Growing herbs in your garden is a great way to add freshness and flavor to your cooking. Fresh herbs in your diet deliver many health benefits and can elevate recipes to new heights! Many gardeners choose to grow culinary herbs in their vegetable garden, however not all plants are well suited to this design. To save space in your herb garden and take advantage of beautiful blooms, these 12 culinary herbs are perfect additions to flower garden beds.
All of the herbs in this article are non-invasive perennials that will come back year after year with very little maintenance. You will learn how to grow, harvest and cook with each of these herbs as well as the many medicinal preparations and non-culinary uses of each plant. Whenever mixing edible plants with ornamentals, be absolutely sure you can identify the plant you are harvesting.
Disclaimer: Always consult a medical professional, pharmacist or herbalist when adding medicinal herbs to your routine. Take extra caution during pregnancy. The following information is for educational purposes and not intended as a treatment plan for any specific medical conditions.
1. Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is a woody perennial in zones 5 through 9 with soft grey/green leaves and showy purple flowers that bloom in mid-summer. While many gardeners choose to include sage in their raised beds or vegetable garden, it is actually well suited to a flower bed. This culinary herb can become quite large after several years, reaching 2-3 feet in width and height. Frequent harvesting and pruning will keep the plant healthy and tidy. Sage is easily started from seed but purchasing nursery transplants can be a much faster way to get started.
Leaves of the sage plant can be used fresh or dried and have a strong earthy flavor with notes of citrus, pine and mint. Both the leaves and flowers of the sage plant are edible and medicinal. Sage leaves are traditionally used as a cooking spice to flavor meats, eggs, pasta sauces/pesto, stuffing, breads, and herb butters. Flowers from the sage plant can be added fresh to salads or cocktails for a refreshing burst of flavor. Sage flowers can also be used to make jelly, infused vinegar or syrup, and even ice cream!
Sage has many medicinal benefits and is a powerful antioxidant. Sage is used medicinally to treat digestive issues, depression, memory loss, high cholesterol, menopausal symptoms, asthma (via inhalation) and cold sores/gingivitis (via topical application). Sage makes a delicious herbal tea, but can also be used medicinally via tinctures, extracts, capsules, tablets, salves, and essential oils. There are many other non-culinary uses for sage that can be made at home including smudge sticks, infused bath salts, bar soap, potpourri/sachets, candles and cut flower arrangements.
2. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
The most commonly used variety of culinary garden thyme is English Thyme (thymus vulgaris), however, there are many different cultivars of thyme with different flavor profiles and culinary purposes including: summer thyme, winter thyme, mother of thyme/creeping thyme, French thyme, and lemon thyme to name a few. Most varieties of thyme are hardy perennials in zones 2 through 11, making this a very easy to grow, versatile plant.
Thyme is a small woody shrub that stays fairly compact with a 12-18″ spread and no more than 12″ in height. Some varieties of thyme will “creep” and spread out to form a slow growing ground cover. Most plants will bloom for around 4 weeks in midsummer and will have a milder flavor after blossoming. Pruning and regular harvesting is beneficial to thyme plants and can be done any time of year. Re-shape plants in early spring to keep them growing bushy and tidy. Plants can be rejuvenated by a pruning after flowers fade or in late fall.
Cooking with fresh thyme will infuse it’s sweet, peppery, floral flavor into almost any type of cuisine as well as herbal tea. It can be added to dishes in whole “sprigs” or the leaves can be removed from the woody stem and sprinkled in. Dried thyme is an essential ingredient in any bouquet garni or herbes de Provence spice blend. Thyme also has many health benefits and is taken medically for coughs or bronchitis.
3. Rosemary (Rosemarinum officinalis/Salvia rosmarinus)
Rosemary is a tender woody evergreen perennial native to the Mediterranean region and is hardy in zones 7 through 11. It is often grown as an annual in colder climates and can be brought inside during winter. Rosemary can be started from seed but is very slow to germinate (2-4 weeks) and can take 2-3 months to mature before it can be moved to the garden. For this reason, many gardeners choose to buy greenhouse plants that are ready for the garden. New rosemary plants can also be propagated from cuttings.
After several years of growth, rosemary plants can reach 4-5 feet wide and tall and will bloom from spring to fall. Rosemary makes an excellent companion plant for many vegetables, but, due to its size and beauty, it makes a for perfect backdrop in flower beds. Rosemary benefits from being harvested/pruned once a season, so that it has time to recover and bounce back. Take no more than one-third of the plant’s growth when harvesting.
In the kitchen, the rosemary spice is traditionally used to flavor meats, soups, vegetables, breads and pastas. Use whole sprigs of rosemary or remove and finely chop, crush or grind the leaves. The herb can be used fresh or dried and can withstand long cooking times. Rosemary essential oil is often used in aromatherapy to increase mental clarity, memory and cognition. Rosemary has anti-inflammatory properties and is high in antioxidants, which makes it a refreshing and stimulating herbal tea.
4. Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile & Matricaria chamomilla)
While the mention of chamomile may conjure images of herbal tea, this versatile and beautiful plant actually makes a lovely culinary herb! Sweet chamomile blossoms and the slightly more bitter leaves can be added fresh to salads. Chamomile flowers can be added to most deserts or any dish with a sweet flavor including cakes, pastries, oatmeal, custard, ice cream, syrups, and even cocktails!
The two most common types of chamomile are German (Matricaria chamomilla) and Roman (Chamaemelum nobile). While both varieties will come back year after year in zones 3 through 9, Roman chamomile is a perennial, while German chamomile is a hardy, re-seeding annual. German chamomile is slightly taller, sweeter and has smaller flowers. Chamomile will grow anywhere from 6-36″ tall and sometimes falls over to cover the ground before growing upright again. While a single chamomile plant is only about 3″ wide, they typically spread out to cover 18″ or more with a mound of multiple plants.
Chamomile is an age old medicinal remedy for anxiety, upset stomachs and mouth sores and can be taken via capsules, tinctures, extracts, and of course, tea. It is also used extensively in cosmetics and household products such as soap, face cream, potpourri/sachets, candles and essential oils.
5. Chives (Allium schoenoprasm)
Chives are a perennial garden staple in growing zones 3 through 10 that send up whimsical purple blossoms from spring to early summer. They are easy to start from seed and grow in ever-expanding clumps that will reach 12-24″ tall and wide after a few years. Once chives are established, they can be divided by digging or pulling up some of the plant by it’s roots and transplanting the new smaller plants in a new location. New plants will occasionally pop up from dropped seeds, but they are easy to remove and are not invasive.
Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are a close cousin to common chives that are easily distinguishable by their delicate garlic scent, flavor and white blossoms. Both varieties have edible blossoms and stems that can be used in cooking fresh or dried in almost any type of cuisine. The best way to use fresh chives is to harvest a bundle and use scissors or a chef’s knife to slice the stems into small thin rings.
Chives and their blossoms can provide a pop of color as a garnish and are delicious in soups, salads, eggs, potatoes, seafood, bread, herb butter, dips, and vegetables. Chives are a delicate herb that is best when added towards the end of the cooking process. During winter months, dehydrated or freeze-dried chives are an alternative to fresh herbs. With it’s myriad of health benefits, and rich vitamin and mineral content, chives are a smart addition to any diet.
6. Winter Savory (Satureja montana)
Winter savory is an aromatic semi-woody perennial bush that blooms from July to October. The plant stays small and compact at 6-12″ tall and wide which makes it a perfect ornamental plant for flower bed boarders and edges. Summer savory (Satureja hortensis) is hardy annual herb that is closely related to winter savory but has a slightly sweeter, stronger, more peppery flavor and must be planted from seed each year.
The deep green leaves and light violet/white flowers of the winter savory plant can be used in both culinary and medicinal preparations. Fresh or dried winter savory adds a spicy, minty and slightly astringent flavor to savory dishes such as chicken, pork, fish and beans.
Herbal tea made from winter savory leaves is helpful for sore throats, cough, nausea, cramps and digestion problems. Winter savory essential oil and liquid extract can be used as an energizing tonic that assists the nervous and immune systems.
7. Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus)
Saffron, one of the world most expensive spices at $2,000-$10,000 a pound, can be grown right in your flower garden. Saffron crocus bulbs should be planted in the fall in zones 5 through 8 and may take one or two seasons to mature before they are ready to harvest. When mature, this fall blooming perennial will produce small bluish purple flowers with 3 bright stigmas at the center of each blossom. These stigmas, or threads, are the source of the saffron spice and must be plucked by hand/tweezers, dried on very low heat and stored in an airtight container.
Saffron can be used in recipes fresh or dried and needs to be cut or crushed into smaller pieces prior to cooking. The flavor of saffron is complex with floral, earthy and sweet notes on a similar plane to vanilla or honey, but much more distinct. Although saffron can be added to many recipes, it is most commonly used in rice/risotto, meats, seafood, stews, bread and deserts.
Historically, saffron was grown in Persia, India and the Mediterranean and was used as a golden dye for food and clothing as well as a perfume for ancient roman baths. Saffron has been used in medicine for over 3000 years, and is still used therapeutically for depression, anxiety, memory loss, cramps and respiratory complaints such as asthma and coughs. Saffron tea is a traditional medicinal preparation but it can also be taken via capsules, liquid extract, and tincture. Other non-culinary saffron products include: essential oils, perfumes, and anti aging skin care lines.
8. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
It is easy to recognize lemon balm plants from their distinctive lemon flavor and aroma. This perennial herb can be started from seed and will grow to a size of 24″-36″ tall and wide. Small, pale yellow or pink flowers will emerge in midsummer and remain until fall. The flowers will drop seeds that germinate the following spring, so it is important to control the spread of lemon balm seedlings. Lemon balm does not spread via it’s root system like mint does so it is not difficult to tame.
Use lemon balm fresh or dried in almost any recipe for a refreshing citrusy zing! It is excellent in desserts, baked goods, soups, meat marinades, sauces, and salads. Lemon balm tea is commonly used to relieve stress, anxiety, sleep problems, nausea, cold sores, and headaches. Other medicinal lemon balm products include essential oils, capsules, tinctures, liquid extracts, and salves.
9. Hyssop (Hyssopus Officinalis)
Hyssop is a beautiful herb with brightly colored bluish-purple flowers that bloom from mid-summer to late fall. Hyssop is a semi-woody perennial that grows in zones 3 through 11. Both the leaves and flowers of the hyssop plant can be used in recipes and medicine. In the flower garden, hyssop resembles lavender or salvia and will grow into a small shrub 18-24″ tall and wide. It is great for attracting bees and butterflies!
When used as a culinary spice, hyssop has a minty licorice flavor that goes well with both sweet and savory dishes such as pasta, meats, soups, casseroles, syrups, and desserts. It can be overpowering and should be used sparingly. Since hyssop leaves can be tough, it is wise to add a whole sprig or wrap leaves in cheesecloth so they can be removed before serving.
10. Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus sativa)
French tarragon is a prized culinary herb in French cuisine with a sweet and unique anise-like flavor. The tarragon spice is delicious when added to soups, sauces, meat, seafood, eggs, condiments, dressings, vinegar, mustard and vegetables. Since it is a delicate herb, it must be added in the last few minutes of the cooking process. Tarragon is best when used fresh, but can also be dried or frozen.
French tarragon plants can’t be started from seed, they must be propagated from stem or root cuttings to ensure the offspring is true to type. These perennials are hardy in zones 4 trough 10 and will reach 12″ wide and 24″ tall after two years. Plants should be pruned in mid-summer to maintain a bushy shape, as they will fall over if they become too large. Plants can be divided (which will produce additional new plants) every three to four years.
Steep tarragon leaves in boiling water to make a soothing and relaxing tea. Other medicinal applications for tarragon include relief for nausea or indigestion and herbal preparations such as liquid extracts and tinctures are available.
11. Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora)
Lemon verbena is a perennial shrub in zones 9 and 10 that is prized for its aromatic citrusy leaves. It can be kept in a container and brought inside during winter or grown as an annual in colder climates. The lemon verbena plant can reach over 6 feet in width and height so it is best suited to large flower beds as a backdrop plant. Annual spring pruning will give the plant a rounded bushy shape and keep it from becoming too leggy. Small white flowers will emerge in late summer and can be used in the same preparations as the plant’s leaves.
The essential oil content of lemon verbena is extremely high, which gives the plant it’s strong scent and flavor. The leaves and flowers can be used fresh or dried and should be finely chopped before cooking. Lemon verbena is suited to a wide range of culinary uses including meat and poultry marinades, desserts, sauces, jams, dressings and beverages. Lemon verbena tea is a calming digestive aid and other medicinal preparations such as tinctures, can be taken for insomnia and muscle soreness.
Many home and beauty products utilize the bright, citrus scent of lemon verbena. These include: perfume, soaps, lotions, candles, cleaning products, deodorant, diffusers, and just about anything containing fragrance oils. If you are growing lemon verbena in your garden, these products can be very rewarding to DIY at home.
12. Lavender (Lavandula officinalis/angustifolia)
With it’s distinctive purple blossoms that endure throughout the entire summer, lavender is an iconic cottage garden plant. There are many different varieties of lavender to choose from for your flower garden, however, English lavender is the most widely used for culinary purposes.
English lavender is a slow growing perennial evergreen shrub in zones 5 through 8 that will reach about 24″ tall and 36″ wide at maturity. If you live in a warmer climate, French lavender (L. dentata) can be a great alternative as it grows in zones 8 through 11. Lavender can be grown from seed, but must go through cold stratification for 6 weeks in order to germinate. Purchasing nursery plants is a much faster way to get started growing lavender.
Lavender is a unique herb that can adapt to many types of dishes including: salads, breads, desserts, stew, lamb or chicken, fruit compotes, ice cream, yogurt, syrups, beverages, and any recipe calling for herbs de providence. Leaves and flowers can both be used fresh in cooking, but if you would like to dry lavender for later use, its best to harvest the buds before they flower.
Lavender has been used in medicine for thousands of years for it’s ability to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, pain and insomnia. It is so gentle and soothing, it is even safe to use with babies and children. Lavender tea is a relaxing bedtime favorite that can be taken daily and lavender essential oil is used widely in aromatherapy practices. Lavender can be made into many home and beauty products such as: potpourri, sachets, candles, fragrance spray, soap, and lotion. Plus, they look and smell amazing as a freshly cut table centerpiece.
I hope you enjoyed learning about these 12 culinary herbs that fit perfectly into any flower garden! To learn more about growing herbs at home check out these other helpful posts!