Starting a garden is exciting. Over the next few months you’ll watch your seedlings grow and mature into plants that you can use to cook, clean, and heal. But growing herbs isn’t always an easy-going process; some seeds won’t sprout, bugs may ruin your garden, and some plants will simply die.
So if you’re a beginner, it’s important to plant herbs in your garden that are easy to nurture and have a high likelihood of maturity. We’ve put together a list of the 10 best herbs for beginners, complete with instructions on sunlight, soil, watering, and spacing.
And once they’re ready to harvest, you’ll want to use them! Find the best food & herbal tea pairings, as well as aromatherapy & medicinal applications, for each of the herbs in your first garden.
Best herbs to plant in your first garden
How to Grow
Sage is arguably the easiest herb to grow as a first-time gardener. Choose a location with full sun and well-draining, slightly acidic soil, preferably within a range of 6.5 and 7.0. Before you plant any seeds or seedlings, add compost or manure to the soil to provide the herb plant with the nutrients it needs to grow.
Plant the herb seeds or seedlings 18-24 inches apart and water regularly. For bushier growth, prune the plant tips. And when you’re ready to harvest the sage leaves, make sure to only take one-third of the plant at a time – this will provide you with a steady supply of medicinal & culinary herbs while allowing the plant time to replenish those leaves.
Sage is one of the most versatile kitchen herbs, pairing well with:
- Poultry: turkey stuffing, sage & garlic-roasted chicken, and creamy sage chicken
- Pork: sage & sausage stuffing, pork chops with a sage crust, and sage-rubbed pork tenderloin
- Cheese: specifically sharp, salty cheeses like parmesan and pecorino
- Vegetables: best with root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and turnips, even winter squashes like pumpkin and butternut
- Butter: sage butter can be used as a spread, added to a dip, or even a simple pasta sauce
Sage isn’t just great for the kitchen, it has plenty of medicinal benefits as well. Sage tea helps reduce inflammation caused by tonsillitis, infected gums, and mouth ulcers. It’s also used to decrease breast milk supply, helping mothers & babies slowly move away from breastfeeding. For women experiencing menopause, it helps reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes.
How to Grow
Parsley is a hardy & versatile herb with plenty of medicinal & culinary uses, making it another great addition to your first herb garden. First things first, choose a location that receives at least 4 hours of direct sunlight. Much like sage, it requires a slightly-acidic soil (pH between 6.0 and 7.0). Before you plant any herbs, mix in compost or manure to enhance fertility and water retention. Then, remove any weeds and level the surface.
Sow the seeds directly into the soil, at least 3 inches of soil. Then cover with a thin layer of soil and water it regularly to make sure it stays moist until germination; this typically takes 1-2 weeks. After that, continue to evenly water the soil to avoid water logging the roots; add mulch if necessary to conserve moisture and prevent weeds. In about 2-3 months, your leaves will be ready to harvest, meaning you can snip the outer leaves to use around your home & kitchen.
Once you snip the parsley, use it immediately or store it in the refrigerator for later use. When you’re ready to cook with it, pair it with:
- Seafood: a staple in seafood dishes like crab cakes, lobster, and ceviche
- Poultry: herb-roasted chicken or turkey, chicken piccata, and lemon-parsley turkey breast
- Sauces: a main ingredient in chimichurri, persillade, and other ethnic parsley sauces
- Starches: must-add to starches like potatoes, rice, and pasta
- Veggies: add to carrots, green beans, and tomatoes
Parsley’s functionality extends well beyond the plate, though that’s where it thrives. Its fresh, bright aroma makes it a popular ingredient in perfumes and soaps. It also has a slew of medicinal uses, known as a natural anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and antibacterial thanks to the high concentration of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
How to Grow
Oregano needs at least 6 hours of direct sunlight to grow properly, so choose a location in your garden that allows for that. Make sure to save enough room for the seeds, which must be planted at least 18-24 inches apart. A slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0 is best, but make sure to mix in compost to provide oregano with the nutrients it needs to grow.
Water the seeds with the same volume & frequency as the rest of your herbs. But in case you forget, oregano is able to survive with inconsistent water. As the plant matures, pinch back the tips to encourage bushier growth, and remove any yellow or damaged leaves as they appear. Oregano takes longer than most herbs to grow, usually about 3 months. But once they mature, they’re ready to harvest for cooking or dried herbs.
Oregano is a common herb in Italian and Mediterranean dishes, among many others:
- Italian cuisine: a staple in pizza, pasta sauces, and marinades
- Grilled meats: grilled chicken, beef, and lamb
- Tomatoes: a great addition to tomato-based dishes like caprese salads, roasted tomatoes, and tomato salad
- Sauces: classic tomato sauce, creamy oregano sauce, and occasionally as a substitute for basil in pesto
Outside of Italian & Mediterranean dishes, oregano is commonly praised for its medicinal properties – it’s believed to have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. And when infused with herbal tea, it can help soothe the throat, relieve congestion, and boost the immune system response to your illness. It doesn’t just keep colds & flus away either, oregano essential oil is sometimes used as a natural pest repellent, as it’s believed to have insecticidal properties.
How to Grow
Mint grows best in a mix of partial shade and full sun, with well-draining, slightly acidic soil (around 6.0 to 7.0). Unlike many of the other herbs on this list, mint is best grown from a young plant or a rooted cutting. It’s invasive and difficult to contain if grown from seed, potentially overwhelming the rest of your plants. Place the young plants 12 to 18 inches apart and water immediately after planting, then continue a regular watering schedule.
Pinch back the tips as it matures, removing any yellow or damaged leaves as soon as you see them. Mint is a fast-growing herb, meaning your leaves will be ready to harvest in just a few weeks.
With a crisp, refreshing, and slightly sweet flavor, mint brings an entirely new flavor profile to any dish:
- Sweet dishes: often added to desserts, smoothies, and cocktails like mojitos
- Meats: mint-marinated lamb chops, spicy mint beef, and steak with mint & parsley
- Sauces & marinades: mint-tzatziki sauce (talatouri), mint sauce, and even mint-infused chimichurri
- Vegetables: add bright & fresh flavor to peas, carrots, and potatoes
Mint’s strong & refreshing aroma makes it a popular ingredient for cosmetic products like perfumes, soaps, and shampoos. And similar to oregano, it also has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties that make it a top medicinal herb. Not to mention, herbal mint teas are great for relieving sore throats and chest congestion.
How to Grow
Plant in a section of your garden that receives full sunlight. The best soil pH is slightly acidic to neutral (6.0 to 7.0) and well-draining. Enhance it with compost or manure to improve plant fertility, remove any weeds, and level the surface.
Much like mint, thyme is best grown from a young plant or a rooted cutting. Space the thyme at least 12 to 18 inches apart, then water right after planting. It will survive if you forget to water it, but it performs best with regular watering.
As the thyme matures, pinch back the tips and remove yellow or damaged leaves as they appear. Expect to harvest them in 2-3 months, then use them however you’d like!
Thyme’s earthy & slightly minty flavor is a great addition to warm, savory dishes like:
- Meat dishes: a necessity for roasted chicken, beef, and lamb
- Vegetables: add it to roasted potatoes, carrots, and green beans
- Sauces & marinades: gravy, garlic & thyme sauce, and thyme, mustard & white wine marinade
Thyme’s warm & savory aroma is a top cosmetic ingredient in perfumes, soaps, and shampoos. And much like some of the other beginner herbs, it has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties that make it a top medicinal herb, helping treat sore throats and boost your immune system. It’s also known for its insecticidal properties, making it an effective pest control option that isn’t toxic.
How to Grow
Choose a location with full sun and neutral soil, preferably as close to 7.0 as possible. Enrich the soil with compost or manure, then plant the dill seeds 6-12 inches apart. You can plant them directly in the ground or start them in an indoor pot, then transport later. Water regularly, provide staking support, and harvest the leaves and seeds as needed, right before blooming; this is when they’re most flavorful.
Dill’s flavor is often described as “bright” and “refreshing.” Take a look at these ideal pairings and you’ll see why:
- Seafood: a must-add herb seasoning for salmon, crab, and shrimp dishes
- Salad Dressings: a tangy staple in lemon dill, creamy dill, and dill vinaigrette
- Pickles: arguably its most notable use, dill adds a bright, tangy taste to pickles, which are great for burgers, sandwiches, and wraps
- Cocktails: dill gin & tonic, cucumber dill martini, and dill cucumber gin fizz
In addition to its diverse culinary applications, dill is believed to have digestive-soothing properties, helping to relieve bloating and aid digestion. These medicinal properties are most active in herbal tea blends, which taste & smell great too. Dill essential oil is sometimes used as a natural pest repellent; just sprinkle some around your home to keep bugs & insects away.
How to Grow
Choose a location where the herb will spend at least 80% of the day in direct sunlight and the remaining 20% in partial shade. The soil must be well-drained and enriched with compost or manure, ideally in the pH range of 6.0 to 7.0 (slightly acidic). Plant the cilantro seeds 6-12 inches apart directly in the ground. Or, start indoors and transplant the small plants later. Water regularly, thin out seedlings, and harvest leaves and seeds as needed. Leaves are the most flavorful before the plant bolts to seed, so keep your eye out for some amazing cilantro to use in your kitchen.
Hint: the seeds are technically coriander.
There are pretty few dishes that wouldn’t benefit from a pinch of cilantro, especially Mexican & Latin American dishes. Here are the best pairings for your freshly-grown cilantro:
- Mexican & Latin American: a necessity for guacamole, salsa, and tacos
- Meat: cilantro-lime chicken, ceviche, and cilantro beef tacos
- Sauces & marinades: a primary ingredient in chimichurri, salsa, and cilantro-lime dressings
- Drinks: add it to agua fresca, jalapeno margaritas, and cilantro mojitos
Outside of Latin & Central America, cilantro’s fresh, earthy aroma is popular in cosmetic products like soaps & perfumes. Interestingly enough, some people have a genetic condition that makes cilantro actually taste like soap! Its detoxifying properties make it a top choice for people looking to cleanse heavy metals & toxins from their body. And when blended into an herbal tea, it supports digestive health and improves gut health.
How to Grow
Plant the basil seeds in a location with full sun and slightly acidic soil (pH between 6.0 and 7.0). Add nutrients to the soil with compost or well-rotted manure. Then plant your basil seeds 6-12 inches apart directly in the ground. Or if you’re experimenting with indoor growing, just transplant them later. Water the roots regularly, pinch back the tips, and harvest leaves as needed.
Italian food is one of the most coveted cuisines in the world, and basil plays a huge role in that. Here’s why:
- Tomato-based dishes: tomato sauce, bruschetta, and caprese salad
- Pesto: the main ingredient in pesto, a sauce made from basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil
- Meats: add a slightly sweet flavor to chicken, pork, and beef
- Drinks: basil lemonade, basil martinis, and gin basil smash
The Italians have culinary uses covered, but basil is more than just a cooking herb. The fragrant aroma adds a calming scent to cosmetic products. And as far as medicinal properties, its high concentration of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals make it an effective antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent. It supports digestive, skin, and immune health. It can also soothe an upset stomach, relieve stress, and improve sleep quality when mixed into an herbal infusion.
9. Lemon balm
How to Grow
To grow lemon balm, choose a sunny to partially shady location with well-draining, slightly acidic soil. Improve the soil fertility with compost or manure, then plant seeds or cuttings 6-12 inches apart. Water regularly, pinch back tips, and harvest leaves before flowering for best flavor.
Lemon balm pairs with practically every dish, but it’s best with:
- Seafood: add citrusy flavor to shrimp, crab, and lobster
- Fruits: add it to fruit salads & smoothies, especially those with strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and peaches
- Meats: add a touch of tang to chicken, pork, and lamb
- Cheeses: best when combined with goat cheese, feta, and brie
A popular ingredient in aromatherapy products like essential oils, massage oils, and potpourri, its pleasant aroma will treat all of your senses to a pleasant experience. With a long history in traditional medicine, lemon balm is believed to calm the body, reducing stress & anxiety as well as physical tightness. Lemon balm teas are also known to treat digestive issues and skin conditions, helping to soothe skin and improve the texture.
How to Grow
Growing tarragon is easy. Select a sunny to partially shady spot with well-draining, slightly acidic soil. Before you plant the seeds, enrich the soil with compost or manure to increase the soil fertility. Plant the seeds or cuttings 6-12 inches apart, water regularly, and harvest the leaves before flowering for the best flavor. Once you harvest them, you can add plenty of flavor to your dishes with tarragon’s unique taste.
Tarragon’s distinct flavor is popular in French dishes, especially ones like these:
- Meat: best with chicken, fish, shellfish, and lobster
- Eggs: take your breakfast to the next level by adding tarragon to your eggs, specifically omelets, quiches, and even scrambled eggs
- Vegetables: mix with asparagus, green beans, and mushrooms
- Sauces: great in vinegars, salad dressings, and vegetable dips
Tarragon is known for its digestive and carminative (flatulence-relieving) properties. It is also believed to have antiseptic and pain-relieving properties, making it a great choice for daily herbal infusions to promote healthy living. And on top of that, you can keep insects at bay in your garden, home, and other outdoor spaces by spraying and planting tarragon.