Your perfect herb garden is waiting for you. You just need to decide on the best herbs for you! Start with looking through our top ten below!
An indoor herb garden can be just as rewarding as a large allotment filled with the entire back catalogue from Kew Gardens! Fresh herbs are the reward for very little input and you will be able to chose the level for your skill set. If you need to buy fully grown plants, or are confident enough to take cuttings or grow from seed it’s not an issue. You will still enjoy the pleasures of eating fresh herbs on a daily basis
Windowsill herb gardens can be a useful way to enhance your harvest period. Some of the best herbs you can grow are not necessarily very good over winter and will need to be brought inside as with other annuals. So we ensure that we have year long food growing!
Let’s be realistic about the best herbs
- They are only as good as you are at remembering to go and cut them! So you can start with great intentions, find the perfect sunlit spot, with superb water drainage, but if it is down the bottom of the garden, will you always remember?
- Don’t go over excitedly into the unknown. So if you have never cooked with lovage, why grow it as a beginner? Wait a few seasons to try new herbs in the garden. Conversely shop bought herbs can be expensive so buying seeds for the more ‘hard to come by’ herbs would actually make financial sense.
- Like all fruit and vegetables, if you get the kids involved with the growing and harvesting of herbs they are more likely to eat them. Warning time – go gently with their tender taste buds as children’s tastebuds are more sensitive to adults. Go for your more delicate flavours, even trying to use them as garnish before introducing them to full on robust herbs like fennel or sage.
- One packet of seeds could contain around 400 seeds. How many herbs of the same variety do you need? We did try a seed exchange, but now we start the seeds and swap when they are a more substantial plant, very important for hardy perennials, less so for your delicate annuals.
- Think outside of the plain old, grow herbs, eat herbs. Why not think about drying, storing or putting into oil infusions? You may want to control your ingredients for a homemade spa treatment?
Why are herbs so perfect to grow at home?
Firstly you get a lot of bang for your buck. For very little initial outlay, usually a few pounds for a packet of seeds, you can have enough to eat for the year. If you choose to buy ‘living herbs’ from a supermarket you do not get that same financial value as each plant would cost as much as the entire packet of seeds.
Secondly the freshness that you can grow is second to none. Think about the last time you bought ‘living herbs’ from the shops and how disappointed you were that they died very shortly after that purchase.
Lastly herbs are so easy to grow. There is very little to go wrong, as long as you choose the right herbs for you! So hold on we are going to look at some of the Nation’s favourite herbs!
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1. Garlic (Allium sativum)
Garlic is one of the most versatile of herbs. Being from the allium family it belongs with those strong astringent tastes associated with onions. However you can cook with 50 whole cloves of garlic and have a very different experience than if you were cooking with crushed garlic. The act of crushing the garlic releases a natural defense mechanism that gives us that delicious taste, although the intention is that we don’t like the taste and stop ‘attacking’ the plant. That back fired on mother nature, didn’t it?
Where to plant garlic?
Garlic needs to have adequate drainage. Like seriously adequate drainage. Getting water logged is the worse case scenario for your cloves. Yes, you can use a few cloves from your supermarket shop bulbs, but it is far better to buy a variety that is ready for you to plant. Go for a variety that gives you and your family the flavour that you like best, for mild go for 10 Garlic Cloves for Giant Bulbs & mild Cloves or you could go for an autumn planting clove like 3 x Autumn Planting Garlic Bulbs ‘Casablanca’
You will need space for this and a sandy but fertile soil. This is to allow for the cloves to grow into large bulbs whilst allowing for the soil to have free drainage. I prefer an over winter variety as it is nice to think that your garden is still productive during that time.
How to Plant your Garlic for Greatest Harvest
Start by double digging the soil, it is all about the softness and aeration ready for the cloves. I then lay the individual cloves on top of the soil, leaving at lest two bulbs width between them.
I use my Dibber as I want to ensure that each clove is at the depth it needs to grow, roughly twice the depth of the clove. Flat side facing downwards. Put the dibber in to the desired depth, then pull gently to the side and drop the clove in, remove he dibber and the finely tilled soil should cover it completely. Rake over to make sure your garlic is going to be happy. Then leave it, if it a dry period make sure it gets a bit of a water on day one but walk away and don’t worry.
You will wait a few months for the shoots to come up, this is natural and your patience will be rewarded. Have faith that all of the hard work takes place underground. You have a few months of waiting and then the shoots come, then a few more months of waiting again! When you feel that you can’t wait any longer take a hand fork to an individual bulb and see what you get.
Storing your garlic
This part if quite pain free. you will be able to use the leafy stalk to create a plait. Then anywhere dry and relatively stable in temperature is the perfect spot to hang it. We use our log shed as no vermin will bother to try and eat the potent garlic! Just take what you want to eat when you want it!
All that is left is to get some great recipe ideas!
2. Basil Genovese – Sweet Basil
This is the best family friendly herb. Not too strong a flavour and really hard to kill off. So if you have a windowsill in your house this is the one for you. Simply put – sow all year, grow all year, eat all year.
Where to grow Sweet Basil
With its mild flavour and ease of growing you can pick up a few thousand seeds for the cost of a ‘living plant’ from the supermarket. Don’t even get me started about those plastic wrapped ‘fresh’ herbs. Basil needs to be eaten as soon as possible after picking. You can simply pinch it out from where the newest leaves are growing.
Call me cheap but I like to make our own indoor herb planters out of old single use plastics and a touch of style! If I do say so myself. But so can you and that means you will only need to buy basil seeds so a very low cost.
How to plant basil
You will need some reasonably good quality soil, use any planter you like for these herbs, but make sure to protect your windowsill from over watering accidents. Fill the container to around half an inch from the top.
Cover lightly with the compost, firm gently and water. Keep it moist and warm for 7-14 days and you will see sprouts start to appear. If you need to thin them out to eliminate any weaker plants then now is the time. You will need to make sure once the shoots are showing that there is plenty of sunlight. They will grow in winter but perhaps a little more slowly than summer. If you do want to plant them out at all, give them a hardening off period, introducing them to the idea of British weather gently. Make sure that the last frost has well and truly gone. Then plant out into a raised bed or prepared pot. You will still be able to harvest leaves from the plant and keep eating from it for a long period, perhaps even moving back inside once the autumnal weather starts. May-August they should thrive outside.
You get lots of seeds and these are cut and come again annuals. So what is not to like? A light aniseed flavour perfectly matched with any Mediterranean dish as a garnish or pesto. We love salad dressings and in gentle face masks as well. If you are looking to grow for homemade pesto, grow loads more than you might think you need. But think about how expensive and cost prohibitive buying grown herbs would be at this point!
Storing sweet basil
Home freezing is a great option for basil as it is for any of the softer herbs.
3. Chives Allium schoenoprasum
Another allium, however this is a family friendly herb! You can eat it all and our littlest ones are fiends for picking and eating as they run around!
Drop the seeds into compost and lightly cover. Allow a few weeks before shoots appear and transport them to a sunny spot, either outdoors or on your windowsill. These guys are so popular in the UK that they nearly always get included in windowill herb garden kits alongside basil and parsley.
As chives are a hardy perennial you can plant them out and expect them to live all year round. Again though watch the results of the heavy rainfall. Make sure you have properly prepared the soil by double digging and using the produce from your own compost heap! The more organic matter in with the chives the better, not just for water drainage but to keep them warm in winter.
Where to grow chives, does this make them the best herbs?
Go for full on sunshine or partial shade, either way the chives will thrive. See they really are amongst the best herbs. So windowsill, pots or as ground cover for boarders. It really doesn’t matter. Chives will not disappoint!
They are also the ultimate cut and come again herb, as by about day 60 you can cut back to within a few inches of the soil. Eat all of what you cut back and repeat at least 3-4 that year. After that you can just keep going. We do love the eat the flowers of chives and they rock in a salad, but you need to be prepared to look pretentious as anything, but friends will be won over by the taste!
So keep some growing in sight at all times!
4. Fennel – Foeniculum vulgare
Not for everyone, don’t get me wrong. However the wonderful scent when you open up the seed packet is more than enough to win you over! For us it also wins points towards being included with the best herbs as it is entirely edible. A heavy aniseed flavour that cuts through fish dishes and works well with the leaves in otherwise dull plain rice. We love the creaminess of the heart as well.
Where to grow fennel
Pots are fine as is the ground but we like the architectural aspect of this herb so we companion plant it for maximum impact. For where to buy Mr Fothergill’s Fennel Seeds check out Amazon. Their packs contain around 250 seeds so keep some back for the following year as well as giving these as gifts!
Outdoors: sow thinly, May-July, where they are to crop, 1.5 cm (1/2-inch) deep, directly into finely-prepared, well-drained, fertile soil, which has already been watered. Allow 45 cm (18-inch) between rows. Seedlings usually appear in 7-21 days. Thin seedlings to 20 cm (8-inch) apart. Water well until plants are established. As the swollen stems start to develop, build earth up around them to preserve the whiteness and subtle flavour. Harvest: July-October.
As with all other herbs drainage is important, however during dryer periods keep the water coming in the early morning.
5. Lavender (Lavandula)
Yes, I really have gone here. You think lavender you then think old granny vests lined with lavender pouches. Well you need to get over that as this is fast becoming one of our absolute favourite herbs to grow. I will now tell you why, but if you don’t believe me please do yourself a favour and go and visit the Cotswold lavender fields. You don’t just use lavender for the scent in heat packs or pouches to keep clothes smelling fresh! Have you ever tried lavender in shortbread or custard? I will give you some more ideas once I have mastered drying it out for culinary uses.
Where to grow lavender?
Realistically the Mediterranean is the best place to grow lavender because that is where it originates from. It is particularly robust and drought resistant. So not actually all that perfect for the British Spring time, so if you have them in pots move away to a more sheltered location during monsoon season. As Lavender belongs to the mint family though it is hardy and very much part of an affordable garden.
For current price on munstead seeds check out Unwin Lavender Munstead on Amazon. I think you are looking at less than £2 you get around 150 seeds. Now they are tiny tiny tiny seeds so please don’t start counting to make sure you get good value! Not all of your seeds will be viable and lavender can be a fussy old thing to get started.
Lavender is one of the best herbs because…
You can sow them indoors from about February on wards, only planting out in September, with hopes for flowers the next Summer. So not a great one for the kids to get involved with as they will get bored long before any benefits emerge. From sowing thinly with a half cm of soil on top, firmed down gently you will have to keep them moist and between 10-15 degrees for between 21-49 days. This is tiresome for the kids so maybe just one for us adults with a bit more patience. We keep ours under cover for that time, either in an Electric Propagator that i not turned on, or just with a suitable plastic cover. You need it to be mold resistant to some extent so not just cling film.
Once the seedlings appear get them some fresh air without that lid. Keep them near to sunlight and when sturdy enough transplant them individually. This is where portion control comes in handy as you will have loads more than you bargained for. Lavender in the second year make for an excellent gift, so if you have the space crack on.
The best herbs can still be delicate as seedlings
Even though lavender is tough as anything and doesn’t require a great lot of effort with regards to treating the soil, it is still tender as a seedling. So introduce it to the idea of our cold evenings by acclimatising to the weather one afternoon at a time, bringing it back into your porch or conservatory before leaving it out in the full on cold!
The second year is all good and will go without any worries. With the munstead variety I showed you it is a dwarf variety. We find it perfect for lining our driveway with, so when we get out of the car we can brush past and the scent will waft upwards.
These are the best herbs for bees and butterflies and the kids love to tell us what they can see, running back and forth to point out the flying bugs. One word of warning though is that our chickens will eat the leaves direct from the plant, so keeping them away from their hungry little beaks is a must!
6. Sage – Salvia officinalis
Sage is great with many different dishes and can also be used in the now quite popular activity of smudging. It is easy to dry the leaves and we can use them from fresh or dried with little impact on the strength of the flavour.
Where to grow sage
Sage can be grown indoors or outside check out the latest price of Sage Seed on amazon but we think you can grow perennial plants for less than a packet of supermarket ‘fresh herbs’. Well worth it in our minds.
Sage starts off well in a biodegradable plant pot. This is because you can start the seeds off in a nice warm moist environment and then plant out without having to disturb the roots at all. Sage loves a well cultivated soil and will enjoy constant sunshine. The more sun it gets the better the flavour.
You will get a good crop year on year with sage, this means it is one of the best herbs for return on investment. You can easily dry it by tying together and hanging in an airy place. We have plenty with our garlic in the woodshed.
Sage goes well with onion and makes the best vegetarian dishes really sing as well! Think luxury nut loaf! Also goes well with any gamy meat like duck, pheasant, partridge or rabbit.
7. Tarragon – Artemisia Dracunculus
Now we can start the great French Tarragon versus Russian Tarragon debate or we can say that both have their benefits. For my money the Russian is a much hardier variety and harder than ever to kill off. My father, however refuses to agree that anything other than the French will do. Claiming that it has a much milder taste and is more useful in sauces. My answer is – as long as you pinch out the leaves when they are tender and not too mature, then either variety gives a softer flavour. Maturity of the leaves deepens the taste dramatically.
We have started our in Early March in a heated propagator as you can see above 7 days later and our little sprouts are showing. You will need to move to a sunny spot once this happens. You can then transplant them once they are large enough. Be very aware that hardy though they are, when they are seedlings they will need to be introduced to the idea of cold winter nights.
Best way to eat and store Tarragon
Picking the fresh leaves and tender shoots is advised, however once winter comes they will turn a little woody. You can easily freeze the Summers leaves that you have gathered and thereby extend your period of freshness. When winter does come, look after the plant by collecting straw around the base. This just stops too much damage to the tender parts. You will find that this helps with reducing the extreme flavour issue, mentioned by my father!
Where to grow tarragon
For me personally the best herbs are hardy perennials as you plant once and eat for as long as possible. Tarragon suits a poor soil quality, meaning that you can plant out into the ground and forget about them or even keep them in the same pot for year on year. You can harvest from March to October each year so pretty much a solid performer.
Everyone loves parsley and it is that fresh flavour that makes it a family favourite in our home. I am at a loss as to explain that taste though! It is certainly a very easy to use herb and Parsley Moss Curled is one of the most popular in the UK.
Where to grow parsley
Well pretty much anywhere you like and at any time you like. We have a lovely pot full on the windowsill at all times as they are so quick to grow, we also have a bed with parsley in for March on wards and sometimes they will even survive the winter! So an annual that is super hardy and can be grown as a perennial.
They suit thinly tilled soil, creating little drills 1cm deep and around 30cm apart. They will absolutely grow to fill that space, although you may need to thin them out further. Germination tends to take place between 18-20 degrees so we start ours off in the heated propagator. If we intend to then put them out, we go gently with them bringing them round to the idea of leaving the windowsill. It’s easy to do with any soil but these guys prefer a more nutrient rich soil than some of the other herbs mentioned so far. They are still the best herbs for adding to salads, pasta, garlic bread, fish dishes. Basically anything that could do with a bit of colour in a garnish!
Top Tip – get the kids involved right from the beginning by getting them to make a planter. It is a really good compromise for those kids who don’t like getting their hands dirty, but that you want to get involved with growing their own food.
9. Oregano – Origanum Vulgare
Oregano makes an ace addition to any Italian dish and can be a real deal breaker for an authentic taste. Super easy to grow, as long as you have a warm, sunny spot for it. You can use cuttings or buy Oregano Seeds and start off indoors.
Oregano is so easy to grow that you just get some moist soil, sprinkle the tiny seeds over the top and mist with water. Keep covered and moist as well as warm, then 7-14 days later you have some lovely little sprouts, ready to be put in a warm windowsill.
It is a hardy perennial and perfect for kids to grow as they can then cook with it later on as well. Totally child proof to our mind. I’m sure that some children could prove us wrong but this is a good one for being quick to produce results.
The purple flowers are a total magnet to butterflies and bees alike! We love to grow herbs for our chickens and oregano can sometimes make it to the flowering stage without having been eaten first. This year we will be protecting the younger plants from little hens feet!
10. Thyme – Thymus vulgaris
Officially I’m not sure that you are meant to be able to harvest from thyme all year round. We do. You can add thyme to so many winter dishes and it will be immediately lifted in depth of flavour. If you have a slow cooker you can add thyme at the start and then again moments before serving and each will give a different taste.
When thyme flowers in Summer it is another favourite for the bee and butterfly population. We have a serious issue with our wonderful free range chickens and I blame myself for introducing them to fresh herbs, but thyme is so hardy that it can withstand even the biggest binge eating hens.
Where to grow thyme
If you buy Thyme Seeds from Amazon you can start them off in a propagator in late March and start to harvest by July. Germination in a heated propagator should take around 7-14 days so again a good one for the younger generation. Really good to then transfer to the windowsill until they are large enough to handle and plant out. Make sure that you harden them off before shocking them with cold snaps.
Thyme is a perennial so will be a solid investment for less than a few quid. They don’t need a well cultivated soil just a sunny spot.
Benefits of thyme include the ability for it to aid digestion of fatty foods. Perhaps this is why it goes so well with a leg of lamb of venison stew.
Storing and drying thyme is nice and easy and you can bundle it together to hang in a light and airy room, like our woodshed. You will find that as you can harvest it all year you may not want to dry it out, however you may also not want to go out in a winter storm to collect the fresh leaves, so give yourself a break and dry it!
Best Herbs for your Family!
At the end of the day I have missed out so many great options here! Mainly because we wanted to give you all a taste for what is possible. If you like what you have read please do share with others and subscribe to learn more! But more importantly give at least one of these a go!