Perennial herbs are a great addition to the herb garden. And many are a staple for the chef of the house.
One of the best features of perennial herbs is they survive and produce year after year, giving you a long-term harvest without the renewed cost of buying seed or new plants. So why not dedicate a special area in your yard for a few of these long-lasting herbs?
We’ve selected fourteen of our favorite perennial herbs and given you a basic rundown of each in terms of growing habits and use in the kitchen. After each herb, we’ve also included a link where you can get detailed growing or cooking information.
Table of Contents
Our Favorite Perennial Herbs
Learn about these easy-to-grow perennial herbs for a self-renewing supply of fresh fragrance and flavor.
1. Bay Laurel
Bay (Laurus nobilis) grows as a tree in warm zones (bay trees are hardy only to zone 8, or possibly zone 7 for some varieties). In colder climates bay must be pruned as a shrub, kept in a large pot, and taken indoors in winter. Read more about growing this savory perennial herb in our article on How to Grow Bay Trees.
Bay’s richly flavored leaves, fresh or dried, are often used to give a rich, full taste to soups, stocks, and bean dishes.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are grown for their hollow rounded spearlike leaves, which have a crisp oniony flavor and scent. If not clipped back regularly, chives will produce spiky purple flower heads, which are not useful in cooking. The leaves also become less flavorful after flowers appear.
Chives are hardy to zone 3. They grow up to 12-18 inches high and spread wider steadily until you divide their clumps. Chives will grow in either full sun or part shade.
I use chives to flavor soft cheeses, egg and fish dishes, and roasted or stir-fried vegetables. Garlic chives are also a popular choice for the perennial herb garden.
Elder, (American, Sambuca Canadensis; European, Sambucus nigra) is a shrub or tree whose berries have many culinary and medicinal uses. The Cornell Cooperative Extension reports that they are hardy to zone 3.
Elderberries thrive best in full sun and moist but well-drained soil. Height and spread will vary depending on the variety you select; Cornell recommends a spacing of 6 to 10 feet.
Elderberries are very high in antioxidants and vitamins. It’s best not to eat too many in their raw form. But they’re often used in pies, jams, teas, and cordials.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) has leaves with a delicate anise flavor.
It is hardy to Zone 4 and can grow up to 6 feet tall. Give plants at least 20 inches of horizontal space in all directions. Fennel will grow best in full sun and well-drained soil.
Perennial herb fennel should not be confused with its annual relative Florence or vegetable fennel, grown for its thickened leaf bases.
Fennel is used to season rich meat dishes and to make a digestion-soothing tea, among many other uses.
Lavender, (English, Lavandula angustifolia; French, Lavandula dentata), is a compact woody shrub with sweetly fragrant blossoms. English lavender is hardy to zone 4 or 5, while many cultivars of French lavender grow best in warmer climates.
Height and spread vary depending on the variety you choose. Space plants at least 12 inches apart—24 inches will be better for larger varieties.
For best results, grow lavender in light, very well-drained soil, and in full sunlight. Lavender blossoms make a soothing tea and also lend a delicate flavor and fragrance to many desserts.
6. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has richly fragrant leaves with a fresh lemony flavor. Keep flowering tips pinched or cut off to ensure a steady supply of leaves. Lemon balm is hardy to zone 4 and grows best in full sun.
Plants grow up to 3 feet high and spread enthusiastically both from the roots and by self-seeding. I grow mine in rock-bordered areas to contain it.
Lemon balm is used to flavor desserts, fruit dishes, and teas, as well as some savory recipes. It soothes both the nerves and the digestion.
Mint (Mentha spp) has fragrant dark green leaves with a fresh sweet flavor. Keep the plant clipped back, so it doesn’t flower if you want a steady harvest of leaves. Like lemon balm, mint spreads vigorously and may need to be contained.
It grows up to 3 feet high. Peppermint, one of the most common varieties, is hardy to zone 3. Some other varieties are less hardy.
Oregano (Origanum spp) grows in spreading clumps of upright stems with small soft leaves which are fragrant and flavorful. It grows 1-2 feet tall, depending on variety and growing conditions, and spreads laterally until you divide the clump.
Hardiness varies depending on varieties; my nameless oregano from a neighbor grows and spreads enthusiastically in zone 4/5. Oregano thrives best in full sun. Clip flowers off for better leaf production and flavor.
Oregano is most popularly used in Italian tomato dishes, pizza or pasta sauce, eggplant parmigiana, etc. It’s also used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes.
Parsley (Petroselinum spp) is a biennial whose leaves have a fresh palate-cleansing flavor and are sometimes chewed as breath fresheners. It’s hardy as far north as Zone 2 and will grow either in full sun or in partial shade. Shade may help it in climates at the hotter end of its range.
Parsley grows 9-18 inches high, depending on variety, and spreads 6 to 9 inches. It produces flowers in its second year; leaves are best in the first year. Read more about this popular culinary favorite here – Parsley: A Bright Fresh Flavored Herb.
I use parsley primarily to flavor soups, salads, and egg and fish dishes. Sarah Garland’s Complete Book of Herbs and Spices also recommends parsley to ease anemia and indigestion.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a shrub whose long narrow leaves have an intense pungent flavor. It will overwinter outdoors to Zone 6 or 7, depending on which books you believe. Gardeners in colder areas must grow their rosemary in pots and bring them inside during the winter.
Here in zone 4/5, I set my rosemary pots outside in summer and bring them back in for the winter before the first hard freeze. (They will tolerate light frosts.)
My potted plants grow up to 2 feet tall. Plants grown directly in the soil may grow taller than 6 feet. Rodale’s recommends 12-24-inch spacing.
Rosemary prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It doesn’t require much fertilizer. Read more about growing rosemary in the herb garden.
Cooks often use rosemary to season meat dishes, especially game and other strongly flavored meats. It can also be infused into milk or made to flavor sugar for desserts. Sarah Garland notes that rosemary is also used medicinally for headaches and indigestion.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a shrub whose aromatic leaves have a strong savory flavor. Sarah Garland says that sage is hardy to zone 6. Rodale’s Garden Problem Solver says it’s hardy to 30 below if mulched for the winter.
My sage overwinters without mulch here in zone 4/5.
There are many different varieties of culinary sage with different hardinesses and different colors, heights, spreads, and growth habits.
Sage grows best in full sun and well-drained, somewhat rich soil.
Its flavor is classically associated with poultry seasoning, but it’s also used in a wide variety of sweet and savory dishes. Sarah Garland says it’s also helpful in promoting digestion, cooling fevers, and easing headaches and nervous tension.
12. Winter Savory
Winter savory (Satureja montana) is a short-lived woody shrub with shiny savory crisp-tasting leaves. Not to be confused with its annual relative summer savory, S. hortensis. Rodale’s says winter savory is hardy to Zone 6; Sarah Garland says to zone 4. Check the information for the variety you are planning to buy, or check with your local Cooperative Extension.
Winter savory prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It may grow up to 12 inches high and spread up to 18 inches wide.
Savory is used to flavor a wide variety of egg, meat, and vegetable dishes. It also has a wide range of medicinal uses, as described in our article on Summer vs Winter Savory.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a tall stemmy plant whose leaves have a delicate fresh scent and flavor. It’s hardy up to zone 5.
Tarragon needs good drainage.
Master gardeners disagree about whether to plant tarragon in poor soil for the sake of frost-hardiness or in rich soil—see more at Growing French Tarragon: A Tender Perennial with Rich Anise Flavor. Tarragon will grow in full sun or partial shade. Plants may grow up to 3 feet high and spread up to 2 feet.
I especially like tarragon in egg and fish dishes; Sarah Garland also recommends it in salad and with tomatoes.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a vigorously spreading creeping plant with tiny round crisp-flavored green leaves and mounds of purple flowers. The flowers are attractive to bees as well as the people, but clip them off if you want steady production of leaves. Common thyme is hardy as far north as Zone 3 and remarkably drought-tolerant. Plant it in full sun or partial shade.
I especially like thyme in corn or fish chowders. It’s also commonly used in many Mediterranean dishes. Thyme also has health benefits, acting as a tonic and as a digestive aid.
Annual vs Perennial Herbs
Some of the most common culinary herbs, like basil, cilantro, dill, and summer savory, are annuals. This means that they don’t live for more than one growing season and must be replanted every year. These annual herbs can be started from seed each year or found as seedlings in most garden centers.
Perennial herbs on the other hand will live and produce for multiple years given proper care. They may take some time to get started, but once established, they will grow and spread so that you can easily propagate new plants from cuttings or root divisions.
Growing Perennial Herbs In Winter
Perennials are plants that will live and bear for multiple years. In cold climates, perennials will go dormant or die back over the winter unless you grow them in pots and bring them inside.
Some plants can provide a continuous harvest, while others do best with a period of dormancy.
Rosemary doesn’t require dormancy. I bring my rosemary plants inside before winter temperatures drop below 20 F, and I harvest from them year-round.
Chives, on the other hand, bear better with a dormant period.
Before the ground freezes, I dig up a clump of chives from my garden, put them in a pot, and leave the pot outside to freeze. In January, I bring the pot in, let it thaw, divide the plants, set them in fresh pots, and start harvesting once they begin to regrow.
If you’re at the colder end of a particular herb’s hardiness range, you may want to mulch it over the winter to protect against extremes of temperature.
This won’t allow continuous harvest—it simply improves your chances of the plant regrowing in spring.
Some gardeners also say that certain herbs, including tarragon, are hardier if they are grown in poor. Rich soil can encourage too much soft, lush growth, which can’t stand the winter.
Finally, planting in a sheltered spot away from frigid winds, and perhaps against a south-facing wall, may help you keep a tender herb’s roots alive.
There is no simple set of rules for overwintering herbs. Best practices depend very much on the varieties of herbs you’re growing and on your climate. Check with an experienced local gardener or with your local Cooperative Extension, or just experiment yourself and see what works.
Growing perennial herbs allows you to provide a wider range of fragrances and flavors to your cooking.
It can also allow you to harvest throughout the year and to get free new plants without the hassle of reseeding.
Pay attention to your climate and site and the needs of the plants you want to grow, and then enjoy the harvest.