Each month Redawna Kalynchuk draws on her extensive gardening experience to help you Grow Your Own Food in Canada. There's nothing like harvesting your own herbs to add flavour to your dishes, whether fresh or dried. Redawna shares her 10 best herbs for Canadian gardens.
One of the best additions you can add to your yard is a herb garden. It's a spectacular way to add fresh flavours to your dishes and to add to the dried herb selection in your pantry. Herbs are easy to grow and can be used in recipes, teas and potpourris. Many also have a history of being used medicinally.
We've talked about our top 5 herbs for growing indoors during the winter but here's our 10 favourite herbs for Canadian gardeners to grow outside!
10 Herbs for the Canadian Garden
Dill is an annual herb that can grow as tall as 2 to 2 1/2 feet tall. It has fern-like leaves which can be used in a wide variety of dishes. You can enjoy them fresh and also harvest and dry the leaves to have dill in the pantry year round. I have also frozen dill leaves with great success.
Dill develops seed heads that can be picked before the seeds are formed. They're used in many pickling recipes and are the main flavour component in dill pickles.
If left, the heads will form seeds that you can use whole or ground. Harvest when the seed heads look brown and dry. Save some of the seeds for replanting the following season. If the plants are left in the garden, the seeds that drop will germinate in the spring so you many want to dedicate a specific spot in the garden where you will always grow dill.
Parsley is an annual in Canada (a biennial in warmer climates) that can grow to 1 foot tall. There are two types of parsley: curly and Italian flat leaf parsley. It's said that Italian flat leaf parsley has a better flavour and the curly is better used as a garnish.
Parsley has feather-like leaves which can be harvested and used fresh or dried for long time storage. You can store freshly harvested parsley leaves with the stems in a jar of water in the fridge for a few days.
To harvest, choose stems from the outside of the plants. This allows the herb to get bushy for a continual harvest through the entire season. To dry the parsley, set the leaves on a screen or in a cardboard box set someplace warm. Alternately you could use a dehydrator for this step. Store the dried crumbled parsley in spice jar in the cupboard.
Sage is harvested by pinching off the leaves or stems and used fresh or left to dry. To dry leaves, spread them out on a screen or in a single layer in a large box. Set someplace warm or alternately you can use a dehydrator. Once the leaves are dry, crumble and store in a glass container with a lid. To dry the sage in bunches, tie the stems together and hang someplace warm. Once dry, remove the leaves and toss the stems into the compost pile.
For zones where sage is a perennial, you can do a hard pruning once mid-season to encourage new growth. Sage is used in cooking, teas and for smudging. It's the most prominent flavour in Thanksgiving stuffing and if you've never tried deep fried sage leaves you absolutely must!
Mint is a perennial from Zone 3 and up and can grow up to 2 feet tall. It comes in many different varieties. Be sure to read the tags at the greenhouse when shopping for mint to discover some amazing flavours. Mint is known as a vigorous grower and can become invasive in some situations.
You can harvest mint aggressively and it will continue to grow. This makes it a great option for container gardening. To harvest, pinch leaves and stems to use fresh or dried. The leaves can also be frozen. We dry the mint as we do the sage, on a screen or placed in a box and set someplace warm. The dried leaves can be crumbled and stored in an airtight bottle.
Great for making mint jelly or muddled in a mojito, mint is a wonderful addition to your fresh herb garden. Hit Refresh With 30 Ways To Use Mint In Recipes!
Fennel is a perennial herb above Zone 5 and is a member of the carrot family. Fennel has that unmistakable anise or licorice flavour. Its feather-like leaves are used as a herb and its bulb is used as a vegetable.
Like dill, if left in the garden it will form seed heads. Allow the heads to dry for harvestable seeds as well as leaving some to fall to reseed in the garden. A dedicated garden spot for fennel is a great idea.
Note: Do not plant near dill or coriander as cross-pollination is possible.
Wait until the plants are established before harvesting the leaves. Bulbs can be harvested one they're the size of a baseball. Fennel can be grown in containers that are deeper then 1 foot; only plant one per pot.
Lemon balm is a perennial herb above Zone 5 and is a member of the mint family. Lemon balm likes it cool, so chose a shady cool spot in the garden. It can also be grown in containers.
It's a bushy plant with white flowers. It's advisable to remove the flowers before they go to seed as lemon balm can become invasive if allowed to drop seeds.
Lemon balm is best enjoyed fresh as the leaves lose some of their flavour when dried, although you can dry them. It's also a great addition to potpourri. Harvest leaves and stems as needed.
Lemon balm is said to aid in sleep as well as being a stress reliever, and to reduce anxiety as well as a long list of other aliments. It can also be used as a bug repellent as it contains high levels of citronellal. And lastly, lemon balm is very attractive to bees, which is beneficial to all gardeners.
Cilantro is an annual that can grow up to 2 to 3 feet. This is a herb to be planted in the ground, every 2 to 3 weeks for a continuous harvest all summer.
You can harvest the leaves to enjoy fresh. They're a frequent addition to salsa. An interesting fact: the seeds of a cilantro plant are coriander. You harvest the coriander when the seed heads turn brown but have not yet opened. Seeds should then be dried: set them someplace warm, but do not super heat. Once they're fully dry, store in a spice jar.
Even though you can use catnip in salads or to make tea, this one is really for the cats in your life. Catnip is a perennial from Zone 3 and up and can grow up to 3 feet tall.
As it's an attractant to cats, it's a good idea to plant it in a spot in the garden where they can roll around and enjoy the plants. Don't be surprised if they chew on the leaves, it's common.
Catniup can also be grown in a container. Trim all plants back once a year to maintain their appearance.
Stevia is a tender perennial in Zone 8 and up, and grows to a height of 16 to 20 inches. It can be grown in containers that have a depth of at least one foot. You can bring potted stevia plants indoors to overwinter.
Plants do best when you replant every two years. Stevia is a natural calorie-free sweetener that's 300 times sweeter than sugar.
You can harvest the leaves as needed and enjoy them fresh or dried. To dry stevia, place the leaves on a screen in a warm place or use a food dehydrator. Once the leaves are dry, crush them and store in a spice jar. Use in place of sugar in drinks.
Chives are a perennial from Zone 2b and up, and grow in clumps. In the spring, clumps can be dug up and separated into a few smaller clumps so you can move them to more spots around the garden or into containers.
You can start harvesting chives once they are 4 to 5 inches tall. Using scissors, trim them down to 2 inches from the ground. They'll continue to grow.
The flowers of the chive plant are also quite amazing and can be used in salads or steeped in vinegar for a spectacular dressing for salads. Here's 19 Ways To Use Chives in Your Cooking
General Planting Tips for Herbs
Once you decide which herbs you're going to grow, be free with your planting. Herbs can be planted in gardens, boxes, beds and containers. Also think about flower beds. Some of the herbs we discussed grow tall and would be perfect to add height to flower beds around the entire yard.
Want To Learn More About Using Herbs & Spices In Your Kitchen?
- Grow Your Own Food: How To Grow Tomatoes
- Grow Your Own Food: How To Make Hypertufa Pots and Faux Stone Planters
- Grow Your Own Food: Reflecting on the Growing Season
Grow Your Own Food is written by Redawna Kalynchuk. Redawna is the writer, photographer and content creator at Nutmeg Disrupted. She has over 20 years of gardening experience and has gardened from indoors under high-powered lights to frosty zone 2b gardens in northern Alberta. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional gardening and loves empowering others to grow their own food. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.