Grow Your Own: Herb Garden Basics

April 28, 2015 at 12:39 pm


While most of us know by now that certain plants have medicinal value, few of us have made the jump from using these plants to growing them ourselves. After all, they are readily available online, in bulk at herb stores, and in the supplement department of various chain stores around the country. Although it can be easier to purchase herbs from a store, there is a certain joy in growing them yourself as you connect with the plants. How these plants grow give us clues to their medicinal value. Not only will you be getting the best quality possible, but you will be getting it at a much more economical value. You’ll never look at those dried bulk herbs the same way again!

Don’t have a green thumb? Don’t worry. Herb gardens are relatively easy to grow and maintain. They’ll prove a fragrant addition to any garden or windowsill. Here are a few tips to get you started with some of the stars of the herbal world.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

This Mediterranean native is an attractive evergreen shrub. The needle-like leaves have a slightly spicy flavor that’s a favorite for roasted vegetables, meats, and soups alike. Not only great for cooking, Rosemary has traditionally been used to alleviate muscle pain, improve memory, boost the immune and circulatory system, and promote hair growth[1].

Growth Habits:
Perennial, in zones 8-10, and can get very large if left unchecked! It’s grown as an annual in the North and prefers full sun, and well-drained soil.

Sow seeds indoors 1/4″ beneath surface of soil. Seeds need to be kept above 70°F for germination. Plant out after danger of frost has passed in late spring. Prefers sandy, somewhat poor, well-drained soil[2].

Oregano (Origanum heracleoticum)

This garden favorite is known for it’s pungent flavor. The small, oval shaped leaves are a favorite in Italian dishes, and a welcome addition to sauces, beans, and stews. Aside from its culinary feats, Oregano has many medicinal uses as well. It is a powerful anti-fungal that is often used in cases of infections. It can also reduce inflammation and has been shown to relieve upper respiratory issues.[4]

Growth Habits:
Perennial, in zones 4-9. Sow seeds indoor just beneath surface of soil. Transplant outdoors after danger of frost has passed. Oregano is a warm-season herb; hardy to frost and light freezes. It also prefers full sun, and very well-drained soil.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

This garden favorite is a Western Mediterranean native. Spikes of violet flowers that are highly aromatic crown its grey-green foliage. Prized for its essential oils, the flowers of this beauty are also known for its benefits to the nervous system. Often used as a sleep aid or to calm anxiety, Lavender is a delicious addition to any tea or potpourri.

Growth Habits:
Perennial in zones 5-9. Plants grow 12-20″ tall. Sow seeds indoor just beneath surface of soil. Success is greatly improved if seeds are placed with soil into a plastic bag and refrigerated for 4-6 weeks. Once removed from refrigeration, place in an area that is between 55-65°F. Plant out after the danger of frost has passed in late spring. Prefers full sun and well-drained soil, and is tolerant of drought[5].

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

This large-leaved variety is better known as Italian Sweet Basil. It carries a spicy flavor and is the best choice for pesto. In addition to the wonderful sauces it can create, basil is full of nutrients such as Vitamin A and beta-carotene. These help boost the immune system and serve as antioxidants.

Growth Habits:
Annual, grows 18-24”. Sow seeds outdoors when soil is warm and temperature does not drop below 65°F. Can also be started indoors 4-6 weeks before planting out. Make successive sowings for continuous summer supplies. Pinch back flower stalks as they appear to keep plants from bolting and growing bitter. Prefers full sun, and rich well-drained soil[3].

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

The delicate blossoms of Chamomile are native to Europe, Africa, and Asia. Its sweet flavor has made it a favorite tea all over the world, which is a deep yellow. This gem has a variety of uses, including treating fevers, stomach aches, as well as soothing the nerves. Combine with lavender for a heavenly tea that will assist sleep.

Growth Habit:
Annual. Hardy to all zones. Plants grow 12-20” tall. Sow seeds indoors on surface of soil. Transplant outdoors in early spring just before last frost. Chamomile prefers well-drained sandy soil and self-sows freely. This herb prefers sun and partial shade, however, so plant accordingly.

[1] Medical News Today. (2015). Rosemary. Retrieved from
[2] (2015). Rosemary. Retrieved from
[3] (2015). Basil. Retrieved from
[4] (2015). Oregano. Retrieved from
[5] (2015). Lavender. Retrieved from

About the Author

Kristin Henningsen is a freelance writer, clinical herbalist and yoga instructor, integrating herbal medicine and yoga therapeutics for over 10 years. In addition to her private practice, she teaches classes on health and wellness and is often found leading herb walks, kids in tow.

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