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Herbs are the ultimate garden “multi-taskers.” Adaptable, affordable and relatively easy to grow, herbs add significantly to the garden. Herbs can be edible, fragrant or repellent, can provide beautiful flowers and foliage, and/or provide habitat and nectar for beneficial pollinators, birds and butterflies. Almost anyone can grow herbs, too. While most species do grow best out of doors, it is even possible to enjoy herbs on an apartment windowsill. While there is not a specific botanical classification that sets herbs apart from other plants, they are generally considered to be any plant part that has been historically or is currently used for culinary or household purposes.

Most common herbs grow well in all parts of Idaho, although some cold-sensitive perennials must be treated like annuals in colder regions. Many popular herbs adapted to Idaho climates originated in the Europe and the Mediterranean, and prefer full sun and well-drained soils. Herbs often require less water and fertilizer than many other garden plants, and some varieties of sage, lavender and thyme make good choices for low maintenance or xeriscape gardens. Most herbs prefer full sun. A few can tolerate partly shady conditions such as catnip, chamomile, cilantro, dill, bee balm, burnet, hyssop, lemon balm and mint.

Excellent Extension publications on general herb culture and selection include the University of Illinois Urban Extension Herb Gardening page  and University of Missouri Extension’s Growing Herbs at Home and Purdue University’s Guide to Medicinal and Aromatic Plants.

For those interested in growing herbs on a larger, market garden or commercial scale, the publication Small Farm Herb Production: Is it for You? may be of help.

Limited on garden space? Learn about growing herbs in containers from this Utah State University publication Herb Container Gardens.

Annual herbs produce foliage, flowers and seed in one season before succumbing to fall frosts. Popular examples include basil, chervil, cilantro and dill. These annual herbs generally require more water and fertilizer than woodier perennials. If allowed to flower and set seed, many annual herbs will re-seed themselves in the garden.

Try putting in several plantings of these herbs to keep your kitchen stocked all summer long.

Annual Herbs
Name of Annual Herb Height/Spread Suitable for Containers? How Propagated* Primary Uses**
Ocimum basilicum
8-24″ x 6-12″ depending on cultivar Yes Seed or cuttings leaves in pesto, salad, pizza, vinegars, teas
Borage officinalis
1-3′ x 12″ No Seed edible flowers, leaves in sandwiches, salads, teas
Chamomile, German
Matricaria recutita
2.5″ x 4-6″ Yes Seed teas, bath herbs, soaps, sachets
Anthriscus cerefolium
2″ x 15″ Yes Seed leaves in salads, soups, butters, sauces, teas
Cilantro (Coriander seed)
Coriandrum sativum
24″ x 18″ Yes Seed leaves in salsa, salads, seeds in meat dishes
Anethum graveolens
5′ x 12″ No Seed salads, breads, soups, pickles, vinegars
(biannual, grow as annual)
Petroselinum crispum
6″ x 2′ Yes Seed garnish, salads, eggs, soups, meats, pesto, vegetable dishes, breads
Summer Savory
Satureja hortensis
18″ x 12″ Yes Seed or cuttings meat rub, soups, salads

* Easy to follow directions for propagating herbs by seed, cuttings or division are found in the University of Missouri Extension Publication Growing Herbs at Home, available free online
**Some information in this table on herb uses provided by Cornell University’s Growing Herbs for the Home Gardener

Many edible perennial herbs do double duty as handsome landscape or border plants. Chives, borage, hyssop, French tarragon, English lavender, oregano, sage and rosemary have attractive shapes, great fragrance and provide interest year round.

Some herbs are technically perennial, but are not hardy in Idaho’s temperate climate. Most cultivars of rosemary (except ‘Arp’), lemon verbena, pineapple sage, and French or Spanish lavenders must be replanted every year, or overwintered indoors in pots. For more information on USDA Hardiness Zones or to determine in which zone you live and garden, visit the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

Some perennial herbs, like horseradish, lemon balm, and mint can become invasive in the garden. Plant where they can spread comfortably, or try planting them in the ground in a large pot to contain them.

Perennial Herbs

Name of Perennial Herb Height/Spread Hardy to USDA Zone: Suitable for Containers? How Propagated Primary Uses*
Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum 5′ x 24″ 4-5 No Seed or division Attracts bees, edible flowers, leaves in teas, baked goods, salads, jelly
Bee Balm Monarda didyma 3′ x 15″ 4 No Seed or division Attracts bees, edible flowers, teas, jelly, soups, stews
Catnip Nepeta cataria 1′ x 3′ 4 Yes Seed or division Teas, fresh and dried leaves enjoyed by cats (protect young plants from mauling)
Chamomile, Roman Anthemis nobilis 2-8″ x 18″ 3 Yes Seed, division or cuttings Teas, bath herbs, soaps, sachets
Chives Allium schoenoprasum 12″ x 12″ 4 Yes Seed or division Edible flowers, use leaves in salads, soups, eggs, dips, butters
Common Fennel Foeniculum vulgare 4-5′ x 12″ 5 No Seed (doesn’t transplant well) Seeds: flavor sausages, breads; bulb: roasted or in salads; leaves: as garnishes, salads, dips
English Lavender Lavandula augustifolia 24-36″ x 18″ 5-8 (dislikes winter wet) Yes Seed, cuttings Herbes de Provence, potpourris, sachets, baked goods, vinegars, jelly
French Tarragon Artemesia dracunculus ‘French’ 24″ x 12″ 3 Yes Root cuttings or division Sauces, soups, fish, meat, omelets, vegetable dishes
Garden Sage Salvia officinalis 18-30 x 12″ 4-8 (purple, variegated types less hardy) Yes Seed, stem cuttings, division, layering Seasoning for poultry, meat, potatoes, stuffing vegetables, pasta
Germander Teucrium chamaedrys 10-12″ x 8-10″ 5 Yes Stem cuttings, layering, division Attracts bees, evergreen, sachets, not culinary
Horseradish Armoracia rusticana 24″ x 18″ (but will spread) 3 Yes (in large, deep container or barrel) Root cuttings, division Grate and add to sauces, meats and seafood
Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis 3′ x 2′ 5 Yes Seed, cuttings, division Hot and iced teas, fish, vegetables, poultry, potpourris
Lemon Verbena Aloysia triphylla 2-5′ x 12-24″ 9-10 Yes Stem cuttings Baked goods, drinks, salads, jellies, teas, potpourris, sachets
Lovage Levisticum officinale 3-5′ x 2″ 3 No Seed, division Leaves have a celery flavor, use in soups, salads, chicken dishes
Marjoram Origanum majorana1-2′ x 12″ 9-10 Yes Seed, cuttings, division Meats, salads, omelets, vinegars, teas, soups, stews
Mint Mentha (Peppermint Mentha x piperita, Spearmint Mentha spicata) 36″ x 18″ 5 Yes Seed, division Teas, baked goods, jellies, sauces, vegetables, fruits
Oregano Origanum vuglare 24″ x 8-12″ 4 Yes Seed, cuttings, division Flavoring for tomato dishes, meat, poultry, Mexican dishes, sauces, dried or fresh
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis 3-6′ x 12″ 8-10 Yes Seed, stem cuttings, layering, division Meat, potatoes vegetables, eggs, baked goods, jam, teas, vinegars
Stevia Stevia rebaudiana 30″ x 24″ 9 Yes Seed or stem cuttings Alternative sweetener, use leaves fresh, dried or in liquid
Salad Burnet Poterium sanguisorba 12″ x 24″ 5 Yes Seed or division Leaves have a cucumber flavor, good in salads, sandwiches, soups, butters
Thyme Thymus 4-12″ x 6-12″ 4 Yes Seed, cuttings, division Poultry and meat, vegetables, soups, rice, cheese, teas, potpourris
Winter Savory Satureja montana 24″ x 18″ 5 Yes Seed, cuttings Meat, fish, salads, soup, stew, sausage, stuffing

* Easy to follow directions for propagating herbs by seed, cuttings or division are found in the University of Missouri Extension Publication Growing Herbs at Home, available free online

**Some information in this table on herb uses provided by Cornell University’s Growing Herbs for the Home Gardener

No kitchen garden would be complete without a handful of fresh culinary herbs like basil, chervil, lovage, salad burnet, summer savory, thyme or winter savory. Many of these herbs can be frozen or dried, too. Some cultivars of certain herbs are more desirable in the kitchen than others. For example, only French tarragon will have that true tarragon flavor, and the cultivar ‘Berggarten’ has a large, tender leaf far superior to other garden sages. Find more ideas by visiting the Kansas State University Extension site Growing and Cooking with Herbs.

Chamomile (German or Roman), Bee balm (Monarda), lemon balm, mints, catnip, hyssop and rose hips can be used fresh or dried to make tasty and refreshing herbal teas. For more information about tea herbs, read the University of Vermont Extension article Homegrown Teas.

Did you know many of your favorite garden flowers are edible? Edible flowers range in taste from sweet, citrusy, and perfumed to tart and bitter. While many are safe to eat, it is important to correctly identify any flowers before attempting to eat them. Also, beware of eating flowers that have been treated, sprayed, or exposed to environmental toxins. Always wash flowers well before eating. Introduce one flower at a time to identify any potential allergies. Try edible flowers as garnishes, on cakes or cupcakes, baked in cookies, preserved in oils or vinegars or tossed in salads.

Common Edible Flowers:

  • Anise hyssop Agastache foeniculum
  • African marigold Tagetes erecta
  • Calendula, pot marigold Calendula officinalis
  • Chive Allium schoenoprasum
  • Daylily Hemerocallis fulva
  • Dianthus or pinks Dianthus spp.
  • English daisy Bellis perennis
  • Hollyhock Alcea rosea
  • Lavender Lavandula angustifolia
  • Lilac Syringa vulgaris
  • Nasturtium Tropaeolum majus
  • Pansy or Johnny Jump-Up Viola x wittrockiana, Viola tricolor
  • Rose (petals and hips) Rosa spp.
  • Scarlet runner bean Phaseolus coccineus
  • Scented geranium (leaves and flowers) Pelargonium spp.
  • Tuberous begonia Begonia x tuberhybrida

For more detailed information on growing, identifying and using edible flowers, try the Colorado State Extension article on Edible Flowers  and the Iowa State University Extension brochure.

The University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences publishes many printed and on-line bulletins and other resources related to farming and gardening. Click here to visit our on-line catalog.

Information from other universities may also prove useful for Idaho gardeners:

Colorado State University Growing, Preserving and Using Herbs

Illinois Cooperative Extension, Harvesting and Drying Herbs


University of Idaho Extension

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