6 Easy culinary herbs to grow from seed

Fresh dill leaves
CC BY 3.0 Nate Steiner

Even if a large vegetable garden is out of the question for you, due to lack of space or time, a culinary herb garden can provide some fresh green flavor to spice up recipes, whether it's in the yard or in a container garden. One advantage that growing herbs has over growing vegetables is that because it's usually only the leaves of the herb plants that get harvested, there's no need to wait for the plants to flower and set fruit and for the veggies to mature before harvesting, which reduces both the time and the skills necessary to cultivate them.

While you can buy starts that are already growing to plant in your culinary herb garden, you can also start and grow herbs from seeds. Because I'm an advocate for doing it yourself, and learning while doing, I think that growing from seed can be a great way to get started, and can be quite a bit cheaper than buying herb starts. For the price of a single plant start, you can get a quantity of seeds that will allow you to grow enough herbs for everyone on your block.

Although some herbs are notoriously difficult to start from seed (and which are best propagated by rooting cuttings or dividing plants), these 6 culinary herbs are some of the easiest to grow from seed, which make them perfect for beginning gardeners.

1. Basil

Fresh basil is versatile herb, as at home in a salad as in a soup, and while it may be best known as an integral component of pesto, it also lends a taste of summer to a variety of other recipes, from sandwiches to pizzas. Sweet basil is the common variety that tends to be associated with Italian food, and there are number of different cultivars and hybrids of basil to choose from, each with a slightly different taste and appearance. The other type of basil is Thai basil, which often has a licorice or anise flavor and is usually found in Asian cuisine, and which also comes in number of different cultivars. Basil is one of the quicker herbs to germinate, and a great one to grow in pots, which can then be brought inside in the fall. If you find yourself with more basil than you know what to do with, fresh basil can be easily frozen or dried to preserve its summery flavor for use all winter long.

2. Dill

Dill is another herb that is quick to germinate and grow from seed, and which lends itself to a number of different dishes. Flavoring pickles is just one classic use of dill, but this herb goes well in salads, soups, potato dishes, bread, vegetable dips and sauces, and more. The feathery leaves of fresh dill (sometimes called dill weed) add texture and contrast to the garden, and can be dried to preserve for the winter. If you allow the dill to flower and set seed, the dill seeds can also be harvested and used as a culinary spice. Growing dill can also serve to attract wildlife and beneficial insects, which adds another element to a garden's appeal. The dill plants in my garden have hosted large numbers of swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies every year that I grow them, and even after they've had their share to eat, plenty is leftover for us.

3. Cilantro

Cilantro seems to be one of those culinary herbs that you either love or hate, and because we love it, it's a staple in our garden. Growing cilantro from seed is easy to do, and the plant can provide two spices in one, as the leaves are what we mean when we say cilantro, and the seeds are what we call coriander. The only caveat about growing it from seed is that cilantro is said to dislike transplanting, so it's best sown directly in the bed or container where it will live. Both the fresh leaves and the flowers can be cut and chopped into dishes all summer long, but if you'd like to harvest the seeds, you'll need to stop cutting it and let some of those flower heads grow and mature.

4. Arugula

In some places, arugula grows like a weed, literally. It happens to love my garden like no other plant does, and will readily reseed itself and grow like mad all over the place, beginning in early spring and continuing until late fall. Both the fresh leaves and the flowers of arugula can be used to add a unique flavor to summer dishes, similar to how basil is used, and it can also be added as a soup green or included in any recipe that steamed spinach or other cooked greens are called for. Arugula, sometimes called salad rocket, does have a bit of a peppery flavor that can come across as spicy or bitter, especially as the plant grows larger, in which case a little goes a long way.

5. Chives

Chives are a bit slower-growing that some of the other culinary herbs, but because it's a perennial, can be grown from seed once, and then grown and divided each year for more plants. Chives, which look similar to green onions, can be chopped into both fresh and cooked dishes, and can be dried or frozen to extend the harvest. The plants produce an attractive flower (also edible), which can be left to mature and harvested for more chives seeds.

6. Parsley

Growing parsley from seeds takes a little bit of patience, as they tend to be one of the slower herbs to germinate, but when they begin to grow in earnest, are a great addition to kitchen gardens. Although this herb is a stereotypical garnish for some restaurant dishes, and one that is often left behind on the plate, parsley is quite a versatile and flavorful ingredient. The two main types of parsley are curly parsley and flat leaf parsley (often called Italian parsley), the leaves of both of which can be cut again and again throughout the summer, and then left to overwinter (depending on the climate) to flower the next year, or pulled from the ground to harvest the large root as a vegetable.

Growing your own culinary herbs from seed can be a fruitful endeavor, and add a lot of taste to recipes at a low cost, especially considering how much each little bundle of herbs costs at the store or market, and compared to how cheap a packet of seeds is.

Tags: Gardening