Issue: June 2006

Grow Herbs in the Home Garden

Gardeners who crave flavorful meals and aromatic gardens can try planting herbs.

Herb plants, such as rosemary and sage, are used for their culinary, cosmetic, medicinal or aromatic qualities.

Herbs grown in New Mexico are generally limited to those adapted to neutral or alkaline soil growing conditions.

A one hundred-square foot space is usually sufficient to supply an average sized family. Devote one side of the herb garden to perennial herbs and the other to annuals that are replaced each year.

Herb production doesn't have to be limited to formal garden areas. They can also be scattered around ornamental plants in a rock garden to add color and aesthetic value.

When plants mature, prepare them by tying stems, flowers and leaves together in small bundles for curing. Hang them upside down in a dry, shady location like a garage or shed. Leaves and flowers can also be dried in a shallow, shaded tray. Once dry, rub the leaves and flowers between palms and fingers to make a powder.

Store dry leaves and flowers in airtight glass containers in the dark. Collect seeds from plants such as coriander, anise and dill by placing dry heads in a paper sack and separating seeds by hand.

Sweet basil is one of the more popular annual herbs. Plants reach a height of 2 feet. The leaves are very fragrant, with a rich, mildly spicy mint/clove flavor. Basil prefers a moist, well-drained rich soil and full sun. For maximum flavor, use fresh leaves in tomato sauces, salads, vinegars, eggs, and teas and on lamb, fish and poultry.

Coriander, more commonly known in New Mexico by the Spanish word cilantro, is a bright green, hairless annual plant. It grows to between 1 and 3 feet tall with small, pinkish flowers. Ground seeds add flavor to gingerbread, cookies and pastries. Minced leaves have a strong sage to citrus taste and are used to flavor foods and salsas.

Two types of savory are popular in most herb gardens. Summer savory is an annual with fuzzy stems. Winter savory is a semi-evergreen perennial with a woody base that forms a compact bush. Both reach a height of about 1.5 feet. Winter savory is strongly aromatic, while summer savory has a slightly sweeter aroma. Both are used as pot herbs to flavor beans, soups, eggs, cabbage and other vegetables.

Mints are perennials with square stems and spreading roots. They grow to a height of 2 feet. Tiny purple to white flowers occur in terminal spikes. Mints are used in teas to calm an upset stomach, in jellies or sauces, and to flavor candies. The plants are aggressive and should be cultivated in an area by themselves.

Depending on variety, rosemary can vary in height from 2 to 5 feet. A perennial evergreen, rosemary leaves can be used to flavor tea or beef and pork. With pale blue flowers, most varieties are popular additions to home landscapes.

back to top

For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.