What are the best herbs for Central Florida? Question from Sherry of Silver Springs, Florida.
Answer: You can grow common, heat-loving herbs well in Florida. These include basil, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. The only potential caveat is that these popular herbs are Mediterranean and don’t like excessive moisture. For this reason, I would plant them in raised beds or containers, which tend to drain more quickly. Choose a fast-draining garden soil, like Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix, for best results. Another important factor is that common perennial herbs like these require cool or cold winters to survive for years. This means that you will have to plant fresh starts a little more often.
Tropical lemongrass, which loves heat, humidity, and moisture, is an ideal herb for your climate if you like its lemony flavor (click here for a full list of lemony herbs). It should grow year-round for you. (Watch the video below about how to grow lemongrass.)
Here’s a little more about these heat-tolerant herbs.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is grown as an annual but will survive for several years where winters are mild. It is one of the best herbs for growing down South. (Watch the video below about growing basil in containers.)
Oregano (Origanumvulgare, USDA Hardiness Zones 4-10) needs full sun and has low, rooting stems that spread, so be sure to give it space to grow. I recommend a low, wide pot.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9) is a common herb across Europe with a low, spreading, shrubby habit and pungent evergreen leaves. It requires well-drained soil and a sunny spot.
The leathery, gray, evergreen leaves of sage (Salvia officinalis, USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8) are tasty, and this hardy shrubby perennial bears pretty lavender-blue flowers in summer, which are also edible, and attract bees. Give it plenty of sun and soil with good drainage.
Of all the lavenders, I like ‘Provence’ (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’, USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9) because it is very fragrant and flowers heavily. It is a vigorous hybrid between English lavender (L. angustifolia) and Portuguese lavender (L. latifolia). (To learn more about growing lavender, click here.)
In the Mediterranean, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis , USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10) is a favorite in landscapes and edible gardens. This sun and drought-loving herb has needle-like leaves that are resinous and fragrant. I recommend protecting is from excessive rain in Florida (click here to read more).
Poppy seeds, dill seed, fennel seed, coriander, and caraway—it’s like having the makings of an everything bagel in the garden. All of these culinary seeds are costly to buy but easy as pie to grow and collect.
Seeds used for seasoning food are technically considered spices, and like most homegrown things, they taste stronger and better when harvested fresh from the garden. The most common, popular edible seed plants are planted in the spring and early summer and set seed by early to midsummer. And many, such as dill, fennel, and cilantro/coriander, are also favorite leafy herbs—making them doubly useful to grow.
Caraway, Fennel, Dill, and Coriander
The flower heads of caraway, fennel, dill, and coriander all grow similarly with Queen-Anne’s-lace-like blooms and tend to start blooming by late spring or early summer. By early to midsummer the heads have developed seeds. These plants usually self-sow in summer, offering a second seed harvest by mid fall.
Once dry, seed heads can be harvested. Just be sure to begin cutting them before the heads completely shatter, and the seeds fall to the ground. I generally target mostly dried heads, then cut them above a secure bowl or bag for collection. Once the seeds are separated from the dried heads, I pick through my harvest to remove any unwanted stem or leaf bits.
Breadseed poppy (Papaver somniferum) seeds are another matter. The spring flowers are beautiful and attractive to many pollinators. Once mature, they create upright, shaker-like seed heads filled with the familiar round, black seeds. Once the heads are brown and dry, they are fully ripe. At this stage they can be simply cut and shaken into a bowl or bag. It also pays to run them through a fine sieve before storing.
There are some legal constraints to be aware of before growing breadseed poppy. Though a common garden flower and edible seed plant, it is the same poppy from which opium is derived. The trade and consumption of Papaver somniferum seed within the United States is unregulated, and it is legal to grow for garden- and seed-production purposes, but it is illegal to manufacture opiates from the poppies. The Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942 made any Papaver somniferum cultivation illegal in the United States, but it was repealed in 1970. Still, unauthorized farming and processing of this plant is a felony crime, so be sure to grow your plants in small quantities and harvest them for seed alone!
Sesame (Sesamum indicum) seeds are warm-season crops that thrive in summer sun and fertile to average garden soil. The upright plants are attractive and very easy to grow. Their bee-pollinated white or pink flowers are pretty and bloom all season, creating pods along the base of the stems, which are filled with sesame seeds. By fall, the plants begin to dry. Once they are fully dry, and the seed pods begin to open, cut the stems and shake the seeds out into a bag. Sesame seeds are best stored in a glass jar in the freezer to keep them fresh for baking.
Growing and Harvesting Edible Seeds
It should come as no surprise that these seedy plants can be weedy plants. Grow them once, and you will never have to plant them again, so long as they are planted in rich garden soil fortified with quality compost, such as Black Gold Garden Compost Blend. It just takes a few escapee seeds for new plants to germinate the following season. Just weed out what you don’t want, keep what you do want, and collect a new seeds each year for cooking.
Once you have collected your seeds, store them in a cool, dry place where they will remain useful and tasty for a long time. For storage, keep them in lidded glass containers kept in a cool, dry place. They generally maintain their flavor and freshness for 6 months to a year. These seeds make great gifts, and can be used to top breads or flavor meats. You can even mix poppy, fennel, and sesame seed together with rock salt and home-dehydrated onion for a garden-grown everything bagel topper.
Some classic French herbs are common to American tables and gardens, while others are less often used and grown. The key elements of the French herb garden let growers mix their own traditional herbal mixes, such as Bouquet Garni, Fines Herbes, and Herbes de Provence. These costly herbal blends are easy to make, and the herbs themselves are effortless and inexpensive to grow.
French cooking is regional, as are the herbs that flavor foods across the country. Southern French cooking is Mediterranean, with bay, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and saffron playing a greater role in food flavors. North, central, and alpine regions rely on more northerly herbs common across central Europe, such as the lightly anise-flavored chervil, lemony sorrel, peppery winter savory, and sage.
Most French herbs are perennials that return yearly and are easy to grow–with several being tender, surviving up to USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10 or 8-10. Others are annuals that can be sown each year.
Hardy Perennial French Herbs
The light oniony flavor of chives (Allium schoenoprasum, USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8) is a favorite in French spring dishes. Edible clusters of mauve flowers appear in mid-spring, rising above the upright foliage. Chives love the sun and rich garden soil amended with compost, such as OMRI Listed® Black Gold Garden Compost Blend. Harvest them fresh, when they are most flavorful, and add them to omelets or vegetables.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris, Zones 5-9) is a common herb across Europe, but French thyme is distinct in that its leaves are narrower, grey-green, and more pungent. The low, spreading, shrubby herb is evergreen and requires well-drained soil and a sunny spot. Harvest the leafy stems any time of year or dry the leaves for herbal mixes.
Though commonly associated with Italian and Greek cooking, oregano (Origanumvulgare, Zones 4-10) is also essential to French cuisine. It thrives in the sun and has rooting stems that spread, so be sure to give it space to grow. You can also contain it in a pot. Dry the leaves in fall for winter cooking.
The sweet anise-scented leaves of tarragon (Artemisiadracunculus, Zones 4-8) taste of French cooking. The sun-loving perennial returns year after year with leaves that can be harvested through the growing season. Use them to season meats and vegetables.
The leathery, gray, evergreen leaves of sage (Salvia officinalis, Zones 4-8) are pungent and favored for winter cooking. This hardy shrubby perennial bears pretty lavender-blue flowers in summer, which are also edible and attract bees. Give it plenty of sun and average soil with good drainage.
Lemony sorrel (Rumex acetosa, Zones 3-7) leaves are collected in spring as they first emerge and added to fresh salads or soups. The perennial becomes ungainly later in the season when it sends up weedy looking flowers, which are a bit of an eyesore. Cut them back to keep this sun-lover looking attractive through summer.
The delicate flowers of saffron (Crocus sativus, Zones 6-10) appear in fall and are surprisingly easy to grow. To collect the fine, orange-red saffron threads from the crocus flowers, gently snip them from the blooms and allow them to dry. Be sure to plant at least 50 to collect enough saffron for home use. Mingle the crocus among your other herbs for a pretty autumn show. [To learn more about growing saffron, click here.]
The low, semi-evergreen winter savory (Satureja montana, Zones 6-8) forms an aromatic mat of foliage that looks great through much of the season. The peppery leaves add flavor to green beans, soups, and stews. In summer, clusters of white or pinkish flowers attract bees. It enjoys full sun, fertile soil, and is best planted along the edge of an herbal border.
Tender Perennial French Herbs
Technically an evergreen tree growing to 20-30 feet, bay laurel (Laurusnobilis, Zones 8-10) has herbal leaves used to flavor soups, sauces, and meats. In the herb garden, it can be grown in a large pot and brought indoors in winter, if you live in a cold-zone region. Give this Mediterranean tree full sun and average soil that drains well. Pot-grown specimens thrive in OMRI Listed® Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix.
A relative of oregano, sweet marjoram (Origanummajorana, Zones 8-10) has lemony leaves with a hint of pine. It is an essential ingredient in Bouquet Garni, an herbal mix used to flavor soups. Its pale green leaves appear in summer on the bushy plants. White clusters of summer flowers attract bees and butterflies. Provide it with full sun and soil with good drainage.
Of all the French lavenders to try, ‘Provence’ (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’, Zones 6-9) is one of the most fragrant and beautiful varieties. It is a vigorous hybrid between English lavender (L. angustifolia, Zones 5-8) and Portuguese lavender (L. latifolia, Zones 7-9). The dried leaves and wands of purple flowers are a common ingredient in Herbes de Provence. [To learn more about growing lavender, click here.]
In the South of France, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, Zones 8-10) is planted in aromatic hedges. This sun and drought-loving evergreen has needle-like leaves that are resinous and piney. Dry them for winter use or harvest fresh stems year-round.
Annual French Herbs
Though the leaves of chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) look a lot like parsley, they have a distinctive light licorice flavor. The herb is an ingredient in Fines Herbes and also enjoyed in salads or used to flavor vegetables. Plant this cool-season annual yearly in the spring or fall when it grows best. It likes full sun and fertile soil.
The fresh leaves of parsley (Petroselinum crispum) are harvested from biennial plants that are typically grown as annuals. Plant them in full sun in spring, and harvest the fresh leaves all season. On occasion, they will overwinter and put forth stems of airy flowers the following spring.
French Herb Mixes
Herbes de Provence: This variable herbal mix from the Provence region of southern France typically contains marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and lavender, though some recipes may also contain dried sage, basil, fennel, mint, hyssop, or bay leaf. Use it to flavor meats and vegetables. Here’s one of many variations to the recipe:
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
2 tablespoon dried winter savory
2 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon crushed, dried sage
2 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried tarragon
2 tablespoon crushed, dried rosemary
1 tablespoon crushed, dried lavender buds
Fines Herbes: This fragrant, herbal mix is best eaten fresh and contains equal parts of tarragon, chives, chervil, and parsley. It can be used to flavor butter for vegetables or added to omelets.
Bouquet Garni: Used to flavor sauces, soups, and stews, this fresh herbal mix most often includes equal parts sage, parsley, and thyme as well as a bay leaf and peppercorns. The mix is typically wrapped in cheesecloth and steeped in broth to add flavor.
What’s in a cup of herbal tea? Aromatic dried leaves and fruits impart the comforting, rich flavors for herbal tea, which are most welcome in chilly weather. Gardeners that grow herbs, fruits, and spices already have the raw ingredients for tea. From there, it’s a matter of well-timed preservation and creative tea mixing.
Unlike teas made from the leaves of the tea shrub (Camellia sinensis), herbal teas are not caffeinated. They are tied to all cultures with some tracing back to the ancient world. The Ancient Egyptians favored a tangy tea made from hibiscus buds (Hibiscus sabdariffa); mint tea (Mentha spp.) was a staple in Northeast Africa; the ancient Greeks drank a sweet tea made from ironwort mountain mint (Sideritis spp.), and the Chinese drank a floral tea made from Chrysanthemum buds. In India, a wonderfully complex herbal tea called Kadha, flavored with ginger, cloves, pepper, cardamom, fennel seeds, cinnamon, and bay leaf, was used to fight colds and flu. These teas were used for traditional medicine as well as enjoyment, and all are still used today.
Herbal Tea Health Benefits
The medicinal value of some herbal tea components have been confirmed. Chamomile and ginger help settle the stomach, mint tea has been shown to help with respiratory ailments, and Echinacea has been proven to ease cold and flu symptoms. Adding rose hips, citrus peel, or cranberries to your tea will add tang and flavor to your tea while also providing a boost of vitamin C. When crafting tea mixes, consider ingredient health benefits as well as flavors.
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora, Zone 8-10, 3-4’): The lemony leaves and flowers of this tender herb maintain their tangy citrus flavor when dried.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.): Lavender leaves and flowers are traditionally added to Earl Grey tea, but they also taste great in herbal teas.
Mint (Menthapiperita): Peppermint leaves and flowers are widely used for herbal tea and can be steeped fresh or dried. All other culinary mints make great tea.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): The citrusy leaves of lemon balm also have a refreshing hint of mint.
Sage (Salvia officinalis): The comforting, warm flavor of sage is favored in wintery dishes but also makes delicious tea.
Stevia (Steviarebaudiana): Add dried stevia leaf to teas to impart natural sweetness without the need for added sugar.
Wild Bergamot (Monardafistulosa): The leaves and purplish flowers of wild bergamot are dried to make a heady tea with hints of mint and bergamot orange.
Thyme (Thymus spp.): Orange and lemon thyme varieties are best for tea making
Flowers and Spices for Tea
Elderflower (Sambucus ): Sweet, fragrant elderflowers add a delicate, pleasing flavor to teas.
Chamomile (Matricaria retutica): Clouds of tiny white daisies cover chamomile in late spring. These fragrant flowers can be used for fresh or dry tea.
Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa): Late in the season, the tea hibiscus produces maroon buds that are dried to make tangy, fragrant tea that is purplish-red when steeped.
Rosa petals (Rosa spp.): Organically grown rose petals from fragrant roses add floral flavor to teas. Pair them with fruits and citrus peel.
Ginger root (Zingiber officinale): Warm and spicy ginger root tea clears the head and soothes the stomach.
Echinacea root (Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida): Dried Echinacea root has a pungent, aromatic flavor used to make a medicinal tea.
Fruits for Tea
Apples (Malus domestica), blackberries and raspberries (Rubus spp.), rose hips (Rosa spp.), cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon), elderberries, and citrus peel all impart tart, fruity flavors to tea. They are also vitamin rich, giving teas added nutritive value. Pair them with minty, lemony, and floral tea ingredients. (Here are tips for growing your own apples, blueberries, and, blackberries and raspberries.)
Harvesting and Preserving Tea Ingredients
Harvest leaves and flowers for tea when they are fresh. Fruits should be fully ripe. For best flavor, gather them on the day you plan to dry them. Gently rinse off the ingredients and pat them dry before preservation. Here are the three most common drying methods:
1. Hanging Herbs
Gather bundles of six stems for quick drying (larger bundles dry more slowly and may mold). Hang them upside down in a cool, dry spot away from the sun. After a couple of days, their leaves should be crispy dry and ready for tea making.
2. Oven Drying Herbs and Fruits
Oven drying speeds the process without the need for a dehydrator. Preheat the oven to 140°F. Space the leafy stems apart on a pan lined with parchment paper and place the tray in the oven until leaves are crisp. This often takes an hour or two, but more time may be needed.
Small fruits should be cut in half and apples should be sliced thinly for fast drying. Drying can take up to two hours or more. The citrus should be zested before drying.
3. Dehydrating Herbs and Fruits
Food dehydrators provide the best drying method for fruits and herbs. Space the stems and cut fruits apart on dehydrator racks and allow them to dry until crisp and leathery. The time it takes depends on the machine and what is being dried. Check them every couple of hours to determine dryness.
After the herbs have been dried, slide your fingers down each stem to separate the leaves. Then mix your teas and store them in tins for up to a year. Freezing teas will help them last longer.
Some teas, like chamomile and mint tea, taste great on their own, but others taste better when mixed with other complementary flavors. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Here are several tasty tea mixes that any gardener can make.
Learn to grow your own lemongrass! Growing and harvesting it for lemony seasoning is easy. This Asian herb is a favorite for use in tea, Thai soups, and curries. It grows very quickly and will withstand moist and dry soils. Here are tips for growing and harvesting lemongrass. It is even easy to grow from seed!
Well-placed culinary blooms are surprisingly delicious and bring unique and elegant beauty to the table. Many edible flowers are common garden plants, which provides even more encouragement for everyday gardeners to add them to everyday recipes. They are not just for chefs and connoisseurs.
Edible flowers fall under two categories: herbal flowers and edible garden flowers. Most garden herbs have edible flowers—though you always want to double check before chowing down on any bloom. Some garden ornamentals also have edible flowers, but only a handful of these are really tasty.
Beware Florist’s Blooms
There are a few caveats to eating edible flowers. First, never eat flowers from a florist because they have often been sprayed with chemicals. In turn, never spray garden flowers you intend to eat. Even pesticides and herbicides approved for organic gardening are a no-no. Flowers are too delicate to wash, so if you want to eat them, let nature tend to them.
Cultivating Edible Flowers
For the cultivation of all the herbs and flowers highlighted in the tables below, provide full sun, average moisture, and quality garden soil with good drainage. The addition of OMRI Listed Black Gold® Garden Compost Blend will improve performance. A granular fertilizer formulated for flowering is also recommended.
A favorite springtime edible flower recipe is chive flower cucumber salad. It’s very easy to make and will compliment lots of spring meal plans. To make the salad, thinly slice 2 cucumbers (peel them if they are thick-skinned), then make a dressing that combines 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/3 cup heavy cream, 1 shallot finely minced, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill. and salt and pepper to taste. Mix the dressing and cucumbers then toss with 2 to 3 chive flowers that have been trimmed and gently broken apart. The chive flowers lend a delicate oniony flavor to the salad that makes it extra delicious!
Popular Edible Herb Flowers
Look & Flavor
Basil (Ocimum spp.)
If your basil plants flower in summer, eat the zesty purplish or white basil blooms and green buds. They taste lovely on salads and veggies.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Pure violet blue and flavored like cucumber, these early summer flowers look and taste lovely on any fresh savory dish.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Beautiful tufts of mauve blooms with pure chive flavor bedeck these plants in spring. Break them apart and use in place of chives.
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
Umbels of lacy white flowers are the precursor to coriander seeds. Use the fresh tasting spring or fall blooms in place of fresh cilantro.
Yellow or chartreuse green dill flowers appear in spring or fall and taste as dilly as the leaves but add good looks to dishes.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Lavender is a common culinary herb in the South of France. The flavorful summer flowers add charm and flavor to grilled lamb or herbed goat cheese spread.
Mints (Mentha spp.)
All mints have wonderfully minty summer flowers that may be white or purplish. Add them to any dish calling for fresh mint, from tabouli to desserts.
Oregano (Origanum officinalis)
The purple or white summer flowers of oregano lend potent oregano flavor to savory dishes.
Thyme (Thymus spp.)
The early summer flowers of thyme may be pink, white or purple and taste delicately of thyme. Sprinkle them on spring cream soups or salads.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Blooming intermittently in fall, winter or spring, rosemary flowers are white or purplish and pair well with grilled meats and savory salads.
Popular Edible Garden Flowers
Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
These cheerful cool weather annuals have flowers in warm colors. Their petals have a spicy flavor and lend interest to salads.
Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)
Daylily buds and petals taste almost like lettuce. The summer blooming plants have colorful flowers in almost every shade but true blue.
Marigold (Tagetes spp.)
True marigold flowers have a sharp, somewhat citrusy flavor that lend good flavor to heirloom tomato salads.
Monarda (Monarda spp.)
The zesty, somewhat minty flavor of summer blooming Monarda flowers can be used to decorate salads or desserts.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Summer blooming nasturtiums have flowers that are peppery tasting, like watercress. They are beautiful and add appeal to fresh savory dishes.
Pansy (Viola hybrids)
Violas are cool season flowers with a mild, sweet flavor and bright color. They can be candied and used to decorate desserts.
Rose (Rosa spp.)
Rose petals can be used alone in fresh confections or used to make rose water. Be sure to only use garden flowers that have not been sprayed or treated in any way. Candied rose petals taste lovely with almond desserts.
Violet (Viola spp.)
Spring blooming wild violets have a stronger sweet violet flavor than hybrid pansies, but they can be used in the same way.
Herb gardening is undeniably a great way for a beginning gardener to enjoy success while reaping delicious culinary benefits.
All of the five senses are fully engaged when growing edible herbs. There is a serene beauty of a garden composed mostly of evergreen and silver-grey herbs. Herb gardeners are treated to a daily miniature cantata as visiting bees contentedly work their pollination magic among the flowers. The tantalizing fragrance exudes from sun-warmed culinary herbs and is absolutely intoxicating. This is also the perfect lure to prompt a passerby to brush their fingertips across the soft foliage, tear a nearby leaf to greedily sniff, then gratifyingly sample.
Surprisingly, edible herbs are really easy to grow. Provide them with a few simple essentials, and they will reward you with both vigorous growth and flavor.
First, be sure to site your potential herb garden where it will receive six hours or more of full, direct sunlight. When you remember that the majority of our culinary herbs were native to sunny Mediterranean regions, you appreciate how well they thrive in heat and light.
The second most important element to successful herb gardening is excellent soil drainage. Herbs hate wet feet, so there are a couple of ways to approach this challenge.
One is to prepare an herb bed by incorporating a porous soil amendment to increase good tilth. Black Gold Garden Soil has the perfect balance of peat moss, bark, and perlite to lighten and lift heavy garden soils. If your future herb bed is in pretty good shape, try adding Black Gold Garden Compost Blend to improve your soil’s structure and tilth. It can also be added to the soil surface a beneficial mulch.
Since good drainage can make or break an herb garden, many gardeners choose to create raised herb beds with stones, natural wood, or other non-toxic borders. Containers are also great for herb growing. Fill containers and raised beds for herbs with Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil. This specially-blended organic mix is safe for all edibles, uses worm castings as fertilizer, and won’t pack down with time, so excellent drainage is assured.
After preparing your herb bed or container, the choice of what herbs to grow is completely up to you and your cooking preferences. Here are a few of the easiest.
The most familiar herbs, and the ones that were also popularized by Simon and Garfunkel, are parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. These work well together in a garden due to their complimentary leaf shapes, colors, and textures. Of the four, only parsley would have to be replanted each year as the others are perennial herbs which you should enjoy for years.
Cilantro is another annual herb that grows best in cool weather. It’s aromatic leaves are favored for salsa making and its crushed seeds are the spice, coriander.
Peppermint, spearmint, and pineapple mint spread rapidly and can be extremely cantankerous to remove, so consider growing them in large, isolated containers. But, be cautious! Even container-grown mints may sneak out of the bottom of pots or leap over the sides in an attempt to take over your garden.
Oregano is another aromatic member of the mint family that will spread and take over if given a chance. Once again, consider growing this favorite Italian and Greek herb in a contained situation.
Lavender is one of the prettiest herbs for the garden–offering fragrant culinary leaves and colorful summer flowers that are also useful in cookery, potpourris, and sachets. The shrubby perennials can tolerate drought and attract many pollinators when in bloom.
The flavor and fragrance of herbs connect us deeply to memories of traditional family gatherings from holidays past and inspire future recipes. Since the variety of herbs you can grow is endless, your greatest challenge will be to decide where to place even more herb beds and containers.