Horticulture Magazine

A Complete A-Z List of Herb Varieties

a wooden crate with a huge variety of fresh herbs

This alphabetical bunch of herbs is good for the cooking pot and good for what ails you.

A thriving herb garden is a welcome addition to any home.

Not only does it add a generous dollop of greenery and gusto to an outdoor (or indoor) display, but it also produces intoxicating aromas that will compete with and complement one another.

And, of course, herbs aren’t just easy on the eyes and nostrils; they have plenty of practical uses, too.

Whether it’s spicing up soups, stews and salads, infusing hot or alcoholic beverages or treating wounds, rashes and ailments, herbs are famously versatile types of vegetation.

This A to Z list a fairly comprehensive round-up of all the major varieties that you can grow and use in the UK, although many of them are reserved specifically for professional applications and expert medical counsel should always be sought before use.

So without wasting any more thyme (sorry), here is some sage advice (and again!) regarding the herbs you might wish to include in your own garden this year.

Agrimony

stem and yellow flowers of agrimony
There’s no acrimony with agrimony

A member of the rose family, agrimony is a deciduous herb which grows up to half a metre in height and offers bright yellow blossoms in summertime.

It’s a common treatment for gastrointestinal and urinary complaints.

Aloe vera

slices of aloe vera leaves with ice
A balm for all ills

Although technically a succulent, aloe vera is good for soothing burns, aches and rashes.

Simply slice open a leaf and apply the gel to the irritated area.

It’s also very low-maintenance, making it great for beginners – your biggest issue may be overwatering.

Angelica

angelica flowering
Angelic in name, angelic in nature

Characterised by towering stems topped by oversized domes of flowerheads, angelica is great for adding architectural intrigue to the rear of your herb garden.

Its stems are most commonly candied for confectionary purposes, but all parts of the plant are aromatic and carry medicinal applications, too.

Anise

upright purple flowers of anise
Anyone for liquorice?

Anise hyssop, sometimes known as Agastache, is another tall perennial herb which carries spires of bright flowers which attract bees.

Its most notable feature, however, is undoubtedly the liquorice aroma it exudes and the liquorice flavour with which it can imbue baked goods and culinary dishes.

Also aids with digestion.

Basil

basil leaves
One of the big hitters of the herb world

This fragrant herb is synonymous with Italian cooking and is popularly used to make pesto, flavour salad or add some zing to your cooking.

It’s also rich in a wide range of nutrients, including flavonoids and vitamins A, C and K, as well as carrying both anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Bay leaf

bay leaf tree
Ornamental, aromatic and appetising

Sometimes referred to as sweet bay, bay plants can serve as the centrepiece of your herb garden due to their larger size and ornamental properties.

The leaves, when dried, are great for adding richness to the flavours of stocks, soups and stews.

Borage

several blue borage flowers
Cool as a cucumber

The bright blue blossoms of borage plants make them an attractive addition to any garden in their own right and are so eye-catching that they’re often used as a garnish for cocktails and other drinks.

The leaves, meanwhile, give off a cucumber-like coolness which serve as a great addition to salads and dressings.

Calendula

bright orange and yellow calendula flowers with green foliage in the background
Kith and kin with sunflowers and marigolds

Part of the sunflower family, calendulas are distinctive for their bright orange and yellow blossoms.

These are entirely edible and are often used to add colour to potato or rice dishes, as well as bringing a slightly peppery zing to salads and soups.

Caraway

white caraway umbels
It’s all in the seeds

Sometimes mistaken for a weed, carum carvi is cultivated primarily for its seeds.

With a slightly aniseed flavour, these are often added to breads, sauces, pickles and sauerkrauts, while the roots can also be boiled and consumed as well.

From a medical perspective, it’s thought to be beneficial for toothache, eye infections and rheumatism.

Chamomile

daisy-like chamomile flowers
Packs a powerful punch

The daisy-like blooms of this plant are a tell-tale sign that you’ve picked the right type for culinary use, since non-flowering varieties are better suited to creating a scented lawn than a hot tea or infused sauce.

Highly fragrant, it should only be used in small doses.

Chervil

green chervil leaves
Cheap and chervil

This biennial herb is grown mostly for its aromatic leaves, which when used appropriately in salads, potato or egg dishes, give off a mild aniseed flavour.

Just be sure to add the leaves at the tail end of the cooking time, since overcooking will destroy its essence.

Chives

upright flowering chives with purple blooms
The perfect accompaniment to egg, cheese or potato dishes

When finely chopped and worked into salads, dips or quiches, chives add a delightful zing that’s especially complimentary to egg, potato and cheese dishes.

Although it’s the leaves which take most of the limelight, the pink blossoms which top chive plants are a sight to behold and an edible addition to your plate, as well.

Comfrey

comfrey plants with purple bell-shaped flowers
External use only!

The delicately hanging foliage of a comfrey plant make it a pleasing addition to a herb garden, but it’s more famous for its medicinal properties.

When the roots are blended into a cream or ointment, they can help increase the circulation around a wound to aid healing – but don’t ingest, since it can be damaging to the liver.

Coriander

coriander foliage
The marmite of mainstream herbs

Coriander commands something of a love-it-or-hate-it reputation in culinary circles.

A native of the East, it’s often used in Asian cuisine and both the seeds and the leaves are edible but individual in their properties.

The former add a lemony zest, while the latter imbue a slightly acrid flavour to the dishes to which they are added.

Dill

an outdoor garden row of dill
Ferny foliage provides a feathery foil for other plants beneath it

This large herb carries sprays of yellow flowers and strong-tasting ferny leaves that are a common addition to salads, soups or flavoured rice.

The leaves can be used fresh, dried or frozen, while the seeds are often an ingredient in curry powders.

Elderflower

white elderflower blooms
As widespread as it is mouth-watering

Found all over the UK, elderflower is as unfussy as it gets when it comes to growing conditions.

Although the fruit steals most of the headlines, its flowers are also worthy of a mention given their ability to infuse cordials, syrups, teas, wines and champagnes with an exquisite taste.

It’s also said to be good for the respiratory tract.

Fennel

yellow umbels of fennel
Particularly compatible with fish dishes

Like dill, fennel plants are characterised by sprigs of bright yellow blooms in the summertime.

All parts of the plant are edible and bring a faint aniseed flavour to the salads or other dishes to which they are added. It’s particularly complimentary when combined with fish.

Fenugreek

fenugreek plants
Highly sought-after seedpods

The dainty leaves and delicate white blossoms of fenugreek are pretty enough in their own right, but the seeds are the main attraction from a culinary and medicinal perspective.

It can add a maple syrup-style sweetness to certain dishes, while it’s said to have an easing effect on troubled digestive tracts.

Garlic

garlic plants lifted from the ground with visible bulbs
Vampires aside, garlic is almost universally popular

It’s not one of the most widely used herbs for nothing!

Garlic is great for adding flavour to all kinds of dishes, while the plant is easy enough to cultivate, as well.

Trim back green leaves to use in salads, pesto or as a garnish, but wait until they turn yellow to dig up the bulbs underground.

Ginger

ginger plants above ground
Fiery and flavoursome

Due to its exotic origins, ginger doesn’t take kindly to frosts, so plant it in the early spring and take care to pamper it as best you can.

Do so, though, and you’ll be rewarded with delicious rhizomes that add a fiery kick and a frisson of flavour to curries and stir-fries, as well as a host of immune system-boosting benefits.

Gingko

gingko tree foliage up close
A tree with medicinal properties

A native of China, this ancient tree has made a successful transition to UK climes and offers an attractive option with delicately shaped leaves that won’t throw heavy shade.

It will grow to a large size, though, so it’s not ideal for smaller gardens, but its medicinal properties (which were discovered fairly recently) include improved circulation.

Ginseng

ginseng plant
This herbal remedy ingredient is over 3,000 years old!

Ginseng also hails from the Far East, though it enjoys a more uneasy relationship with the British seasons and will appreciate being grown indoors.

The root of the herb has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes for millennia, including boosting the immune system and improving memory.

Horseradish

white horseradish flowers
Intense and invasive

Don’t be fooled by the beautiful white flowers and innocuous-looking leaves – the roots of horseradish plants carry quite a punch.

Normally grated into coleslaw or used in sauces to accompany roast beef, horseradish is an intense ingredient, while the plant itself is also very fast-spreading, meaning it’s best contained in pots.

Lemongrass

a lemongrass plant growing outdoors
The appeal of the Orient

Another stalwart of Asian (and particularly Thai) cuisine, lemongrass is grown for the fragrant base of its edible stems.

It’s not keen on frosts either, so it’s a good idea to cultivate it in a container that can be easily moved indoors during the colder months.

Linseed

a meadow of linseed plants
Commonly called ‘flaxseed’

Also known as flax, linseed is a popular alternative to rapeseed for producing oils.

However, it is also a rich source of omega-3 and particularly favoured by vegetarians and vegans, who cannot consume the nutrient from animal sources.

Lovage

lovage foliage up close
Who doesn’t love lovage?

Lovage has so many strings to its bow.

Fresh leaves are a great herbal addition to salads, soups and stews, while dried ones make a delicious tea.

Its stems can be candied like angelica, its shoots can be blanched and its roots eaten cooked or raw. What’s not to love?

Lungwort

purple flowers and variegated leaves of lungwort
Look after your lungs with lungwort

A member of the borage family, lungwort is closely aligned with borage and comfrey, among others.

However, it’s a veritable panacea for all ailments lung-related in its own right – at least according to its proponents.

The curative effects are said to be felt after boiling a handful of fresh leaves in hot water and consuming the tea.

Marjoram

marjoram leaves
A close cousin of oregano

Marjoram is often confused with oregano, and although the two are similar in appearance, they’re used differently in the kitchen.

Whereas oregano leaves are generally dried, marjoram foliage and flowers are more commonly used fresh as a late addition to stuffings, soups and sauces.

Oregano

oregano growing in an outdoor wooden planter
A popular ingredient in Italian, Mexican and Greek cuisine

As mentioned above, the strong-tasting (and stronger smelling!) leaves of oregano are generally dried before use.

They work particularly well when combined with ingredients such as garlic, onions and chili, though they’re versatile enough to be put to a variety of different applications.

Parsley

leaves of parsley
Pick flat over curly, any day of the week

Parsley comes in two distinct varieties – curly-leafed or flat-leafed.

While the former does look more attractive as a garnish, it’s the latter that carries the stronger flavours and forms a crucial ingredient of many dishes and dips, including tabouleh and salsa verde.

Peppermint

peppermint plants growing side-by-side
This medicinal powerhouse is a hybrid

First grown as a hybrid between spearmint and watermint, peppermint has come into its own over the last few centuries.

It’s widely revered for its medicinal properties when consumed in tea, acting as a digestive aid, decongestant and blood pressure reliever.

Rosemary

rosemary herbs with purple flowers
Pungent and pleasant

With evergreen foliage that can brighten up your herb garden during winter and flowers which will delight pollinators in summer, rosemary is an aesthetically strong choice for an outdoor display.

It also releases an intoxicating fragrance and, when picked, dried and added to dishes like roast lamb, makes an excellent culinary herb, too.

Sage

sage plant with compost in the background
Wise beyond its years

There are hundreds of different varieties of sage to choose from, all of which will add cosmetic value to an ornamental border.

Some are better suited to culinary purposes, while others carry medicinal properties.

For the former, maximise their flavour by picking them in the morning, when the aromatic oils are concentrated in the foliage.

Sorrel

leafy sorrel
You won’t be sorry you planted sorrel!

Sorrel is a leafy green which serves as an ideal alternative to spinach.

When picked young, its leaves will bring a zesty zing to salads and other dishes, while mature foliage will reduce significantly when sauteed, boiled or roasted, so be sure to give yourself a generous serving.

St John’s wort

yellow flowers of st johns wort
A prolific self-seeder

St John’s wort is capable of propagating so rapidly that it’s considered a weed by some.

In fact, it’s so commonplace around the world that it’s not even known where it originated in the first place!

It can be used to treat both nerve damage and depression, but some parts of the plant are poisonous – so seek medical advice before using.

Tansy

yellow tansy flowers
As cute as a button

The button-like blooms of tansy, with their distinctive yellow colouring and bobbing structure, are what first draws the eye of this aromatic plant.

However, it’s long been associated with strong medicinal properties, given that the Ancient Greeks incorporated tansy into their diets to kill off other bacteria and parasites.

Tarragon

tarragon growing prolifically
French tarragon trumps Russian tarragon every time

There are two varieties of tarragon: French and Russian.

The former is favoured by cooking enthusiasts due to its more robust palette. It is, however, trickier to cultivate and bring to flower, so it’s usually more convenient to seek a clipping than plant from seed.

Its leaves are great in salads, meat dishes, infused wines and buttery sauces.

Thyme

thyme plant in focus
Thyme is a great healer

With almost 200 varieties to choose from, gardeners are spoiled for choice when it comes to incorporating thyme into their herb display – especially since many of those have vibrant blossoms in summer.

It’s a great addition to soups and stuffing mixes, while it’s also used in herbal medicine to treat respiratory complications.

Turmeric

turmeric bulbs laid out on a wooden table
A winter warmer (which won’t grow in British winters)

Turmeric is great for adding colour and flavour to rich, savoury dishes like curries, soups and stews. However, it’s used to southeast Asian climes, which means it won’t tolerate any drop in the mercury below -10°C.

For that reason, it’s best to cultivate it indoors, use a south-facing window or heat lamps to keep its sun exposure up and water regularly.

Valerian

umbels of pink flowering valerian
You’re feeling very sleepy…

Capable of growing up to 1.5m in height, valerian is another strong choice for the rear of a flower bed or herb garden.

Its pink or white clusters of flowers are a sight for sore eyes come summertime, while its fragrance is often captured for use in perfumes.

Medicinally, it’s believed to ease the symptoms of insomnia or other sleep issues.

Yarrow

umbels of white flowering yarrow plant
Milfoil = A thousand leaves

Although wild forms of yarrow are considered an invasive pest, cultivated yarrow can add structure, texture and colour to a garden display.

What’s more, it’s often combined with two of the other herbs on this list (elderflower and peppermint) to concoct a powerful cold and flu reliever.

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