Seed Longevity - Herbs

You don't have to be a gardener for long to start appreciating the value of seeds. They're nature's manufacturing facilities. The whole process is pretty miraculous, actually -- when it works. The problem with seeds is that they don't stay viable forever. The general idea in most locations is that they're supposed to survive until next season. Anything after that should be considered a lucky accident.

To help nature along, you can keep harvested seeds cool and dry -- in, say, small envelopes in your refrigerator.

If you can't use all that wonderful seed the following season, all isn't lost. Some plants try to be accommodating. If their seeds are kept dry and relatively cool, they may stay viable for years. Some survivalist and heirloom archival sites claim there are methods to keep seed happy and ready to sprout for a decade or longer. You may have heard of archaeologists breaking into ancient Egyptian tombs only to discover ancient seed stores that subsequently sprouted -- with a little TLC. For our purposes as backyard gardeners, though, the prospects aren't as rosy.


Germinating Seeds


Just because the prospect of germinating old seed doesn't look promising doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Where a professional grower may think a 30 percent germination rate is very poor, if you're only after two or three plants and have plenty of seeds, 30 percent may be pretty darned great for your gardening efforts. Think of it as your own little science experiment. It's a good idea to limit the resources you're willing to expend on the project, though.

Starting Seeds the Inexpensive Way -- In Paper Towels

I like the paper towel method: I place old seed between sheets of damp paper towels in a warm, dark spot, and transplant any that take off. (The paper should be kept uniformly moist. I often place a sheet of wax paper or cellophane loosely over the top of the paper to help retain moisture.)

From one season to the next, the odds are pretty good that well-maintained (protected) herb and vegetable seeds will have a decent germination rate. In subsequent seasons, some varieties will produce at least a few seedlings. By the third year, herbs seeds aren't all that reliable. I've noticed fancy cultivars will typically have lower germination rates than heirloom seeds -- the old standbys.

I've provided a brief list of herbs and what you may be able to expect from the seeds for reference purposes only. It includes how long an herb's seed stock may stay viable. (This is just my experience and opinion. Please let me (us) know if you've done much better -- and include a note about what you did to net such a fine haul.) The number in quotes is my approximate date to germination. It's very generous. You may see results in less than a third the time listed with some plant varieties. If you don't see anything by that date, though, it's probably time to pitch what you've got and buy seed.

Two year old seeds (peppers) started between damp sheets of paper toweling.

Herb Seed Longevity (Life Expectancy) List


  • Angelica - 6 months (21 - 30 days)
  • Basil - 5 years (14 days)
  • Borage - 4 years (14 days)
  • Caraway - 3 years (18 days)
  • Catnip - 3 years (30 days)
  • Chamomile - 3 years (18 days
  • Chives - 2 years (10 - 20  days)
  • Cilantro - 2 years (21 days)
  • Coriander - 4 years (21 days)
  • Fennel - 3 years (18 days)
  • Lavender - 2 years (21 days)
  • Lemon Balm 3 years (21 days)
  • Marjoram - 2 years (15 days)
  • Mint - 3 years (30 days)
  • Oregano - 4 years (30 days)
  • Parsley - 2 years (30 days)
  • Rosemary - 3 years (14 - 28 days)
  • Rue - 2 years (21 days)
  • Sage - 4 years (28 days)
  • Summer Savory 2 years (28 days)
  • Thyme - 3 years (21 days) 


  1. Wow. That's pretty sophisticated. Thanks.

  2. I've been growing native plants from seed and am amazed at how hardy they were the first year of life. Have done well with herbs also. Patience is key, and don't overwater- too much attention can kill. Certainly cheaper than buying plants and far more satisfying 8^)

  3. When you're germinating the seeds, does the paper towel have to stay consistently damp? Is it bad if it dries out? I'm trying to germinate seeds in Egypt and I'm afraid that I will need to constantly water them.

    1. Yes, you do need to keep the seeds uniformly moist. Try placing plastic wrap over the paper towels to help hold moisture in. It's worked for me.

      Good luck.


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