The 10 Best Fragrant Herbs for Your Garden

You want herbs for your garden that look good, and taste good, and have extra medicinal benefits -- but what about smell? Herbal fragrances have enriched perfumes, cosmetics and comestibles for centuries, and choosing herbs that smell swell has unexpected benefits.  The right herb fragrances can attract bees -- or repel insects. They can enhance a garden's ambience by making it feel welcoming, exotic, delicious or just unique. Some can have calming or soothing characteristics, while others are known to invigorate. 

In many cases, herbs release their aromas when you brush up against them, so you can enjoy the benefits with very little effort. Here's a tip: Plant aromatic herbs close to a gate or walkway for a regular reminder that garden fresh fragrances are the best around. In fact, many aromatherapy scents are based on herb fragrances, and you can have that bounty growing in your backyard for the cost of a little soil improvement and periodic watering.

The ten herbs below are widely known for their distinctive and pleasant aromas. If you aren't growing a few, consider this a wake up call. Making your garden an olfactory as well as a visual delight works indoors and out. Most of these herbs can be used in teas, cooking, crafts and herbal remedies. They can stand in as air fresheners and make attractive live flower (or plant) bouquets. They can also be welcome ingredients in potpourris and sachets.

Grab a spade and some seeds. In a great herb garden, you don't need signs for direction. Just follow your nose:

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm

For an easy care plant that's famous for its lemony scent, try lemon balm. A member of the mint family, this herb has a bright green color and a creeping habit that will fill a vacant corner in no time. Lemon balm is known as herbal valium. A tea made from it can be a reliable sleep aid. Lemon balm also makes a tasty addition to fruit salad, works well as a garnish and as part of a casual table arrangement of flowers and herbs. Lemon balm jelly is a personal favorite served with warm muffins.

Lemony fragrances always smell fresh and clean, making them popular in household cleansers and other products.  If you've never smelled lemon balm, it has the same general scent notes as lemon furniture polish.  Nice. If you really adore that fragrance, and many do, try other herbs with similar lemony goodness. They include: lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lemon eucalyptus and lemon grass.

How to Grow Lemon Balm  


Peppermint (Mentha × piperita)

There are many different types of mint, including closely related plants like lemon balm and catnip. I enjoy peppermint the most because, to me, it has the strongest aroma and flavor. It's a perky little plant, too, with dark green leaves that have mauve to purple undersides. The smell of peppermint is always cheering. This plant is one of the last to go dormant in fall and among the first to start showing signs of life in spring. If you like mint jelly, enjoy mint tea (which is great for stomach upsets), or make the occasional mint julep, this little plant can be your best friend.  You can propagate it in a glass of water, and maintain it that way indoors over the winter months. 

Note: Although peppermint is my go-to mint buddy, spearmint and apple mint both have strong, pleasant fragrances. Other fun options include: chocolate mint and orange min.)

Homemade Peppermint Extract 

Scented Geranium (Pelargonium, various)
Lime Scented Geranium

You see geraniums for sale every spring at the large nurseries, but these large leaf varieties are very different from the hundreds of scented geraniums available through specialty herb outlets. For one, scented geraniums are usually built on a much smaller scale, with delicately shaped leaves and daintier flowers overall. The big surprise isn't that scented geraniums look like flowers fit for a pixie's lawn, though. It's their various fragrances that are so remarkable: From chocolate to orange blossom to cinnamon (apple, attar of roses or mimosa), wonderful rich deep scents are available with these plants. If you try a few, you'll want them all, and there are dozens to choose from. Although scented geraniums aren't frost tolerant, they can be overwintered indoors.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

You may think of rosemary as an herb often used with roasted meats, or in Greek or Italian cooking. In warmer climates, it's often employed as a hedge or ground cover, though.  If you explore professional landscaping in California, Nevada or other warm weather locations, you'll likely see plenty of rosemary.  With its deep green coloration and delicate white, lavender or blue flowers, it’s a pretty plant. What isn't immediately apparent is that rosemary has a strong and wonderfully piney fragrance -- with a little something extra. Think of it as Christmas tree meets the robust pepperiness of a quality olive oil.

Newer rosemary cultivars are pushing the boundary for cold tolerance, so you may be able to cultivate this plant in protected areas as low as Hardiness Zone 5 or so. If not, it works as a commuter plant -- outdoors in summer and indoors in winter.

Rosemary Christmas Tree Maintenance
Rosemary Quotes from Literature 

Lavender (Lavandula, various)

Without a doubt, lavender is the reigning monarch of fragrance herbs. It's used in everything from shampoo to carpet cleaner, and that's no accident. Lavender has a  universal appeal. It's popular with both men and women, and even though the cliché about "old ladies" smelling of lavender is alive and well, this scent is still one of the most beloved, recognizable and in-demand flower based aromas on the market.

Lavender also happens to be an aromatherapy superstar. It's a natural muscle relaxer, even when inhaled. In fact, relaxing those tight shoulder and neck muscles will help you go to sleep faster, and sleep longer, too.

You can add a sachet of fresh lavender to your bath water, or tuck it under your pillow instead. You can even toss dried lavender buds on your rugs for an instant carpet deodorizer with benefits.

Understanding Different Types of Lavender
Lavender Quotes from Literature 


Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe)

There's a good chance you have powdered ginger in your spice cabinet right now. If not, you may have a hunk of ginger root in your vegetable drawer. Ginger is an essential herb in Asian cooking, and it also makes a soothing tea. What's somewhat less well-known is that ginger leaves produce a  milder version of that peppery, floral ginger fragrance we all know and love. Those same leaves can be used to make a milder but still refreshing tea with antioxidant properties.

You can even start a ginger plant from that vegetable drawer root -- if it's still in good shape. After the growing season winds down, harvest and dry the leaves and place the pot in a protected indoor location until next spring. The plant will revive and sprout again like magic.

Growing and Harvesting Ginger 


Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

What can you say about the main ingredient in the  most popular herb based pasta dishes on the planet -- pesto. This annual is one of the most common herbs grown in the home garden every year. It attracts bees, and is an almost perfect accompaniment to fresh tomatoes. A classic Italian dish, insalata caprese or caprese salad, combines fresh basil, tomatoes and mozzarella. Do try it.

Basil has a mild licorice flavor with slightly sweet notes and an elegant subtlety you won't find in other licorice style offerings like fennel.  When the sun is shining on a mature, leafy plant, it's easy to fall in love with this Mediterranean import (that actually originated in India). It smells like a banquet.  If you love Italian dining, the garden doesn't get much better than this.

Growing Basil

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)
Pineapple sage

Yes, pineapple sage actually does smell like pineapple -- in the most delicate, appealing way. It smells almost too good to be true. No wonder bees and hummingbirds love it.  Pineapple sage produces deep green leaves and lush growth all summer long, as well as attractive slender, red flowers. Unfortunately, the fragrance doesn't last well when the plant is either dried or cooked, but it is evident when pineapple sage is used as a garnish or added to cold dishes like salad or gelatin. Think of this one as a gardener's secret pleasure. One whiff and you'll be a pineapple sage lover for life.

How to Grow Pineapple Sage

Lime thyme

Lime Thyme (a cultivar of Thymus citriodorus)

There are a number of thyme varieties, including the lemon thyme mentioned above. The lime scented cultivar of this plant has a, well, more limey aroma than the lemon forms out there. It's actually very refreshing. Lime thyme makes for an interesting specimen plant, and adds a nice touch to grilled fish. If you can only grow a few herb varieties for scent, there are others you may want to try first. If you're looking for something a little different, though, lime thyme is worth the space in your garden.

Growing Thyme

Curry Plant (Helichrysum italicum)
Curry plant

You probably already know traditional curry is a blend of different spices. There are actually hundreds of curry variations. If you think you can produce a nice curried lamb using curry plant, you're in for a disappointment. To add to the confusion, there are actually two very different plants commonly referred to as "curry plant." (This is an excellent reason to rely on scientific plant names whenever possible).

We are referring to Helichrysum italicum, a tender perennial that looks a little like a small, gray rosemary plant.  The description doesn't really do it justice, though.  This little herb has one of the most unusual fragrances you're likely to run across in your explorations. Even though it's marketed as smelling like a curry blend, it can morph into something else sometimes.  Actually, my husband and others think it smells like maple syrup, and I do too -- at least occasionally.  Other times, I agree it has the spicy, earthy aroma associated with some curries. Hard to imagine? Give it a try and see for yourself.

Curry plant can be used in cooking, but it is more well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Want to savor its wonderful fragrance? Use it as a garnish with egg and mildly seasoned rice and pasta dishes.

How to Grow Curry Plant  


Main Photo
Source: Flickr  User name: Suzette

Lemon balm
Source: Flickr  User name: hitomi

Source: Flickr  User name: Hidetsugu Tonomura

Scented Geranium -
Source: Flickr  User name: Tracy27  Lme Geranium

Rosemary -
Source: Flickr  User name: Paul Sullivan

Lavender -
Source: Flickr  User name: Karen Roe

Source: Flickr  User name: Ahmad Fuad Morad

Basil -
Source: Flickr  User name: zoyachubby

Pineapple Sage -
Source: Flickr  User name: Marie Shallcross

Lime Thyme -
Source: Flickr  User name: John Vonderlin

Curry Plant -
Source: Flickr  User name: Thistle-Garden

List of Herbs You Can Root in Water -- with Instructions

Rosemary rooted over the winter in a sunny window.
Propagating herbs from cuttings is part of the fun of growing them in the first place, and many herbs are very easy to reproduce. Most articles on herb propagation recommend placing cuttings in an inert, loose growing medium like sand,  vermiculite, perlite, coconut coir or likely a combination of the three, and then letting the plants root over a period of weeks or months -- depending on the herb or plant variety involved.

This is usually the most reliable and sensible way to exactly reproduce a plant, because cuttings are clones, or mini-me duplicates.  Some of the plants sold in large garden centers every spring are produced this way rather than from seed. Using a gentle growing medium helps encourage strong roots, and some growers hedge their bets by dipping the cut stems in a rooting hormone to enhance root development.  You can use this classic method with a setup as simple as:

Classic Bag and Media Plant Propagation Method - What You'll Need

  • Cuttings - Prefer new growth around 6 inches long. Cut stems on a slight diagonal and remove three quarters of the leaves from the lower portion of the cutting.  Cuttings may require scoring, depending on the variety.
  • Potting mix - Prepared potting mix, plant starter or a mixture of the media above to a depth of three to four inches.
  • A plastic freezer bag - Medium to large
  • Enough water to keep the media moist -- replenished every week or so
  • Rooting hormone (optional) - There are DIY options like willow water, pure honey and powdered cinnamon. If using hormone, roll the stems in the mixture before planting.


  1. Add soil to the bag.
  2. Prepare the stems.
  3. Add the stems and firm the top of the soil gently. I usually add no more than three cuttings per bag.
  4. Blow into the bag and seal it.
  5. Open the bag once every few days for a few hours and water slightly if the soil looks dry.
  6. Avoid jostling the bag as this will disturb the roots and may create fissures.
  7. Check for rooting after a few weeks by tugging gently on the cutting. Some herbs like rosemary may take 8 weeks or more to root, so be patient.
  8. Transplant new herbs to three inch pots when their roots are an inch or so long. You can often discern root development by inspecting the soil through the transparent plastic.

Herbs You can Root in Water

There are actually a number of ways to root cuttings successfully, including using hydroponic or aeroponic cloners.  A very simple method, which can be used on some but not all herbs, is to simply place the cuttings in a glass of water and wait for something good to happen. Consider this the minimalist approach. If you want to play with propagating cuttings, this is the easiest way to start.

A word of warning: This is not a popular option among experienced gardeners. It is widely believed roots grown this way are weak and the subsequent plants less robust.  I've had success growing plants in water, though, and it’s a lot of fun. The resulting transplants have been pretty successful for me, too. I've always made water rooting a three step project, though. More on this in a minute.

List of Herbs You Can Root in Water

 Here are some herbs that can be rooted in water:
  • Basil
  • Lavender
  • Lemon balm
  • Lemon verbena
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Pineapple sage
  • Rosemary  
  • Sage (common)
  • Scented geranium
  • Stevia
  • Thyme
You may also have luck with:

Savory (summer and winter)
Bay laurel  (This one is a two step process. Soaking in water encourages bumps or nodes on the underwater portion of the stem that will then make a bay cutting easier to propagate in soil. If you've had bad luck cloning bay, give it a try.)

Prepped cuttings from left to right: oregano, rosemary, lavender
I've typically started herbs in water from spring to late summer with the idea of maintaining them indoors until fall or, more likely, the following spring. Although I started out using a sunny window, the volume of plants increased so much that I eventually invested in a fluorescent grow light setup, which works well. I concern myself less with the type of cutting (softwood or semi-hard) than I do with choosing a stem that hasn't flowered but is growing well. This shows me it is robust and can produce roots. If I'm trying to propagate a houseplant, say, I put it outdoors early in spring to try and give it some extra energy that will then enhance root development in cuttings harvested from that plant.

This works for me:
  1. Choose 4 to 6 inch non-blooming stem cuttings on healthy plants that are not currently dormant (not yet actively in a growth phase).
  2. Cut each stem on a slight diagonal with a sharp knife. (A sharp knife will help reduce damage to the stem. Avoid using scissors, which tend to crush stems. For plants, crushed, compressed or damaged stems are a little like trying to suck soda from a bent straw. You wouldn't wish that on any seedling in training. Oh, craft knives, razor blades and box cutters also work well.)
  3. Remove leaves from about two thirds of the cutting.
  4. Place the cutting in water in a small glass, cup or jar with the water topping out just below the lowest leaf on the stem. If possible, some of the leafy top of the seedling should peek over the top of the container. This isn't essential, but helps with airflow.
  5. Prefer one cutting per cup as this will avoid the problem of tangled roots later . . . . Okay, so three stems at most.
  6. Place the cup in a window that receives at least four hours of light, but no direct sunlight, a day.
  7. Change the water in the cup EVERY day. This is the most important rule in the process.  Changing the water frequently helps control the growth of bacteria and algae. The cleaner the water, the more likely your cutting will root and thrive.
  8. Once roots have developed on the cutting and grown to about a half-inch to an inch, transplant it to a three inch pot that contains a 50/50 mixture of potting soil and perlite or something similar. 
  9. Maintain the pot indoors or in a greenhouse for at least a month before acclimating it to the outdoors.
  10. The three steps above are: rooting, potting and transplanting. With seasonal limitations, this can sometimes end up being a long process -- but not always. Fast rooting herbs can sometimes take as little as two weeks, while slow rooting varieties like rosemary and lavender can take two months or more.


Rooting times vary from herb to herb. Even cultivars within an herb family will respond differently.

For the best results, start with a number of cuttings of the same plant variety -- just in case.

I don't cover the glass with a plastic bag (like a mini-greenhouse) because I think good air flow is important, but if the air in your home is dry, you may want to consider it. If you do use a top covering for your cuttings, make sure it doesn't actually touch the leaves. An inverted sandwich bag taped to the glass (dome like) works well for this.

If your goal is to transplant water rooted cuttings directly into the garden, alter the rooting setup somewhat: Place a layer of gravel on the bottom of the cup before you add the water and cutting(s). The gravel layer should be just below the base of the stem.  The cutting will root directly into the gravel (or coarse sand), which will help encourage branching roots and stronger root development overall. This can be useful for fast rooting plants like those in the mint family that can be rooted and planted over the course of a single season.

Rooting plants in water is fun and doesn't require any special equipment, accessories or supplies. All it takes is a sunny window, a vow to change the water daily and some patience.  Try both techniques and see which you prefer.


DeBaggio, Thomas.  "Water Works: Rooting Cuttings in Water." 1994.

Juniper Moon Farm. "Propagating Lavender."

Plant Village. "Marjoram."

Photo 1 - Water Rooted Ficus Cutting
By Biusch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Other photos by author