Planting perennial herbs in the garden means you’ll never have to spend another $2.99 at the grocery store for just a handful of leaves. And to avoid an unintentionally bland diet—or, worse, a mistakenly flavorless meal for guests—it’s important to know which herbs will add the most versatility to your kitchen.
“Perennial herbs are great to add to your garden if you love to cook and want to have a reliable supply that grows back every year,” says Rebecca Sears, chief gardening guru at Ferry-Morse. While some perennial herbs will only come back in warmer climates, don’t fret. Nowadays, plenty of innovative gardening solutions exist so that you can mimic the necessary climate from the comfort of a protected counter or indoor window sill.
Of course, not all perennial herbs are alike. Depending on the variety, Sears says that light exposure and watering requirements will vary. “Herbs like thyme, oregano, mint, and rosemary need full sun, whereas lavender and sage will do just fine in partial shade,” she says, as an example, noting that seed packets show the specific directions for each type of perennial herb. “How often you water your herbs also depends on the variety—chives and mint should be watered one to two times per week, but thyme and rosemary don’t need as much hydration once established (once every 10 to 15 days is plenty).”
Care instructions aside, Sears says that adding perennial herbs to your garden will transform the dishes you cook. “What I love about homegrown herbs is the aroma—dried or ground herbs [like those that are store-bought] lose their punch over time,” she says. “Cooking with fresh herbs provides wonderful aromatics and a clean, pure flavor. [Quite simply,] fresh herbs elevate any meal.”
Beyond the scent of herbs, their flavor—and nutrition—is unmatched. “As I always tell my clients, herbs are one of the most powerful sources of antioxidants,” says New York City-based dietitian Jennifer Maeng, MS, RDN. “Herbs also add so much flavor to food so if you are trying to cut down on salt, try flavoring your food with fresh herbs. Thankfully, herbs are really easy to grow especially by your sunny windowsill. All you need to do is water them regularly.”
Inspired to start cooking with fresh herbs? Keep reading to learn more about perennial herbs, including which to add to your garden for endless flavor in all your cooking endeavors.
The Best Perennial Herbs To Plant
Whether you put it on top of your potatoes or chopped in your salad, parsley packs a flavorful punch. But that’s not all! “Parsley is high in vitamin C and K and is loaded with antioxidants,” Maeng says. “It’s great in not just Italian foods but to add to salad, make sauces with, and to garnish.”
Delicious on tacos, in salsa, and on top of grain bowls, cilantro is an especially popular herb to pair with Mexican food. “Cilantro provides an excellent source of vitamin K and C, as well as vitamin A,” says Maeng. “Cilantro also has many different types of antioxidants, one of which is polyphenols, which is responsible for reducing inflammation and preventing cell damage.”
You can sprinkle them on potatoes, in omelets, on salads, and in sauces—no matter how you use them, chives help pump up the flavor of many popular dishes. Sears says one of her favorite ways to use chives is when grilling fish and whipping up a homemade dumpling sauce.
Great in foods and drinks alike, mint can be used in various ways in the kitchen. “Mint is a source of vitamin A, as well as folate and iron,” says Maeng. “Menthol in mint tea, in particular, can be helpful when experiencing menstrual cramps during your period due to its direct impact on a receptor called Transient Receptor Potential Melastatin–8 (TRPM8).”
Sage. For an earthy, savory effect, Sears recommends adding sage to your kitchen garden. “My favorite quick and easy weeknight dinner is mushroom ravioli tossed in a brown butter sage sauce,” she shares. “This classic Northern Italian sauce takes five minutes to prepare and the fresh sage sizzled in the butter smells and tastes amazing. Don’t forget to grate a little bit of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on top!”
Flavor aside, Maeng says that sage is high in antioxidants and minerals, such as magnesium, copper, and zinc. “In eastern medicine, sage tea is used to treat coughs as they believe that it is an expectorant,” she adds. “Personally, I 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. “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 dressings to sauces but it pairs especially well with seafood.”
Sears adds to this, noting that thyme is a great perennial herb for marinades. “I chop some up, mix it with olive oil and salt and pepper, then toss with cubed butternut squash,” she says. “Spread out 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’s especially delicious in marinades. “Rosemary oil is high in antioxidants but more interestingly a few small studies showed 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 pairs very well with meat dishes, sauces, and dressings. If you have any leftover rosemary sprigs, you can either freeze them or use them as an air freshener!”
Basil is especially popular in pasta dishes, particularly because of the way it pairs with pomodoro sauce, as well as pesto. “Basil is high in many vitamins and minerals but it is especially abundant in antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin,” Maeng says. “Lutein belongs to the carotenoid group which is essential for eye health.”
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