Culinary herbs that grow well in containers include basil, chives, cilantro, dill, common fennel, garlic, lemon balm, mint, oregano and marjoram, parsley, rosemary, sage, French tarragon, and thyme.
Herbs require well-drained soil, so use a good potting mix for container growing. (See the How to Grow instructions below for each herb.)
Because culinary herbs are going to be used in cooking or beverages, you’ll want to avoid treating them with any substance that will leave a residue on leaves and alter the flavor. Most herbs resist insect attacks, but a simple shower under the kitchen faucet or garden hose will keep leaves clean. Add nothing more than a handful of compost to enrich the soil and flavor of culinary herbs growing in pots.
Most culinary herbs are perennial plants and semi-hardy which means they will not survive a very cold winter. Bring herbs growing in containers indoors for winter; just set them in a window with plenty of natural light.
More herb growing tips at How to Start an Herb Garden.
The key to great flavor is to harvest herb leaves before they grow too old.
More Easy-to-Grow Herbs for Containers:
• Mint: Mint is one herb that is almost always best grown in a container. The roots of this hardy perennial quickly spread and can become invasive if not controlled. Mint grows best in morning sun. There are dozens and dozens of mint varieties—many with distinct flavors and scents. The two mints most commonly used in cooking are spearmint and peppermint. Spearmint is preferred for mint sauce or mint jelly—good with lamb, new potatoes, peas, and carrots. Also use spearmint with teas. Use peppermint to flavor candy and desserts. All mints are best used fresh. When mint grows wild, just cut it back to soil level and watch it grow back again. Click here for How to Grow Mint. Click here for more Mint Kitchen Basics.
• Parsley: Parsley is perhaps the most widely used of culinary herbs. There are two main types of parsley—curly and flat-leaf. Flat-leaf parsley (also called Italian parsley) has dark green foliage and is best for cooking; its intense flavor stands up to heat. Curly parsley is used as a garnish. Use chopped flat-leaf parsley to flavor sauces, soups, salads, stews, eggs, fish, meat, poultry, and buttered new potatoes. Parsley is a hardy biennial and it grows well in full sun or partial shade. Parsley has the best flavor when snipped from the plant and used fresh—not cut and stored. Parsley seeds are slow to germinate so soak them overnight before sowing. Click here for more Parsley Kitchen Basics.
• Rosemary: Crush or finely chop the aromatic leaves of rosemary to release this herb’s strong flavor to accompany meat dishes– especially lamb and pork, chicken, tomato-based sauces, breads, stuffed vegetables, and pizza. (The needlelike form and rough texture of rosemary can be unpleasant eaten whole.) If you use whole sprigs to infuse long-cooking dishes with flavor, remove the sprigs before serving. Grow rosemary in full sun. ‘Prostratus’ is a cultivar that grows to just 6 inches tall and is well suited for container growing. Rosemary can become woody in a year or two, so you may want to put a new plant in your container every couple of years. Click here for more Rosemary Kitchen Basics.
• Sage: Sage grows best in full sun and readily tolerates hot, dry conditions. Sage is strong flavored—with overtones of camphor—and should be used discreetly. Chopped fresh sage leaves can be added to pasta sauces and stuffings; fresh sage is milder in flavor than dried sage. Use dried sage with rich and fatty meats like pork, goose, and sausages. Add dried sage to tomato-based sauces, pickles, and cheese dishes. There are many sage cultivars: narrow- and broad-leaf garden sage, golden sage, purple sage, and tricolor sage. All can be used like common gray-green sage in the kitchen. Soak seeds overnight to aid germination before sowing. Click here for How to Grow Sage. Click here for more Sage Kitchen Basics.
• Tarragon (French tarragon): Tarragon is a good choice for growing in shade or morning sun. Tarragon has a subtle, delicate flavor and is a cornerstone of the traditional French Fines Herbes blend of parsley, chervil, chives, and tarragon. Use tarragon and the fines herbes fresh and finely chopped to flavor green salads, poached chicken and fish. Add French tarragon and the other fines herbes at the end of cooking or sprinkle them on as a flavorful garnish. Use fresh chopped tarragon to flavor omelets and other egg dishes, soups, mushrooms, salad dressings, flavored butters, and béarnaise or tartare sauce. Protect tarragon from the wind. Click here for How to Grow Tarragon. Click here for more Tarragon Kitchen Basics.
• Thyme: Thyme is an herb well suited for planters and pots and window boxes—as well as the garden. Thyme is an evergreen perennial that loves sun. Use thyme in slow-cooked dishes, especially stews and soups, sautéed or baked vegetables, tomato-based sauces, stuffings, and roasted poultry and meats. Garden thyme, French thyme, and lemon thyme are the three most commonly used thymes in the kitchen. Lemon thyme is a good match for fish and chicken and some fresh fruit desserts—but use it sparingly. Chopped fresh thyme leaves are much more pungent than dried thyme. To start new plants, layer some stems with soil to aid rooting. Click here for How to Grow Thyme. Click here for more Thyme Kitchen Basics.