Pplanting perennial herbs in the garden means you’ll never have to spend an extra $2.99 at the grocery store for just a handful of leaves. And to avoid an unintentionally bland diet or, worse, an mistakenly flavorless meal for guests, it’s important to know which herbs will add the most versatility to your cooking.
“Perennial herbs are great to add to your garden if you like to cook and want a reliable supply that regrows every year,” says Rebecca Sears, Ferry-Morse’s Chief Gardening Guru. While some perennial grasses will only come back in warmer climates, don’t worry. These days, many innovative gardening solutions exist so you can mimic the necessary climate from the comfort of a sheltered counter or indoor windowsill.
Of course, not all perennial herbs are alike. Depending on the variety, Sears says light exposure and watering needs vary. “Herbs like thyme, oregano, mint, and rosemary need full sun, while lavender and sage do well in partial shade,” she says, by way of example, noting that seed packets show specific instructions for each type of perennial grass. “How often you water your herbs also depends on the variety. Chives and mint should be watered once or twice a week, but thyme and rosemary don’t need as much hydration once established (once every 10-15 days is plenty). ”
Care instructions aside, Sears says adding perennial herbs to your garden will transform the dishes you cook. “What I love about homegrown herbs is the aroma of dried or ground herbs [like those that are store-bought] lose their punch over time,” she says. “Cooking with fresh herbs provides wonderful aromas and a clean, pure flavor. [Quite simply,] fresh herbs enhance any meal.
Beyond the smell of the herbs, their flavor and nutritional value are unmatched. “As I always tell my clients, herbs are one of the most potent sources of antioxidants,” says Jennifer Maeng, MS, RDN, a New York-based registered dietitian. “Herbs also add a lot of flavor to foods, so if you’re trying to reduce your salt intake, try flavoring your foods with fresh herbs. Luckily, herbs are really easy to grow, especially near your sunny windowsill. All you have to do is water them regularly.
Inspired to start cooking with fresh herbs? Keep reading to learn more about perennial herbs, including which ones to add to your garden for endless flavor in all your culinary endeavors.
The best perennial herbs to plant
Whether you put it on your potatoes or chopped it into your salad, parsley packs a tasty punch. But that’s not all! “Parsley is rich in vitamins C and K and packed with antioxidants,” says Maeng. “It’s great not only in Italian dishes, but also for adding to salads, making sauces and garnishing.”
Delicious on tacos, in salsa and on cereal bowls, cilantro is an especially popular herb to accompany Mexican cuisine. “Cilantro provides an excellent source of vitamins K and C, as well as vitamin A,” says Maeng. “Cilantro also contains many types of antioxidants, including polyphenols, which are responsible for reducing inflammation and preventing cell damage.”
You can sprinkle them on potatoes, omelettes, salads and sauces. No matter how you use them, chives help enhance the flavor of many popular dishes. Sears says one of his favorite ways to use chives is when grilling fish and making homemade meatball sauce.
Excellent in food and drink, mint can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen. “Mint is a source of vitamin A, as well as folate and iron,” says Maeng. “The menthol in mint tea, in particular, may be helpful for menstrual cramps during your period due to its direct impact on a receptor called Transient Receptor Potential Melastatin-8 (TRPM8).”
Wise. For an earthy, flavorful effect, Sears recommends adding sage to your vegetable patch. “My favorite quick and easy weeknight dinner is mushroom ravioli tossed in a browned butter sage sauce,” she shares. “This classic Northern Italian sauce takes five minutes to make and the fresh sage sizzling in butter smells and tastes amazing. Don’t forget to grate some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on it!
Flavor aside, Maeng says sage is rich in antioxidants and minerals, such as magnesium, copper and zinc. “In Eastern medicine, sage tea is used to treat coughs, as they believe it is an expectorant,” she adds. “I personally use sage to make this fragrant and delicious fried sage salsa verde.”
Although most people don’t think of thyme when they think of mint (and its flavor profile), Maeng points out that thyme is a perennial herb that belongs to the mint family. “The thymol found in thyme is known for its antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties,” she adds, noting that thyme oil is often used to prevent gingivitis for this reason. “I love using thyme in many dishes I make at home, from salad dressings to sauces, but it goes especially well with seafood.”
Sears adds to this, noting that thyme is an excellent perennial herb for pickles. “I chop a little, mix it with olive oil, salt and pepper, then mix with cubed butternut squash,” she says. “Spread the squash on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes until golden and tender. Divine.”
Rosemary is another perennial herb that is especially delicious in marinades. “Rosemary oil is high in antioxidants, but even more interestingly, a few small studies have shown that rosemary oil, when inhaled, can improve alertness without side effects or complications,” Maeng says, noting that rosemary oil can help shift workers stay alert. “Rosemary goes very well with meat dishes, sauces and dressings. If you have leftover rosemary sprigs, you can either freeze them or use them as an air freshener!
Basil is especially popular in pasta dishes, especially because of the way it pairs with pomodoro sauce, as well as pesto. “Basil is rich in vitamins and minerals, but it’s particularly abundant in antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin,” Maeng explains. “Lutein belongs to the carotenoid group that is essential for eye health.”
Oh hi! You sound like someone who loves free workouts, discounts on top wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Join Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly.
Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.