here at our farm because of a lack of space, time or motivation. But there really shouldn’t be anything stopping you from growing some basic herbs – unless of course, you’re one of those rare folks who live in an underground bunker where you neither have windows nor access to sunlight ha!
For those who are keen to give back to the earth, rather than constantly taking from it, we encourage you to nurture a herb garden to strengthen that connection with our natural environment. Plus with the rat race and social media turning us into screen junkies, taking the time to connect with plants may be essential for your wellbeing, mind, body and spirit.
Ready to set aside your excuses and grow some culinary herbs? Here are the ones I recommend you grow:
You can grow parsley indoors in a pot or grow outdoors. Choose from the curled or flat leaf (also known as Italian or continental parsley). It will go to ‘seed’ in two years (it’ll produce flower-like seeds) and as it ‘self-sows’ you’ll find the seeds will easily germinate and new parsley plants will grow in your garden without any interference or attention from you. There’s seriously not a week that goes by that I’m not picking parsley and chopping it up to throw in a quinoa salad, or to sprinkle on a vegan pasta. One of my friends successfully grew parsley in a glass jar in her light-filled Sydney apartment so you can also give that a go if you live in a small space.
Like most other herbs, dill is easy to grow. You can grow indoors but it does grow quite tall, almost a meter so I recommend growing outdoors in full sun. I rarely use dill in my cooking and salad prep, but I know it’s there in the veggie garden if I ever want it. It self sows too so I never worry about raising new plants as it does this on its own.
Thyme is a small perennial herb; perennial just means that it lives quite a long time, unlike annuals that die at the end of the season. Thyme is a cinch to grow and requires very little maintenance. I grow it in my kitchen garden, but you can grow it in indoor containers as well. I use thyme often in vegetable stews and mixed in with roast vegetables.
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Because mint tends to invade garden beds, I used to grow it in a container as a way to confine them. I don’t really like the strong flavour of mint and rarely use it in cocktails even (mocktails as I’m done with alcohol this year), so I have let the plant wither away. We do have peppermint growing in the backyard but it grows wildly around the mandarin tree. However if you like mint, I recommend growing in pots and away from other plants, unless of course you’re happy for it to spread. You can even grow mint in an old glass jar in the kitchen so long as it gets plenty of sun.
Another perennial culinary herb which often acts as ground cover is oregano. It has a distinct aroma and grows easily in pots or in an outdoor veggie garden. I grow oregano outside in my kitchen garden and I’ve not once had an issue with the plant in the last three and a half years. It’s one of those herbs that requires very little maintenance. Oregano is perfect for pasta and other Italian dishes as its flavour pairs well with tomatoes.
Sage features in most edible gardens as it’s a super simple herb to grow. You can either grow in pots or in your gardens. While I don’t use sage much in my cooking except for when the recipe calls for its inclusion (usually pasta), the herb often features in meat-based recipes.
I have about 10 rosemary plants in my kitchen garden because it’s a wonderful smelling shrub that acts as a wind buffer. It grows quite high too, to a metre and a half so it requires regular cutting and pruning back. You can grow in large pots in your home or on the balcony. Rosemary pairs perfectly with garlic and I like to put the combination together when roasting potatoes or grilling zucchinis. I also dry out the needle-like leaves to put in fabric pouches to help ward off moths in my cupboards.
This perennial herb prefers full sunlight to grow well. While you can grow in a large container if you prefer or don’t have the space, I grow sorrel outdoors in my kitchen garden. Although not a usual green plant you find in edible gardens, I like its acidic and tart flavour. When you cook it, it wilts similarly to silverbeet and spinach, but I tend to chop and use in fresh salads and sandwiches.
Chives is another perennial plant that rarely requires my attention. I grow the garlic chives variety, which has longer and strappier leaves and a distinct ‘garlicky’ flavour. The plant’s leaves do start to yellow and die during cooler months, but it bounces back again around spring. I’ve never bothered to transplant my cluster of chives in the three and half years I’ve been living here at the farm, and they don’t seem to mind. Now that I’ve embraced veganism, chives mostly feature in my salads and sandwiches, but when I was vegetarian, I’d throw chives into my scrambled eggs and quiches.
10. Cilantro aka coriander
I refer to it as coriander rather than cilantro because it’s what we commonly call the plant in the land down under. Coriander is one of my all-time favourite herbs to eat which makes it that much more annoying that it is also the herb I find most difficult to grow. The reason I’ve had difficulties is that I live in an area with a subtropical climate where day temperatures are really warm, too warm for these plants. So they often go to seed too quickly (plants often do this in an attempt to survive, it will seed in the hope its offspring lives on; I’m not making this up either, it’s in their biology lol!). You can grow in pots indoors so long as it gets partial to full sun. I love Thai, Mexican and Vietnamese cuisine and coriander plays a key role in these types of dishes which is why it’s frustrating I can’t grow the plant as well as I’d like. But if your climate is milder, you’ll probably have much more success than I.
Basil is a staple in any garden and for good reasons: it smells divine and it’s a popular herb that can be thrown in a variety of dishes. The most common types are common basil or dark leafed purple basil (I’ve grown both, but now only grow the common one). You can grow basil in indoor pots or in an outdoor garden bed (which is where I grow mine). It has a beautiful scent so you may even want to plant it near footpaths around your home. It produces beautiful white flowers which attract bees as well (we keep bees here and it’s wonderful to see them being taken in by our basil plants). If you’ve planted it in an outdoor garden, the basil will also self sow which gives you one less thing to worry about if you’re an amateur gardener.
This shrub-like herb grows to almost 6 feet so it’s definitely a herb to be planted outdoors. The one in our backyard towers over me! Lemongrass requires very little attention in fact, but sometimes I cut it back when it gets a little wild. I don’t use it often in my cooking, but happy to have this medicinal herb in my garden as I sometimes make lemongrass tea by chopping some of its fresh leaves, pouring hot water and then straining.
This culinary herb is a perennial and self sows so new plants pop up with some regularity. It’s one of my favourite herbs to look at because it’s so unique and interesting-looking. Fennel’s leaves also closely resemble that of dill, however its aniseed flavour is distinct and can be overpowering. You can use the leaves and bulbs in dishes. I tend to grate the bulbous base and use sparingly in my raw vegan salads, veggie wraps and sandwiches.
14. Green onion, spring onion or scallion
While technically not a herb because it’s really part of the onion family, I’ve included this plant because it’s similar to growing chives, easy peasy! You can grow it in your veggie patch but you can just as easily grow it in glass jars. I can’t live without spring onion (my preferred term) as I often use it in salads and in stir-fry. It also makes a wonderful substitute when I’ve run out of red onions!
Another perennial herb that features in many edible gardens, you can grow marjoram indoors or outdoors as it only grows to about 40cm tall. The plant however needs full sun. It’s similar in appearance to oregano as it does belong in the same family of plants, but I tend to choose oregano over marjoram. As such, I rarely use this herb when vegan cooking, but I know if I ever need it, it’s there. Both the leaves and flowers can be used in dishes.
A perennial herb, this plant grows to about a metre and has a licorice flavour. While I’ve never really used it in any of my vegan dishes (because I’m not a fan of licorice and recipes generally don’t require this herb) you may want to plant as part of your edible garden, and particularly if tarragon features in many of your favourite recipes.
Now many of these herbs will survive even the most neglectful of owners, but they are plants and will still require some watering, a little attention and care. Practice makes perfect right? I encourage you to flex your amateur green thumb and in time, you’ll become a better gardener. I’m by no means an expert, but I love plants and I have a rather large kitchen garden so I make the most of it. Plus an environmental activist without a garden is just odd, isn’t it? 🙂
To ensure your garden is truly sustainable, make sure to check out our water saving tips here.
Want to get organised and keep records of your gardening progress? Make sure to keep a Gardening Journal. Take a peek at the one I use here.
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