Guest Author - Jessica Carson
Growing your own culinary herbs in containers is quite easy. Some herbs are best started from seed as they do not transplant well, others are quite forgiving and can be grown from seeds, cuttings, or transplanted from nursery stock. Nearly all herbs prefer six hours of full sun or more per day, so take this into consideration when planning your container herb garden.
Herbs can be planted several to a container or individually. I prefer growing each herb in its own container, as it allows me to rearrange frequently as the herbs grow and it makes transplanting of the perennials easier. I choose containers which will mimic the eventual shape of the plant – tall pots for tall herbs such as sage, upright rosemary, and dill, short wide pots for flat growers like marjoram, savory, tarragon, thyme, and some mints. Add a few containers of edible flowers -nasturtium, viola, pansy, calendula (pot marigold), fuchsia, or lavender for added beauty of both your garden and your foods.
Angelica: Biennial. Can grow up to 6 feet tall. Sew seeds directly in containers in the Fall. Prefers moist, rich, slightly acidic soil and partial shade in hot climates. Has a celery-like flavor, use the shoots, leaves and flowers in salads.
Anise: Annual. Grows to about 2 feet and has a slight licorice flavor. Sew seeds in containers as anise does not transplant well. Use fresh leaves in salads and the dried seeds for flavoring cookies and breads.
Basil: Annual. Many varieties from 12 inches to 6 feet tall and in a variety of leaf sizes and colors. Use fresh leaves in salads or fresh or dried leaves to flavor tomato sauces and meats. Pinch flower spikes off as they form as the plant will die once it produces seed. Flowers are also edible.
Sweet Bay (Grecian Laurel): Perennial. A tree which can grow to 15 to 40 feet at maturity, but slow growing and good for containers when young. Leaves can be used fresh or dried in sauces and to flavor meats. Needs well-drained soil, as do most herbs.
Borage: Annual. Grows to 2-3 feet tall. Sew directly in containers as it does not transplant well. Leaves and pretty star-like blue flowers are wonderful in salads, with a tangy lettuce flavor.
Carraway: Biennal. Grows 1-2 feet high. Blooms and goes to seed in second year after planting, then dies. Allow seeds to ripen and dry on the plant, then rub from stems and store in tightly closed jar. Dried seeds are wonderful for flavoring pickles, breads, and vegetables.
Chives: Perennial growing from bulblets. Grows to about 12 inches. Easy to grow from seed, also transplants well. Use fresh or dried to add a mild onion-like flavor to meats, sauces, dips, dressings, marinades, and egg dishes.
Coriander (Cilantro): Annual. Grows 12-15 inches high. Beautiful fernlike foliage. Use young leaves in salads, soups, and poultry dishes. Dry seeds and crush to use in sausage, meat dishes, beans, breads, cookies and wines.
Dill: Annual. Fernleaf dill is small and great for containers, other dills can grow to 4 feet tall. Feathery leaves with 6 inch wide clusters of yellow flowers. Sew in your containers as it does not transplant well. Use leaves fresh or dried with mild meat dishes such as lamb and in salads, dips, sauces and stews. Dried seeds are used in pickles and for flavoring vinegar.
Epazote (skunkweed): Annual. Grows 3-4 feet tall on slender plants. Has a strong scent described as a mix of mint and kerosene, but tastes much better than it smells. Reduces gas, so commonly used in bean dishes and Mexican food recipes.
Fennel: Perennial, often grow as an annual. 3-5 feet tall. Feathery leaves similar to dill, but thicker and coarser. Sew seeds directly in your containers for best results. Leaves and seeds have a slight licorice taste. Use leaves fresh or dried in fish dishes and salads, use dry or fresh seeds in breads.
Sweet Marjoram: Perennial, often grown as an annual. 12 inches tall. A cultivar of the Origanum (Oregano). Use fresh or dried in meat dishes, salads and soups.
Lemon Balm: Perennial. 15-24 inches tall. Excellent used fresh to garnish fish dishes, shrimp cocktails, and salads. Can be used fresh or dried for tea.
Mint: Perennial. Best grown alone in containers as all cultivars are highly invasive. Many varieties, including apple mint, chocolate mint, and pineapple mint, each with its own distinct flavor. Some mints are low growing and spreading, others are up to 2 feet tall. Usually used fresh to garnish fish, fruit, fruit drinks, teas, and to make mint jelly.
Oregano: Perennial. Sprawling plant with arching branches up to 24 inches long. Pleasantly aromatic. Several cultivars which range in colors and size. Use leaves fresh or dried in Italian or Spanish dishes. Also good with pot roast, especially when combined with rosemary.
Parsley: Biennial grown as an annual. To 12 inches high. Pretty tufted green leaves used fresh as a garnish and in salads, dried in soups and sauces and flavorings for bread.
Rosemary: Perennial. Cultivars range from low sprawling or drooping plants to large upright bushes. Long needle-like leaves can be used fresh or dried. Especially good in meat dishes such as roasts or rack of lamb.
Sage: Perennial. Like mint, sage is available in a wide range of cultivars and subsequent sizes, shapes and flavors. Shop for ones that especially interest you. Use fresh or dried in meat dishes, breads, soups and stews.
Summer Savory: Annual. Best to sew seeds in your containers, though can be transplanted with some success. Grows 10-12 inches tall. Excellent fresh or dried in fish dishes, soups, stews, and beans.
Tarragon: Perennial. Some grow as tall as 5 feet. Many cultivars, ranging in size, shape, and color. French Tarragon most common used as an herb, grows 1-2 feet tall with a creeping habit. Use fresh or dried in salads, cheese, and egg dishes, or to season vinegars. Divide plant every 3-4 years.
Thyme: Perennial. To 12 inches in height, shrubby habit. Cut leaves for drying before flowers open. Use to flavor meat dishes and soups and in poultry stuffing. Excellent used in combination with sage and rosemary.
Throughout the growing season pinch back the ends of the branches on your herbs to promote branching and the production of more leaves to harvest. Check weekly for dryness and water when soil is dry to about 1” depth. Do not over water and provide good drainage.
When harvesting your herbs during the growing season always leave at least 1/3 of the leaves to keep the plant healthy.
To dry your herbs, cut branches and loosely tie together with thread or string. Hang upside down in a dry, dark area, like an unused closet. When herbs are dry, store in a tightly closed container.