What Plants Are Considered Herbs?
In general, herbs are plants that are used as flavoring agents. The common herbs used in cooking are referred to as culinary herbs. Mild or savory herbs impart a delicate flavor to food while the stronger or pungent herbs add zest to foods. These herbs are attractive and varied so their ornamental value is also important.
Herbs Have Ornamental Value Too
The ornamental value of herbs enables them to be used in flower beds, borders, rock gardens, or corner plantings. Some herbs are annuals while others are perennial or come up year after year. You can locate annual herbs in your annual flower garden or vegetable garden. The perennial herbs should be located at the side of the garden where they won’t interfere with next year’s soil preparation.
Herb Garden Care
Care for the herb garden will be similar to your vegetable or flower garden. Select a sunny, well-drained location. Apply a slow-release fertilizer at the rate of 2 pounds per 100 square feet.
Water as necessary during dry periods. Generally, you need about one inch of water per week, if not supplied by natural rainfall. Mulch will help conserve soil moisture and reduce weed growth as well. The mints prefer moist soil so they will require more frequent watering.
Annual and biennial herbs can be established by planting the seed directly in the garden or starting seeds indoors for later transplanting to the garden. You can save seed produced by the herb plants for next year’s crop or obtain seed from your local garden center or seed catalog.
There are three ways to propagate herbs: seed, cuttings, and divisions. To save your own seed, harvest the entire seed head after it has dried on the plant. The seeds should then be allowed to dry in a protected location that is cool and dry. After the seeds are thoroughly dry, thresh the seed from the seed heads and discard the trash. Store in labeled jars in a dark, cool, dry location. Some herb seeds such as dill, anise, caraway, or coriander can be used for flavorings.
Perennial herbs can be propagated by cuttings or by division. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years in the early spring. The plants should be dug up and cut into several sections. You can also cut 4 to 6 inch sections of the stem and root these by placing the cuttings in moist sand in a shady area. In 4 to 8 weeks, roots should form on these cuttings. Herbs such as sage, winter savory, and thyme can be propagated by cuttings. Chives, lovage, and tarragon can be propagated by division of the roots or crowns.
Leaves of many herbs such as parsley and chives can be harvested for fresh seasonings. On these plants you can gradually remove some of the leaves as you need them. Don’t remove all the foliage at one time. These plants will produce over a long period of time if they are cared for well.
On rosemary and thyme, clip the tops when the plants are in full bloom. Usually, leaves and flowers are harvested together. Basil, fennel, mint, sage, summer savory, sweet marjoram, tarragon, and winter savory are harvested just before the plant starts to bloom. Chervil and parsley leaves can be cut and dried anytime. Lovage leaves should be harvested early during the first flush of growth.
After harvesting, hang the herbs in loosely tied bundles in a well-ventilated room. You can also spread the branches on a screen, cheesecloth, or hardware cloth. For herbs where leaves only are needed, the leaves can be spread on flat trays. Keep dust off the herbs by a cloth or similar protective cover that will allow moisture to pass through.
Best Herbs for Central Texas
Many of the herbs we grow today are from the Mediterranean region of the world and thus hot, dry summer weather suits them perfectly. All too often gardeners lose herbs because they don’t have good enough drainage (they really do best in a raised bed) or because they don’t have them in the right exposure. Most require sun. The mints and a few other herbs will grow well in shade or partial shade.
Following is a list and description of some commonly used, adapted herbs for this area:
|20–24||Most common is Sweet Green Basil. More unusual varieties are Lemon, Cinnamon, Licorice, Globe, Purple Ruffled, Japanese Sawtooth, Holy, Cuban, and Thai.||Leafy, light green foliage; flowers white or lavender; fast-growing annual. Good bee plant.||Trim often to keep the plants bushy; space 12 in. apart; prefers protected sun, well-drained soils, and raised beds. Most varieties will be lost at frost.||Harvest leaves when flowering begins; cut plants 4–6 in. above ground.||Leaves: soup, stew, omelet, salad, poultry and meat dishes, pasta sauce.|
|12–30||English, German||Small, dark green leaves with white flowers; foliage very
aromatic to the touch.
|Plant seed in full sun at 4–6 in. spacing. Will need irrigation in most areas.||Harvest leaves and flowers.||Leaves: tea, potpourri, garnish|
|36–48||Square stems and small, purple flowers.||Grow from seed or divisions in full or partial sun; space 12–18 in. apart. May need to cage from cats or use in hanging basket.||Harvest mature leaves and dry.||Dried leaves: tea, recreational substance for cats.|
|12||Onion-type leaves with blue round flower head.||Can be grown from seed or transplant in containers or outdoors in spring in sun or part shade; divide to increase; space 5 in. apart.||Clip leaves as needed.||Leaves: omelet, salad, soup, sauce, dip, butter; flowers edible; garlic chive is a substitute for garlic flavor.|
|36||Large, coarse plant with white flowers.||Sow seeds directly;
full sun or partial
shade; thin to 10 in.
|Harvest seeds when they begin to turn brown. Harvest leaves at any time.||Entire plant edible; leaves: stew and sauce; stems: soup and bean flavoring; seeds: crushed for pastry, sauce, pickle,liquor.|
|24 – 36||Tall plant with feathery green leaves; open, umbrella-shaped flower heads.||Seed in sun or part shade; thin to 12 in. apart; if seeds mature and fall, plants will return next year. Host plant for swallowtail butterflies.||Harvest mature seed heads before seeds drop; may use small leaves as well.||Sprigs of seed heads or seeds: pickle, bread, sauce, meat, salad, vinegar; leaves: sauce, dip, fish, flavoring.|
|24||Crinkled, dull green leaves with white blossoms; vigorous grower.||Prefers full sun, can grow in part shade; space 12 in. apart. Spreads by rhizomes and self-sows so best to grow in confined areas.||Harvest mature leaves.||Leaves: soup, meat, fish, tea, summer drink.|
|8 – 12||Sweet Marjoram, Winter Marjoram, Pot Marjoram, Creeping Golden Marjoram||Fine-textured plant with white flowers.||Start seedlings in shade but best grown from transplants or root cuttings; mature plants will grow in full sun; space 8–10 in. apart.||Harvest leaves when flowering begins.||Leaves: salad, soup, dressing, tomato sauce.|
(Mentha x piperita)
|18 – 36||Peppermint, Spearmint, “Mint-the-Best,” Applemint, Grapemint, Watermint, Orange Bergamot Mint, Pennyroyal Curly Mint, Pineapple Mint, and many more||Vigorous bush-type plant with purple flowers.||Cuttings and divisions recommended; prefers rich, moist soil; full sun with afternoon shade or part shade; space 8–10 in. apart. Good bee plant.||Harvest young or mature leaves.||Leaves: soup, sauce, tea, jelly; sprigs: tea, sauce, summer drink|
|Oregano (Origanum vulgare)||24||English strains||Produces pink flowers, low growing.||Plant in rich soil on protected site; full sun if irrigated, tolerates some shade; space 8–10 in. apart||Harvest mature leaves||Leaves: soup, meat (roasts), stew, salad|
|36 – 48||Vigorous shrub with purple to pink flowers.||Full sun to part shade; drought tolerant.||Harvest mature leaves.||Same as regular oregano but doesn’t contain the same concentration of flavor as Origanum vulgare|
|5 – 6||Italian (flat) or French (curled)||Curled or plain, dark green leaves.||Biennial. Seed in early spring in full sun; germinate slowly; space 6–8 in. apart transplants are easier to grow. Host plant for swallowtail butterflies. Susceptible to root maggots.||Harvest mature leaves as needed.||Leaves: garnish, tabbouleh salad, stew, soup, sauce, salad dressing.|
|36 – 60||Many varieties, all are adapted.||Dark green foliage with small blue flowers.||Start cuttings in early spring in full sun; seeds germinate slowly; space 24 in. apart. Drought resistant.||Harvest mature leaves.||Leaves, sprigs, and stems (use like skewers:) meat, sauce, soup: dried leaves: sachets to hang in closets with garments.|
|18 – 36||Garden, Golden, Blue, Pineapple, Tri-color, and Clary||Shrublike plant with gray-green leaves and purple flowers.||Plant cuttings in well-drained location – does not tolerate heavy clay soils; full sun; seeds germinate slowly; space 30 in. apart. Drought resistant.||Harvest leaves when flowering begins.||Leaves (dried before use, otherwise can be bitter:) meat, poultry, tea, fish, dressing, stews.|
|8 – 12||Common, Woolly, “Mother-of-Thyme,” Lemon, English, Silver, and Golden||Narrow, dark green leaves||Start seeds indoors; prefers full sun and sandy, well-drained soils – will not persist in heavy clay; space 10–12 in. apart||Harvest leaves and flower clusters before first flowers open||Leaves: soup, salad, dressing, omelet, gravy, bread, vegetables|
|4 – 12||Mounded evergreen plant with small dark green leaves and woody stems.||Full sun; well-drained soils, good substitute for Thyme in heavy soils.||Harvest leaves when flowering begins.||Leaves: bean dishes, stews, seafood, mushrooms.|
More Herb Resources
Fall is for Herbs
Growing Herbs for Texas
Herbs for Texas Landscapes
Edible Gardening in Austin