Skip to Main navigation Skip to Left navigation Skip to Main content Skip to Footer

University of Minnesota Extension

Extension is almost done building a new website! Please take a sneak peek or read about our redesign process.

Extension > Garden > SULIS > Maintenance > Sustainable Herbaceous Plant Maintenance > Herbs

Print Icon Email Icon Share Icon


Herbs Herbs have been a part of Man's life for centuries. The ancient Greeks and Romans used laurel (Laurus nobilis) to crown their victors, dill (Anethum graveolens) to purify the air in their banquet halls, and ingested a tonic of sweet marjoram (Originum marjorana) to promote health. In the Middle Ages, babies were rubbed with Artemisia (Artemisia) oil to protect their health, and rosemary (Rosmarinus offcinalis) was considered to be a tranquilizer and a cure-all. Mint (Mentha) has long been used as a cleansing agent, both externally and internally, and its ability to calm upset stomachs. It was also added to the drinking water carried on sea voyages to purify it.

Herbs have also been used to preserve food and enhance flavor. The settlers of America brought herbs and their seeds to the New World to use in cooking, for fiber, as medicine, and for fragrance. Kitchen herb gardens were planted close to the house, making the plants readily available. Today, there has been an upsurge of interest in growing herbs, both indoors and out. Fresh and dried herbs have become commonplace in grocery stores and at local farmers' markets, increasing the popularity and familiarity of herbs. Though we have only scratched the surface of their potential, and still have a lot to learn, herbal remedies and supplements have become popular alternatives to traditional, synthetic medicines. Many cosmetics now feature herbal ingredients, and ancient sciences such as aromatherapy and holistic care are experiencing a growing following again.

Herbs contain essential oils that provide the flavors and fragrances we have come to love about these plants. Each herb has a period in their lifecycle (bloom, seed, etc.) when these oils are the most pungent. The best time of day for harvesting herbs is in the morning after the dew has dried and the oil is concentrated in the foliage and flowers of the herb.

Herbs vary in lifecycles - some are annual, others perennial or biennial - and may benefit from winter protection due to shallow root systems. Most herbs are adaptable to average conditions. They do best with 6-8 hours of full sun per day, but will tolerate some shade, and the soil need not be amended with anything but a little well-decomposed compost. Chemicals should be avoided when growing herbs because most herbs will either be eaten, spread on skin or in hair, or burned or boiled to release their fragrance. Herbs require good drainage - though some will tolerate moist soils - and soil pH that is neutral to slightly acidic.

Herbs can be purchased as plants, grown from seeds, or propagated by division, from cuttings and by layering. Many herbs can be started indoors and transplanted, but a few such as fennel, dill and anise do not transplant well and should be sowed directly in the garden. Many herbs do well in containers. They should always be accessible from the kitchen as it is always a pleasure to step out the door and snip some fresh herbs for cooking.

There are many excellent resources about herbs, both on the World Wide Web and in publication form. Growing Herbs in the Home Garden is a good site for the herbal beginner. It provides readers with information from historical background to growing and preparing herbs to a list of 26 common herbs. Hyperlinks within the page allow readers to access information on a specific herb immediately. For research information related to safe use of herbs in alternative medicine, the Herb Research Foundation site features over 300,000 articles in their online library. The International Herb Association website provides information about educational opportunities, including the annual conference and its bi-monthly newsletter for members, and the opportunity to contact experts in the field of herbs.

For more on proper plant selection based on site and plant characteristics, see Plant Elements of Design plant selection database.

Click on any of the following headings and link to chapters that explain care and maintenance of herbaceous plants.

Dividing Plants
Dividing Rhizomes
Starting Plants from Seed
Collecting and Saving Seed
Self-Sowing Plants
Propagation by Vegetative Cuttings
Propagation by Spores
Transplanting Seedlings, Cuttings and Divided Plants

Staking, Supporting and Training Plants
Methods of Supporting Plants
Materials & Structures
Training to Improve Plant Health (FUTURE)
Training Plants for Ornamental Purposes (FUTURE)

Cutting Back Plants
Pruning for Plant Form
Pruning to Prevent Disease (FUTURE)
Deadheading and Pinching Back (FUTURE)

Mulching & Watering
Why Use Mulch?
Application of Mulch
Mulching for Weed Control
Mulching for Winter Protection
Mulching for Moisture Control
Organic Mulches
Synthetic Mulches
Watering Your Landscape
How to Determine the Frequency and Rate of Watering
Water Quality and its Effect on Plants

Nutrition, Fertilizers, and Compost
The Basics of Plant Nutrition and Fertilizers
Soils (FUTURE)
Compost (FUTURE)
Fertilizer: the Do's and Don'ts
Organic Fertilizers (FUTURE)
Inorganic Fertilizers (FUTURE)
Salt Tolerant Plants

Weed Management
Weed Identification and Lifecycles
Cultural Management Methods for Weed Control
Pruning for Weed Control (FUTURE)
Understanding Labels (FUTURE)
Alternatives to Chemical Herbicides (FUTURE)

Diseases and Insects
Integrated Pest Management (FUTURE)


Colorado State University, "Growing and Preserving Herbs", #9.335, P. Kendall.

Directory of Herbs, Keppy Arnoldsen, Aimée Voisin, and Jen Johnson, Penn State Department of Horticulture, August 2001.

Herb Research Foundation,

International Herb Association,

North Carolina Cooperative Extension, "Harvesting and Preserving Herbs for the Home Gardener", 2/98 HIL-8111, Erv Evans, Jeanine Davis, February 1998.

Purdue University Cooperative Extension, "Growing Herbs", Kate Copsey and B. Rosie Lerner, HO-28-W. Revised January 2002.

Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, "Growing Herbs", HO-28-W, Kate Copsey and B. Rosie Lerner, revised January 2002.

Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Kowalchik, Claire and Hylton, William H., Editors; Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania. 1987.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Cooperative Extension, "Growing Herbs in the Home Garden" VC-44-93, James C. Schmidt, Department of Horticulture.

University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, "Culinary Herbs", HO-74, Sharon Bale and Mary Witt, July 1990.

University of Minnesota Extension, online slide presentation, "Growing Herbs in Minnesota", SS-7656-GO, Karen Carlson and Mary H. Meyer. 2001

University of Missouri-Columbia, "Growing Herbs at Home", agriculture publication G06470, David H. Trinklein and Ray R. Rothenberger, Department of Horticulture. Reprinted August 15, 2000

University of Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech and Virginia State Universities, "Herbs", publication #426-420, Diane Relf, and S.B. Sterrett. August 2000.

  • © Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy