The Best Perennial Herbs

Count on perennial herbs to yield a harvest of flavor year after year.
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©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Photo by Julie A. Martens

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Lavender (Lavandula)

Lavender is one of those herbs that can scent an entire garden. The gray-green leaves waft an irresistible fragrance when warmed by the sun, and blooms are aromatic when they open. Flowers appear on long stems atop the mounded plants, remaining attractive for a month or more. Blooms bring a lemon-citrus flavor to beverages, desserts and fruit dishes; leaves can stand in for rosemary in recipes.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Sage is the go-to herb for poultry seasoning, stuffing, pork and sausage dishes. For enhanced flavor, saute leaves before adding to dishes. In the garden, sage demands good drainage. Plants are attractive with their pebbled leaf texture. Traditional sage has grey-green leaves, and you can also grow gold-and-green leaf types and tricolor sage with purple, green and cream leaves.

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

This perennial’s good looks disguise its rugged nature. Bee balm is a strong garden performer, opening blooms that beckon bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. Use leaves and flowers, which have a hint of orange and spice, fresh or dried. During the Revolutionary War, colonists brewed tea using bee balm leaves and flowers, giving rise to its other common name, Oswego tea. Blossoms make a pretty dessert garnish or addition to fruit salads or cake.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

If you like lemon drop candy, you’ll love the fragrance—and flavor—of lemon balm. This easy-growing beauty has pretty green or green and gold leaves that add a nice touch to cottage borders. Flowers are easy to miss, tucked along stems. But it’s important to notice when plants bloom because they self-sow aggressively. Clip stems after flowering. Plants will rebound with fresh growth. Use leaves to flavor beverages, fruit salads and poultry dishes.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Count on chives to bring a subtle onion flavor to dishes. Both grass-like leaves and flowers are edible. Toss blooms—whole or chopped—into salads and potato dishes for a pretty presentation. Give chives a spot in full sun for best growth. Dig clumps every few years as they become crowded. Plants self-sow readily—clip spent seed heads to stop the spread.

Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum')

Ferny leaves and sweet anise flavor help bronze fennel earn its keep in the herb garden, but this plant is so beautiful it holds its own in a cottage garden or flower border. Fennel grows 4 to 6 six feet high and spreads about 18 to 24 inches. It’s a perfect back-of-the-border plant. Harvest leaves for seasoning fish, brewing tea or adding to fruit salads. Yellow flowers yield tasty seeds used to flavor sausage or Italian sauces.

Thyme (Thymus)

Include thyme in your herb garden as a groundcover. It grows with ground-hugging, woody stems covered with small flavorful leaves and tiny blue-purple to pink blooms that bees can't resist. There are about 40 different types of thyme to choose from including lemon, caraway, lime and orange. Use leaves fresh or dried, stripping them from woody stems. Plants need well-drained soil to survive.

Mint (Mentha)

Super easy and super flavorful, mint is nearly impossible to kill. As a matter of fact, it’s such a rampant grower that it’s best to curtail the spread by planting mint in containers. Look for mints with a variety of flavors: apple, peppermint, chocolate and orange, to name a few. Cut plants frequently to encourage branching. Use leaves to flavor beverages, desserts and salads. Remove flower buds as they appear. Cut plants to the ground in late fall, after frost.

Spearmint (Mentha spicata)

This bright green beauty is hardy and then some, overwintering as far north as zone 3. Leaves have a strong mint flavor that is the top choice for flavoring drinks, including mojitos and mint juleps. Use leaves fresh or dried. When using fresh leaves, simply bruise the leaf before adding to beverages. Spearmint prefers moist, fertile soil. Like all mints, it spreads freely. Corral its wandering ways by growing it in a partially submerged container.

French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus 'Sativa')

Enjoy the citrus and licorice flavor blend that French tarragon brings to the dinner table. Prized for its use in French cuisine, sauces, fish dishes and marinades, this herb needs well-drained soil and full sun to thrive. Even then, this perennial herb is only short-lived; you’ll need to replace it every few years. Harvest leaves at any point in the growing season. Add them to hot dishes just before serving.

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

Leaves and blooms pack a powerful aroma and flavor in this native herb. Anise hyssop flowers from summer through early fall. The purple blossoms beckon bees and butterflies; ripe seeds lure goldfinches. Use young leaves or blooms in teas, cakes or fruit salads. Harvest the petals only, not the entire thick flower spike. This herb thrives in full sun in average soil. Plants self-sow readily.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

While many herbs are best used fresh, tasty oregano holds its tangy flavor when dried. Use oregano as a groundcover; it forms a low mound in the garden topped with flowers in mid- to late summer. Blossoms beckon bees by the dozen. When flowers fade, clip plants back for a fresh round of growth. For best flavor, harvest stems for drying before flower buds form. Look for varieties with golden leaves.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary’s evergreen leaves contain a strong pine-like aroma. A few cut stems can scent an entire room. In the garden, provide well-drained soil. Poor drainage sounds a death knell. Rosemary is one of the few herbs that tastes even stronger fresh than dried. Cut stems often to ensure a steady supply of succulent new growth. Choose from upright or creeping types. Plants are hardy in zones 6 to 10; elsewhere, grow rosemary in pots that you bring indoors for winter. Overwinter in a cool room near a bright window.

Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum)

Also known as Chinese chives or Chinese leeks, garlic chives offer a flavor that’s midway between onion and garlic. Flat leaves grow in clumps and open a flower head packed with white blooms in summer. Plants self-sow freely and happily spread through an herb garden. Due to the milder flavor, use more garlic chive leaves when cooking than you would onion chives.