how to start an herb garden

How to Start an Herb Garden with
5 Easy-to-Grow Medicinal Plants

Okay, I’m going to be honest: up until a few years ago, I didn’t really know how to start an herb garden. Sure I’d tended the occasional bed of kale or patch of flowers, but I was intimidated by growing my own herbs.

Little did I know that herbs can be some of the easiest and hardiest plants to grow — especially when you start simple.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing this season…

I moved back to Washington this winter, and I have a new yard full of endless potential and way more rainfall than I got in my old home in Northern California. And by “endless potential” I mean that my yard is basically just a scraggly lawn, so it could really use an herbal upgrade.

So my housemates and I drafted up a plan for our yard makeover, and we decided on five herbs we want to grow this season.

We selected these herbs based on how easy they are to grow, how frequently we rely on them for medicine, and how much money we can save by growing them. All of these herbs are great for beginning gardeners and herbalists alike to grow in sprawling beds or in small pots on your porch.

Here’s how to start an herb garden with these five herbs…

how-to-start-an-herb-garden

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Growing Needs:

Calendula is an herbaceous perennial in zones 9–11, and it’s often grown as an annual in other zones. I prefer to directly sow its seeds after the last frost. This radiant plant loves lots of sunshine, and once it’s fully grown it needs little water. Harvest the plant’s abundant blooms throughout the seasons to keep the plant continuously producing.

Medicinal Benefits:

Calendula is the ultimate herbal ally for the skin. As a soothing anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial herb with a knack for easing lymphatic stagnation, calendula shines as a topical application for acne, eczema, sunburn, bug bites, and cuts.

What to Make with Calendula:

For topical applications you can use dried calendula flowers to make infused oils, salves, liniments, and lotions. I also love adding the fresh flowers to my salads for a little whimsy and their zesty taste.

how-to-start-an-herb-garden

Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)

Growing Needs:

Rosemary is a woody perennial that’s hardy to zones 7–11. This low maintenance herb thrives in full sun with minimal water, so it’s perfect for beginners who want to start an herb garden. Rosemary seeds have a low germination rate, so I prefer to start rosemary from cuttings or to buy a start at my local hardware store.

Medicinal Benefits:

People often underestimate rosemary because it’s such a popular ornamental plant. But have no doubt, this common shrub is a powerful remedy. Rosemary can help improve short term memory, ease stagnant digestion, and support immune function.

What to Make with Rosemary:

My favorite way to enjoy rosemary is by nibbling on a few of its leaves throughout the day. I find that this helps me enjoy more easeful digestion, and it improves my focus too. You can also prepare rosemary as a tea, a tincture, or add it to your food — like with this delicious rosemary vinaigrette.

how-to-start-an-herb-garden

Spilanthes (Acmella oleracea)

Growing Needs:

Spilanthes is hardy to zones 10–12 and grows as an annual in other zones. You can start spilanthes seeds indoors in small pots and then transplant them outside once the last frost has happened. Spilanthes loves lots of sunshine and water.

Medicinal Benefits:

Also known as “Toothache Plant,” spilanthes has an affinity for supporting oral health. Spilanthes also stimulates immune function, and I often use it as a stand-in for Echinacea — this is the main reason why I grow spilanthes. I love that I can tincture spilanthes’ flowers after a few months of growth instead of waiting for years to harvest Echinacea root.

What to Make with Spilanthes:

I recommend making a tincture with spilanthes’ flowers. This plant is a powerful sialagogue (meaning, it makes you salivate), so I find drinking a big cup of spilanthes tea to be uncomfortable for my mouth and throat. You can use spilanthes tincture internally, and you can also swish it around your mouth when your teeth and gums are needing some antimicrobial herbal support. Or instead of harvesting spilanthes, you can just stare at their sweet gum-drop-like flowers everyday because they are just so dang cute, and cuteness is a medicine in and of itself!

how-to-start-an-herb-garden

Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

Growing Needs:

Tulsi is hardy to zones 10–11 and works well as a potted plant to bring in during the winters for other zones. If you are growing it outside, you can directly sow it once the weather is warm. Or you can start it in small pots in your home. Tulsi needs to be regularly watered and loves lots of sun. This adaptable plant enjoys growing in large beds as well as small pots on the porch.

Medicinal Benefits:

Also known as holy basil, this Ayurvedic herb is extremely versatile: it supports immune health, uplifts mood, regulates the body’s stress response, promotes easeful digestion, and more. Tulsi is one of my go-to herbs during the colder months when I’m prone to the winter blues — drinking a hot cup of tulsi tea can calm your nerves, warm you up, and bring a little more sunshine to your day.

What to Make with Tulsi:

Growing tulsi is a delight to the senses — smelling the fresh flowers and nibbling on the leaves is my favorite form of tulsi medicine. And you can easily add these fresh tulsi leaves and flowers to your meals for a subtle kick of pungent sweetness. Or you can dry your tulsi harvest for tea, tulsi-infused oils, and tulsi-infused honeys. Learn how to make a simply delicious tulsi tea here.

how-to-start-an-herb-garden

Spearmint (Mentha spicata)

Growing Needs:

Spearmint is hardy to zones 3–7 and loves moist soil in partial sun/shade. Spearmint is one of those plants that rapidly spreads if not contained, so I recommend planting it in a pot. You can grow spearmint from seed, but I prefer to grow it from a root division — meaning, I dig up a fresh piece of spearmint root and plant it in a pot to grow all on its own.

Medicinal Benefits:

Chewing on a few spearmint leaves throughout the day can support healthy digestion, calm the nerves, and freshen your breath. Spearmint contains less menthol than peppermint and tends to be less stimulating than peppermint, so it’s a great herb to reach for when you want that minty taste with a little less kick.

What to Make with Spearmint:

As with rosemary and tulsi, I also love nibbling on fresh spearmint leaves and adding them to my food. You can also dry these leaves for tea, spearmint-infused vinegar, and spearmint-infused honey.

Where to Get Seeds

So, right now you may be asking yourself, “Where can I get seeds to start my herb garden?” You can get seeds online at Mountain Rose Herbs — or you may also be able to find seeds at a local seed swap, which is one of my favorite ways to meet fellow garden enthusiasts.

You can get seeds for your garden at Mountain Rose Herbs! Click this button…

Now I’d love to hear from you…

Do you have an herb garden? What do you want to plant in your herb garden this season? Please let us know in the comments below.

Happy gardening!
—Tara Ruth

PS… Want to learn more about growing herbs?

We have a permaculture based herb gardening course called Cultivating Wellness on HerbMentor.

Cultivating Wellness shows you step-by-step how to create and tend to an herb garden using permaculture principles. This Cultivating Wellness garden map is your blueprint for a successful herb garden.

Click here to learn more about HerbMentor, where you can watch the Cultivating Wellness course.

how to start an herb garden

13 comments
  1. I always hear how easy calendula is to grow but I have never been able to. Makes me sad.

    • Hi Karen,

      I’m sorry to hear you haven’t been able to grow calendula before. I love Martha’s advice below, and I wish you all the best in your herb garden journey. :)

  2. Hi Tara-
    Thanks for the great info! What would you suggest for those of us who live in hardiness zones 4a and 4b (Mountains of CO about 8900 ft above sea level)? I also have a bit of a black thumb, 🤷‍♀️🤦‍♀️but would love to grow our own medicines/herbals and welcome any suggestions! 😊

    • Hi Heidi,

      Thanks for your question! I would recommend growing hardy herbs like thyme, various mints, lemon balm, and oregano. You can also experiment with growing the herbs in this article, and they’ll most likely grow as annuals rather than perennials.

      Enjoy! :)

  3. Thanks so much for this wonderful resource!
    I have been growing tulsi and spearmint in pots for several years now and would love to try drying the tulsi.
    Do you have any tips for those living in small apartments who would like to dry their herbs? I have seen a lot of information about drying on racks in large areas (both indoor and outdoor) but I have limited space and wonder if herbs will get dusty hanging, say, in my closet 😊

    • Hi Jennifer,

      I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed the article! And great question— there are several different ways to approach drying herbs, and the one you choose really depends on your environment. If you live in an arid environment you can hang your herbs in bundles in an open closet or arrange them on smell mesh racks in a dark room. Or if you live in a more humid climate you can use a deyhdrator set to 95º–115º and check on your drying herbs frequently. Most herbs will be dry within 2 weeks, so as long as you’re tending to them frequently in a clean room then dust shouldn’t be an issue. :)

  4. Good info, especially what to do with the herbs once you have them. I’ve grown these herbs except for Tulsi but don’t currently have any spilanthes because I didn’t know what to do with them (now I do!) but I agree the flowers are cute.
    For Karen E. Kane, make sure you have good seeds. I would suggest planting lots of seeds in a fairly large pot (10″) and watching what happens. Can you grow outside? Once you get them started outside, they will seed themselves – at least that’s what I find. I prefer the orange flowers to the yellow but both grow in my yard and they make pretty hybrids with both yellow and orange in them. They can take a bit of frost but don’t start them outside until danger of frost is past.
    For Jennifer, yes, the herbs will get dusty if you leave them too long. I bought a wonderful cloth screen hanging dryer with 8 shelves which I hung in the basement. The last batch of calendula that was drying got forgotten and I had to throw them out because they were too dusty. And of course, the whole hanging dryer got dusty, too. Now my problem is washing it. It is round with a diameter of 22″ and doesn’t fit easily in the laundry tub or the bathtub. I have also used electric dryers with success – they come in different sizes.

  5. I really enjoyed the information above! I recently moved from California to Tennessee…now I’m looking for the herbs that will grow readily here. I know chickweed is fine; I have it abundantly in my yard now. What other herbs will be good in my zone 7a?
    Thanks!
    Susie~

    • Hi Susie,

      Thanks for your question! There are so many fun herbs that will thrive in zone 7a. In your zone you can try growing many of the herbs in this article as annuals. Some of my other favorite herbs that should do well in zone 7a include thyme, various mints, lemon balm, and oregano. Enjoy! :)

  6. Thanks for this article! A friend gave me a small rosemary which I planted in the garden box next to the sage and it’s doing well. Our basil, sage and chives are thriving. The thyme is being a little shy. I tried to grow calendula but no luck. Perhaps, we received too much rainfall this summer. The spilanthes is so pretty and something new for me.

    • Hi Maria,

      I’m glad to hear so many of your plants are thriving! Wishing you the best of luck with growing calendula, and I’m happy to hear you like spilanthes. :)

  7. Thank you for this article. I usually scatter a few herbs under my fruit trees as companions, as well as growing them for their culinary and medicinal benefits. I have a few dedicated herb beds, and a major spice garden where I will be transplanting some gingers and tumeric. Chillies are short lived perennials in my climate, and tend to live from 2-5 years. They also grow to great heights. Bird chillies currently in the spice garden are as tall as me and in their second year of growth. I grew Tulsi last year under a citrus tree and will be resowing this year, along with other basils under other citrus. I have underplanted most of the citrus with a variegated plectranthus (Mother or Herbs/5 Spice Herb). Your article has reminded me to find the calendula seeds hidden somewhere among my stored seeds. I use gotu kola as a ground cover and lawn substitute around pavers at the entrance to my house making it is easy to pick a couple of leaves each day when walking past. I have not had success growing rosemary, it is possibly too hot, wet and humid here although I am technically in the equivalent of USDA zone 11 (Wet tropics Australia) at least based on winter minimums, but I suspect it is summer maximums (38C/100F) that do the damage, particularly if we throw in the scattered heatwave days above 40C/104F. Similarly, I cannot grow any mints, or at the very least they are very short lived annuals. I note with pleasure that Spilanthes should be ideally suited to my climate with its preferred zones being 10-12. I will have to look for this one. I currently have some culantro (perennial coriander) naturalising in a west facing border, and an enormous cardamom-ginger takes the central position in another bed. There is true cardamom growing in another spot along with West-Indian arrowroot, and on the verandah a sprawling potted vanilla vine. Living in the tropics does have its advantages.

    • Hi Carol, thank you for sharing about your garden! It’s so cool to hear that you’re growing gotu kola, and I wish you all the best with growing spilanthes. :)

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