Herbs are a staple of all great chefs and bring a level of flavor to any dish they’re used in. As indoor gardeners, one of the perks we enjoy is easy and consistent access to herbs of our choice. With so many to choose from though, it can be challenging to know what to grow. To that end, we’ve put together our list of the best herbs for cooking, and grabbed our top 3 herbs.
Now, any list like this is always going to be subjective. These are our top 3 herbs, they might not be yours and that’s okay. If these herbs don’t get you excited then find ones that do. Think about the dishes that you like, and figure out which herbs go well in them. Gardening is always that much more fun when you like what you’re growing.
With that out of the way, let’s jump into the best herbs for cooking. For more information on any of these herbs check out the rest of our site. We go more in depth on growing each of these herbs, and give you all the tips you need to successfully grow them in your home.
Our first herb is basil. This delightful herb is both packed with flavor and easy to grow making it a great choice for any gardener. It grows quickly too, so it’s easy to have a fresh supply on hand whenever you need it.
Basil is quite easy to grow and only requires a sunny spot. Place it somewhere that gets bright light for 6+ hours per day and then water when the soil is dry to the touch.
You can grow basil in nearly any size container, even a small windowsill pot will work fine. Be aware though that the larger your container the bigger the plant and, consequently, the more of the herb you’ll be able to harvest.
When you’re ready to harvest, simply snip off the desired leaves and give them a quick rinse with water. Never harvest more than about ⅓ of the available leaves to make sure the plant has enough to continue growing. Done correctly, the plant will continue to grow after harvesting giving your a consistent supply of herbs to cook with.
Basil is a very flavorful herb and has a lot of uses in the kitchen. It goes great cooked in a variety of dishes, but can also be eaten as is or as a topping. One of the reasons we picked basil for this list is because it’s so versatile and makes a great addition to a huge variety of recipes.
Sauces are a classic dish that basil goes well in. Here’s a quick recipe for a delicious tomato basil sauce. Basil works well in a variety of sauces, I tend to add them towards the end of cooking to help preserve their flavor.
Outside of sauces, basil works well as a garnish and adds some intense flavor whole or lightly chopped. Pizza with basil sprinkled on top is a classic choice, but you don’t have to stop there.
Lightly diced, basil also goes well on nearly every dish, I’ve enjoyed it particularly on chicken or as a topping for a light soup. Add more for an intense flavor, or be more conservative to get the undertones of flavor without overpowering the dish.
Our next herb is cilantro, a delicious herb that is used by chefs around the world. Cilantro (and coriander the dried seeds) has a very unique flavor that not everyone enjoys. For those that do though, this is a rapidly growing herb that even when grown in a small container can provide a fairly consistent supply to cook with.
Cilantro is quite easy to grow and only requires a sunny spot and consistent watering. Look to get about 6+ hours of sunlight per day, and water when the soil is dry. Given this basic care the herb will grow quite quickly.
Due to its quick growth, it’s important to isolate cilantro to its own container. If grown with other plants, cilantro has the tendency to take over and choke out nearby plants. This will ultimately kill the other plant. You can prevent this by being very diligent in pruning back your cilantro, but it’s just easier to plant it in a separate container.
For those that enjoy the flavor, cilantro adds a lot of it to any dish it’s used in. Cilantro is often used as a topping and not cooked in. This is because cilantro tends to lose most of its flavor when cooked. That’s not to say you can’t cook it, but most recipes that do will leave it to the last step to preserve most of its flavor.
When working with cilantro you want to be fairly liberal with your portions. Cilantro has an intense flavor, but tends to get overpowered easily. Don’t be afraid to use a good deal of it to really get those flavor notes in your dish. You can also use the whole plant as both the stems and leaves have a great flavor. Use a sharp knife and gently chop the plant to help release the flavors.
In terms of dishes, cilantro goes great with citrus fruits like lime. Here’s an example of a tilapia with a lime and cilantro sauce. This is a good example of cilantro being used outside of the rice/taco dishes that many people associate it with.
Last up we have mint. Mint is an interesting herb, and while it’s often used in drinks and deserts it can be so much more than that. Properly used, mint can add a whole new dimension to your cooking.
Mint is an exceptionally fast growing herb and should be grown in its own container. Like cilantro, it will overgrow and overtake other plants nearby. Keep it separate to prevent issues with other plants.
Mint does like light, but also enjoys periods of shade. Look to get about 4+ hours of morning light followed by afternoon shade. Mint is quite hardy, and will do well in just about any location.
It’s also fairly tolerant of being underwater. Check it every few days and water when the soil is starting to dry out. Overall, mint is very easy to grow, and it usually takes quite a bit of effort to kill it. Even gardeners that have a hard time growing other plants tend to find mint a breeze.
When most people think of mint they tend to think of drinks and desert. Mint works excellent as a garnish in many drink recipes, and also goes great on the side of deserts. Mint has a cooling and sweet taste, and this lines up perfectly with these light dishes.
That’s not all mint is good for though, it’s actually a lot more versatile than people give it credit for. Mint is closely related to basil, and will actually go well in a variety of dishes that you might use basil for. Both herbs have a sweet flavor and can add a lot to their dish.
Here’s a recipe for a kale and cabbage salad that uses mint to help add some depth to the flavors. Like other herbs, mint is often added as a garnish or towards the end of cooking to help preserve its flavor.
A good tip to help bring out the mint flavor is to lightly muddle it before use. This helps release the flavors in the leaves, and you’ll often see it as an instruction in drinks that use mint.