5 Easy Culinary Herbs You Should Be Growing In Your Garden

Have you ever admired folks with kitchen gardens full of culinary herbs like thyme, parsley and sage? Many of the tastiest herbs around are also pretty easy to cultivate, propagate, prepare and use, so setting up a kitchen garden isn't as difficult as it looks. Common culinary herbs also provide some nice variety in terms of size and leaf shape, so they're attractive, too, especially if you're into the subtlety of shading and texture. The annuals typically self-seed readily, and the perennials are robust and downright feisty. Many of the perennials are winter hardy, and those that aren't, like rosemary, may boast some newer cultivars that have better frost tolerance.

Growing Herbs to Eat

If you've seen the price for fresh cut herbs at the market, you probably think dried herbs -- on sale -- are just fine, thanks. Growing your own can be inexpensive and rewarding, though. What you trim back over the summer you can freeze or dry for use during the winter. All in all, even if you don't have a back door in your kitchen with a nice plot of land just outside, carving out some space for a culinary garden is a good idea.

This doesn't have to take all your time, either. Herbs are forgiving plants. Many of them, like fennel, are considered weeds in their native climbs. You can't kill them, even when you're trying. At harvest time, you can dry oregano, thyme, rosemary and others either outdoors in a bag, hanging upside down in your attic, in your microwave (sometimes), in your oven (on low, low, low) or in a dedicated dehydrator you can purchase for the cost of two lunches at a mid-range, chain restaurant. You can also freeze herbs like basil that don't dry well.

The labor you invest the first year pays dividends, too. Once you've invited herbs into your garden, they come back year after year. Sure, some, like mint or comfrey, can be invasive, but others, like chives, lemon balm, marjoram and thyme are useful little plants that ask little from the gardener.

Let's take a look at five kitchen herbs that deserve a spot in your garden, your fridge and your spice cabinet. They help make home cooking something to look forward to.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum

This onion relative has a mild oniony flavor. You probably already know it's a great garnish on a stuffed baked potato, but chives can also make an omelette or casserole look dressed and ready for company. A good rule of thumb is that it'll pair well with any savory dish that includes sour cream, heavy cream or strong cheese. I often use chives instead of parsley as a topper. Chives are also a good stand in for recipes that call for scallions, especially when you want the onion to take a back seat to other ingredients, like in a pico de gallo (fresh salsa).

This littlest onion variety is easy to grow, and humans have been cultivating it for 5,000 years, or so the food historians believe. It's a perennial that self-seeds abundantly, and it's hardy from Zones 3 through 10. Just give this perky herb partial shade if you experience scorching summer heat, and mulch it before temps soar in summer and again in fall. Plant chives in well-draining soil and fertilize plants once, early in the season. If you experience drought conditions, water chives occasionally in dry weather. Chives grow to about 10 inches in height (25.4 cm) and tend to flop a bit as they mature. A patch of chives can look like an unruly head of hair. When harvesting, only remove a third of the plant at a time and wait for regrowth before harvesting again.

Lavender hued chive flowers are the main ingredient in a popular flavored vinegar you'll enjoy trying with your first or second crop. See instructions below.

Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum)
Besides common chives, there is also a more garlicky chive variety you might want to experiment with. Garlic or Chinese chives are used extensively in Asian cooking. This chive species is also a perennial. Its leaves are flattish rather than tubular, and it produces white flowers. It has become naturalized in many parts of the world and is sometimes considered an invasive weed.

Chives at Your Fingertips
How to Make Chive Vinegar

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary roasted potatoes are one simple dish that makes for a delicious side. If you're getting tired of choosing between fries and baked potatoes, give it a try. Rosemary is also delicious with lamb and pork. I strip the leaves from plant stems in fall, dry the leaves and use the stems as kabob skewers with lamb, squash and cherry tomatoes. So good. If we're smoking sausage, I add some rosemary to the wood for extra smoky goodness. All this is easy to do if you have a little rosemary growing in your backyard.

Rosemary looks like an evergreen shrub, but it's actually a woody, perennial herb. If you live in a temperate climate where you don't have to worry about frost and snow, you've probably seen it growing as a decorative hedge or as a low maintenance groundcover. Growing it in a four season location is a little more challenging, though. Newer cultivars like Madalene Hill and Arp are frost hardy, sometimes to Zone 5. There may even be hardier varieties.

If you want to grow standard rosemary but worry about winter temperatures, consider bringing plants indoors in fall. I call these commuter plants. Although you may have had problems growing ornamental rosemary Christmas trees indoors in the past, maintaining a more mature plant from your garden over the winter is somewhat easier. If you have a sunny window away from drafts, it's pretty straightforward. For more information, visit:

Growing Rosemary
Rosemary Tree Maintenance
Growing Rosemary in a Cold Climate

Marjoram (Origanum majorana

This tender perennial in the same family of plants as oregano but doesn't really get the respect it deserves. It's a useful herb for casseroles, stews and soups that contain pork, lamb or chicken. It works particularly well with tomato dishes and other hot dishes that feature: eggs, strong cheeses, eggplant, beans, barley, lentils or squash. Marjoram gives foods a more complex flavor without adding the strong, distinctively pungent taste associated with oregano. It plays well with other herbs and spices, too. You'll find it in a number of classic herb blends.

Marjoram is as easy to grow as oregano, with the same bushy habit. It isn't winter hardy (grow it outdoors in Zones 8 - 11 only), but it makes a good commuter plant. A tender perennial, marjoram grows to a height of about 30 inches (76cm) and can produce a mound 20 inches (51cm) across. It creates a nice cascade when added to a hanging basket, and it's a good addition to a planter featuring herbs like basil, parsley and chives.

Marjoram likes good light (dappled afternoon light is a wise choice in very hot locations). Provide it with occasional deep watering during drought conditions. This plant can go for a while without water, but deep watering will encourage its roots to travel deeper into the soil where they'll have better protection and increased access to moisture.

Growing Marjoram
Make Your Own Herbs de Provence
Make Your Own Bouquet Garni

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

If you like teriyaki, stir fry or sushi, you probably appreciate the heat and sweet ginger can give a recipe. One of my favorite ways to use ginger is to crystalize it with sugar. It makes an effective digestive aid that will help settle an upset stomach the gentle way. (Crystalized ginger and mint tea are my two favorites for this.) Kids love it, too.

If you get air sick, take a little crystalized ginger on your next plane trip. If you're a fan of ocean cruises, you're probably already familiar with the stomach settling properties of crystalized ginger as it's a staple at most shipboard meals.

This tuberous rhizome isn't difficult to grow. It likes shade, heat and moisture. The second year growing a new plant, you can harvest your fill of chubby ginger roots and still have enough left for future seasons. Ginger isn't winter hardy, but it can be cultivated as a commuter plant or even as a houseplant.

For large yields, place clean ginger root into Sherry filled jars. Ginger will keep in the fridge this way indefinitely. Slice what you need for a recipe, and place the rest back in the jar. It's convenient and less wasteful that buying ginger at the market only to have most of it shrivel up inside the dank confines of your veggie drawer.

In fact, you can grow grocery store ginger root into a garden plant or houseplant. Follow the link for instructions. (Special note: Check with your doctor before using ginger medicinally in large quantities.)

Growing and Harvesting Ginger
Preserving Ginger
Ginger Shampoo Recipe

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

If you're a pesto lover, basil is the herb for you. Young, tender basil leaves, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and pine nuts (or walnuts) make an elegant blended sauce over your favorite pasta, meat or steamed vegetable. Even better, the best pesto comes from home grown basil. This Mediterranean herb has a slight licorice aroma (and flavor), bright green coloration and large, ovulate leaves.

Basil is an annual that likes plenty of light, moisture and rich, well-drained soil. This popular herb will *bolt if not watched carefully. Snip buds before they flower to maximize leaf production (which is what you want for perfect pesto). In late summer, allow buds to flower and harvest the seed for next year. Basil is easy to grow in a pot, so it's a good patio or deck plant, too. It's also easy to start from seed or reproduce from stem cuttings. The seeds are large and store well over multiple seasons.

What else can you do with basil? It's one of the **three main ingredients in classic a Caprese salad -- and all the other dishes based on Caprese salad. It's also a nice addition to most tomato based sauces, stews and soups, including favorites like spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce and minestrone. Just add a couple of teaspoons of minced basil during the last five minutes of cooking time.

Growing Basil
Tips for Harvesting Basil 
 Basil Seed   
Basic Basil Pesto

Stay tuned. There are five more herbs I feel deserve inclusion as culinary powerhouses, but this post is getting long. I'll address the next five -- next time. Have a great weekend.

*Flower and set seed quickly in late spring or summer.
**The three ingredients are: tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil.
 Photo Credits

Intro Photo - Herbs By tannaz from los angeles (herbs for sabzi polo) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo1 Chives - By Captain-tucker (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 2 Rosemary - By THOR (Flowering Rosemary) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 3 Marjoram By Dobromila (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 4 Ginger By Venkatx5 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 5 Basil By Castielli (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

How to Identify and Use Purslane

A chubby stand of purslane
Maintaining a collection of herbs can be a chore sometimes -- and an adventure, too. Many herbal practitioners forage for the supplies they need, heading out to find thistle, water plants and other elusive fen and dell specimens to replenish their stocks. The bole of a tree may shelter an amazing, green growing bonanza if you know what to look for. Even a suburban lawn can harbor treasures like alpine strawberry, dandelion (a boon in moderation), wild onion and purslane.

These plants may look like weeds, but they have benefits to offer. For instance, alpine strawberries might be puny and taste somewhat sour, but they can help whiten teeth. Dandelion may be invasive, but it makes a therapeutic tea, a tasty jelly and a refreshing wine. Even if you don't have a green thumb, your landscape can still supply plenty of useful plants.

Stick with me a minute while I discuss a personal favorite of mine: Purslane isn't a superstar in the garden by any stretch. It's usually considered a weed; it doesn't have beautiful foliage and only produces modest yellow flowers. There is something reassuring about watching for it every spring, though. It's like an old friend who doesn't care if your laundry is still hanging on the line and you're wearing that free but comfortable tee shirt you got the last time you gave blood at the Red Cross Needle-A-Thon.

Every year, purslane pushes up through inhospitable ground and into unwelcoming early spring skies that would make many other herbs give up the fight. Still, it manages to make that piece of hard packed soil its own. I like that. Always have. Even better, purslane is nutritious and kinda tasty.

Common purslane's half-inch yellow flowers

What Is Purslane

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), a humble creeper with a centralized taproot, is a great example of a no-fuss annual that deserves more respect. You've probably been yanking it out of your lawn or flowerbeds for years without knowing what a treasure it can be in the right hands.

If you keep houseplants, it looks like a poor man's, tiny jade plant with a horizontal habit. Like jade plant, it's a succulent with fleshy, oval leaves. Common purslane also boasts reddish stems that make it easy to identify, even when it's a bitty seedling. If you're watching for it in late winter or early, early spring, it looks perky when everything else in the garden but the crocus plants are still hunkered down and shivering (metaphorically speaking). That little bit of green can be more warming that a mug of hot chocolate on a cold, gloomy day.

Where Does it Come From and How Do You Use It?

Purslane isn't native to the U.S., but it has gone native here. It can grow in almost any soil, and even small, discarded pieces can reroot easily. Purslane sets seed quickly and reproduces very effectively (note the VERY). Along with dandelion, purslane could be the poster child for invasive, peskiness in locations where it isn't assiduously monitored and contained. This ought to put it into perspective: One purslane specimen can produce up to 50,000 seeds.

Botanists can trace the origins of purslane to India -- or possibly Africa. Common purslane is actually a popular vegetable in many parts of the world. It's used in stir fry, salads and can be added to veggie medleys the way you would add leafy greens like spinach. Folks think it tastes a bit like spinach, or at least a cross between spinach and watercress. You can find plenty of recipes that add a handful of purslane to traditional potato salad. It's also a welcome ingredient in Greek salad. It can be served raw, steamed, stir fried or pickled. What parts do people eat? That would usually be the tender leaves and stems.
Purslane seeds

The modest purslane growing in backyard gardens across the U.S. isn't the only representative of the purslane family. There are cultivated culinary varieties that tend to have a more refined flavor (somewhat less sour), and a more upright growth habit. There are also ornamental purslane cultivars that remind me a little of begonias. Nearly 500 varieties of purslane have been identified to date.

Is Purslane Good for You?

*Purslane doesn't have the aesthetic appeal of, say, arugula in a dinner salad, but it does have some pretty impressive things to recommend it just the same:

  • Purslane has one of the highest levels of omega 3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA) of any plant tested so far.
  • It contains high concentrations of vitamins C and E.
  • It's a good source of potassium and magnesium.
  • It contains high levels of the heart healthy antioxidant beta-carotene.
  • With very a little encouragement, you'll have a ready supply of purslane in the garden most of the year.
Decorative Purslane, Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflora)

Even though you won't have trouble cultivating it regardless of the condition of your garden, in a perfect world purslane prefers rich soil that drains well. It also likes a sunny exposure and a regular watering schedule. Note: This little plant really begins to take off as the soil temperatures soar in late spring and early summer.

A Weed by Any Other Name Would Be -- In Your Vegetable Drawer

The word purslane (or purslain) comes to us from the Latin, and was mentioned in “Naturalis Historia" (or Natural History) written by the botanist Pliny the Elder in around 79 A.D. I goes by other picturesque names, too, including:

  • Glistritha (from the Greek)
  • Hogweed
  • Little hogweed
  • Moss Rose
  • Pigweed
  • Pursley
  • Verdolaga
Some historical uses for purslane may be the result of wishful thinking, but it has been used in the past to treat:

  • Colds
  • Depression
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Insect bites
  • Low sex drive
  • Urinary tract infection

I like to keep a little stand of purslane in my vegetable patch. If it starts running riot, which it usually does, I don't worry too much. It comes up easily for a tap root plant and doesn't seem to steal much nutrition earmarked for more demanding vegetables and herbs. If it sets loads of seeds, I can deal with it. Better purslane than bindweed or stinging nettle. I believe in counting my blessings.

*Special note: Purslane has an impressive nutritional pedigree, but it also contains high oxalate levels. If you have kidney problems, avoid adding purslane to your diet before discussing your plans with a medical professional. You may also want to check the latest research by visiting MedLine Plus (a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), WebMd or any of a number of other medical reference sites on the internet.



Mason, Sandra. "Purslane - Weed It or Eat It?" University of Illinois Exension.

Oeydomenge, G. Y. P"Oxalate content of raw and cooked purslane." WFL Publisher Science and Technology. 2006.

Prairieland Supported Community Agriculture. "Produce Recipes: Purslane.

Robinson, Frances. "Power-Packed Purslane." Mother Earth News. 2005

Simopoulos, A.P., Norman H.A., Gillaspy J.E., Duke J.A. "Common purslane: a source of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants." National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources. "Common Purslane." 2007.


Photo 1 - By John Comeau (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons (Established plant)

Photo 2 - By Jason Hollinger (Common Purslane Uploaded by Amada44) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons (Flowers)

Photo 3 - By 6th Happiness (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons By 6th Happiness (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons (Seeds)

Photo 4 - "Portulaca in Kadavoor" © 2010 Jeevan Jose, Kerala, India is used here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons (Decorative moss rose Portulaca grandiflora)


How to Get Rid of Japanese Beetles

Closeup of a Japanese Beetle
It's that time of year again: You know, the time when Japanese beetle grubs make their way out of the soil and begin feasting on your delicate garden plants. Japanese beetles are opportunistic feeders that damage commercial as well as backyard crops and ornamentals. They're very hard to beat, too. We'll get to some methods for dealing with them in a minute, but let's talk about the bug a bit first.

Bug Battles, Why the JB Is Winning

Japanese beetles were first introduced to the U.S. back in in 1916, and they've been trouble ever since. The first beetle immigrants made landfall in Riverton, New Jersey, and have become established in some 30 states -- at last count. Their westward expansion shows no sign of stopping. They have few natural predators here and are voracious, relentless and adaptable. When they find a food source, they can denude blossoms and fruits in hours. Pictures of writhing masses of beetles clustered on plant stems sagging under their weight aren't an exaggeration. The visuals are unsettling, even if you aren't a gardener. If you enjoy maintaining a little patch of green, the reality is heartbreaking.

Frequently Asked Questions and Desperate Comments Addressed

Why do Japanese Beetles arrive at the same time every year? Japanese beetles emerge from the soil in spring or summer on a predictable schedule. For most areas of the U.S., they start causing problems beginning in May or June and continue till fall. Your neighborhood garden center or USDA Cooperative Extension Office (a free service; click to find the location nearest you) can tell you when they're due in your area. The information should be accurate to within a week or so.

I've never had problems with Japanese Beetles before. Although JBs can eat just about anything, they like some plants more than others. This includes berries (grapes, blueberries, raspberries), corn and roses. If you've added new plants to your garden and are having your first JB visitors, chances are you've introduced a plant they find particularly tasty. While they're visiting, they will also explore other vegetation on your property. Getting rid of the plants that attracted the beetles could help reduce their population and give you a break. For a list of plants JBs like a lot, visit: What You Need to Know about Getting Rid of Japanese Beetles 

One day there were just a couple and the next there were hundreds. If you had problems with JBs last year, they probably overwintered in your soil or under your lawn. This means they'll emerge in clusters near your plants, the handiest food source, while supplies of tasty greens and flowers last. If you deal with them this season, you'll likely have fewer problems next year.

Japanese Beetle Pupa
Their numbers are increasing a little every day. After they emerge, JB scouts perform neighborhood recon to find future feeding grounds. Increasing populations over time may mean the word is out about your garden. If you act fact, it might be possible to trick scouts into bypassing your plants by leaving a scent trap. This is done by catching some of the very early beetles (within a week or two of their emerging), killing them in a bucket of soapy water and leaving the water near the most likely target plants, plants they like to eat. The smell of dead beetles will help discourage newcomers. The instinct to feed is strong, though, so this method rarely works late in the season or if the beetles are already entrenched in your garden.

My neighbor (or I) put up Japanese beetle traps, and now there are more beetles than ever before. In theory, JB traps sound like a great idea. Attract the bugs with pheromones, trick them into a sticky box and watch them die, die, die. Tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture weren't that encouraging, though. They found that traps catch three out of every four beetles they attract. The rest are free to explore your garden. If they like what they see, they'll invite their friends.

How do I get rid of them for good? See the suggestions below.

How to Deal With Japanese Beetles

Dealing with Adult Japanese Beetles Today -- If your blueberries or other delicate plants are under attack by JBs today, pesticide may be your best bet in the short term. Malathion is an effective choice for killing adult beetles, but there are others. Ask your nurseryman for suggestions. Be aware, though, that poison isn't selective. It will kill beneficial insects along with the JBs. To protect honey bees, which are having a hard time these days, prefer spraying in the evening after busy bees have returned to the hive.

Pesticides only work for a while. Poison kills Japanese beetles, but to be effective it should be reapplied according to the manufacturer's directions throughout the season.

Organic Solutions for This Season - If you want to go the organic route, put your garden gloves on, catch batches of the adult pests in your angry little fists, and dump them into soapy water. They'll drown -- and that's fewer of them to contend with. You can also knock them into the water bucket -- after you have some experience under your belt. (There's a bit of a technique to it.)

If this seems horrifying, you'll get used to in about 10 minutes or so. The only good Japanese beetle is a dead Japanese beetle.  I've caught and submerged over 60 beetles within a 10 minute period in my day -- and I wasn't even trying that hard.  JBs become active at around 9:00 a.m. in my area. A little investigation will show you the best time to plan an assault of your own.  Thinning the herd works, but it requires an ongoing effort. JBs don't bite, which is the only nice thing I have to say about them.

Companion Planting -- To reduce your exposure, one organic option is to add plenty of plants JBs tend to avoid. What follows is a list of plants that repel Japanese beetles somewhat. Placing them near attractant plants may help balance the scales. Here's how it works: In spring when there are lots of feeding locations to choose from, beetles may avoid your garden -- for the most part -- if you add enough olfactory discouragement in the form of stinky plants (from a beetles perspective). Many of the best varieties are strong smelling herbs. Once JB scouts have written you off, they may never circle back around to you in large numbers. Start with these plants:

Japanese Beetle Larva
  • Artemisia
  • Catnip
  • Chives
  • Chrysanthemum (white)
  • Citronella
  • French marigold (may attract spider mites, though)
  • Geranium, especially scented varieties
  • Larkspur
  • Leek
  • Mint
  • Onion
  • Rue
  • Tansy

Revamp Your Garden With Alternative Plant Varieties -- If you're starting a new garden or revamping an old one, choose plants Japanese beetles usually ignore. This can be tricky, and a little discouraging, since many popular garden plants seem to be JB favorites. Still, there are good options around, including:
  • Begonias
  • Boxwood
  • Caladiums
  • Lilac
  • Dusty miller
  • Euonymus
  • Flowering dogwood
  • Forsythia
  • Holly
  • Hydrangeas
  • Juniper
  • Magnolia

Planning for next year -- If you're under attack this season, you may be doomed to fight the good fight until fall. That doesn't mean next year has to be, "Japanese Beetle Attack! - The Sequel." There are measures you can take to kill grubs in your soil over the winter. That way you'll be starting with a clean slate come spring. There are a number of products that can help with this, including pesticides designed specifically for JB grubs, and more organic options like introducing nematodes to your soil or using milky spore bacteria to kill them. (Nematodes are beneficial, microscopic worms that feed on grubs, killing them as they lay dormant over the winter or before they emerge in spring.)

For more information about what I've discussed above, visit other JB posts:

What You Need to Know about Getting Rid of Japanese Beetles 

Get Rid of Japanese Beetles With a Homemade Repellent

Control Japanese Beetles Naturally

Japanese Beetle Control (or Controlling June Beetles)

There are quite a few ways to approach the problem of JBs in the garden, but none of them are simple or totally effective. Even if you apply pesticide to an existing infestation, change you landscape somewhat to make your property less attractive to them and adopt measures to eradicate grubs, you may still encounter Japanese beetles in the garden in the future. Their populations should be more manageable, though, and the damage they inflict less extensive.

Doesn't it just make you want to cry?

Photo ReferencePhoto 1 - By USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory from Beltsville, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, (close up)
Photo 2 -, Public Domain (adult)
Photo 3 -, Public Domain (pupa)
Photo 4 -, Public Domain (larva)

Photo5 - By Luke [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (mating pair)