Grow Your Own Spice & Herb Garden – The Essential Starter Kit

Herbs & Spices.

Welcome! In this series I want to discuss with you, what are herbs and spices and why people are crazy about it. In my second article I will discuss how to prepare your garden to start cultivating it, and in my final article I will give insight on how to prepare your cultivated herbs and spices for cooking and daily use.

Today I want to discuss the very popular debate on what is considered an herb and a spice. Furthermore, I would also like to give you an idea of all the herbs and spices you can cultivate as well as their health benefits.

Let’s get started!

Herbs and Spices. Photo by monicore

What is the Difference Between an Herb and a Spice?

There’s a hefty debate going on about what is an herb and what is a spice, and no one seems to come to a conclusion. Sure, you can define it, but only up until a point.

Generally herbs are classified as the leafy parts of the plant and spices are considered the seeds of the plant. But in between many things are classified as herbs or spices that fit one description or neither. Take cinnamon for example, it is considered a spice even though it is a bark of a tree.

I think it boils down to additional factors, like whether the spice or herb can be ground into a finer texture as well as what texture it retains after being dried. For more info on the differences, read this article.


List of Spices and Herbs – A Flavorful World

There is vast number of herbs and spices out there and some that haven’t even come to the world’s plates yet. The world is filled with wonderful flavors. Wouldn’t you agree that our world will be very dull without herbs and spices?! In this short list, I discuss my favorite picks among the many.

Herbs

  • Aloe
    • Yes, Aloe vera is edible. Apart from its topical application, you can cook it or ingest it raw. But, there are very few edible species; one of them being Aloe vera var chinensis.
    • You can use the gel (clear) to treat sunburns and wounds as well as other skin problems like acne. But just remember this, the natural gel is extremely bitter compared to your sweetened beverage counterpart.
Aloe. Photo by Sergio Roberto Bichara.
  • Catnip
    • There’s an abundant use for catnip; it has been used since the 18th century. The majority of these uses treat intestinal ailments such as indigestion, diarrhea and cramps.
    • Furthermore, it opens up your respiratory system and alleviates stress and insomnia.
    • Catnip can be steeped in hot water and drunk as a tea.

Catnip Plant. Photo by laurelljm

  • Ginseng
    • This herb is great for bringing your body back into balance, but it can also improve your mood and mental wellness.
    • This herb has been proven to improve cognitive ability in some mental illnesses as well.

Ginseng. Photo by markroad1230

  • Lavender
    • This herb is known for its well-known scent. Many people place it in their gardens for scenting potpourri but what very few people know is that it can be used for culinary and medicinal purposes as well.
    • In the culinary field it can be used in beverages and desserts, as well as preparing meat dishes. It is recommended that you use it sparingly, as a little of this herb has incredible flavor.
    • On the other hand it can relieve stress, anxiety and inflammation. It can also naturally improve your sleep.

Lavender Beverages. Photo by couleur.

  • Lemon Grass
    • As stated, it is from the grass family, but is has a distinct citrus flavor. It’s popular in the use of eastern dishes and can be used as curries, soups, sauces and even for teas.
    • It is preferably served fresh but can be dried (when dried it needs to be soaked again to activate its flavor). You can expect light but fresh floral citrus flavor when used in dishes.
    • Market bought lemongrass stems can be rooted to continue growth and as it is not frost hardy it should be moved indoors before the frost period. The white portion of the stem is the most desirable for use.

Lemongrass. Photo by Andrea Nguyen

  • Milk Thistle
    • This is a very old traditional medicine. Over time many of its healing properties was discovered, and the list is long!
    • By consuming this herb you can improve your health with regard to kidney, liver, gallbladder, heart, brain, eyes as well as your skin.
    • It also prevents free radical damage (acquired mostly every time you eat food).

Milk Thistle. Photo by JamesDeMers

  • Peppermint
    • The famous herb produces violet flowers but to maintain its great flavor, these should be snipped off.
    • It is a hardy plant that cover a space quite quickly so it should preferably be planted in a raised bed to control it.
    • You can find the most flavor in new leaves, so pruning the stems will promote new leaf growth.
    • Mint has been used to prepare pork, lamb and beef.
    • It can be preserved in water or be dried and wrapped.
    • Not only does it offer great flavor to food but some health benefits include soothing upset stomachs, nausea, nasal congestion and headaches.
    • It is also a natural remedy for depression.

Peppermint. Photo by silviarita

  • Rosemary
    • This herb contains rosmarinic acid and it alleviates allergy symptoms. It gives the scent closely associated to eucalyptus.
    • Although it has needle like leaves, it prefers a warmer climate and even flourishes indoors. Transferring the plants will cause it to suffer in its growth rate, so its best to plant in a container (inside or outside).
    • If you are able to buy it in the supermarket, you can plant it from those stem cuttings.
    • Rosemary can be used in a variety of recipes including game, fish, lamb, pork, poultry, cheeses, creams, butters and cream sauces. But be warned to use it sparingly.
    • Health benefits include increased concentration and immune system as well as lower stress levels.

Rosemary Herb. Photo by Vincent Foret

  • Sage
    • Its name means to save.
    • Sage delivers a pungent, minty oil scent, almost piney but it is sweet to the taste.
    • It can be used with veal, turkey, beef, fish as well as tomatoes, cheese spreads, vegetables and breads.
    • Seeds take a long time to produce a harvestable crop, so it’s more ideal to take cuttings and plant them.
    • This herb can be dried and kept in a sealed container for roughly 2 weeks if it is refrigerated.
    • It’s health benefits include improved memory as well soothing pains during the menstrual cycle.

The sage plant. Photo by congerdesign

  • Stinging Nettle
    • Yes it stings, but it is something you can deal with. To remove the stinging hairs you just need to boil it in hot water with added salt for a few minutes. Remove it and let it cool.
    • Apart from that there are dozens of medicinal applications for stinging nettle which includes improved wound healing times, red blood cell production and energy levels. It is also good for cleaning the body of toxins.
    • It reduces the occurrence of stones in the kidney and gallbladder.
    • For women, it lowers the pain during birth as well as the amount of bleeding.
    • You can use it in soups, salads, pastas etc.

Stigning Nettle. Photo by Couleur


Spices

  • Allspice
    • It sounds like someone mixed a bunch of spices together but, this isn’t the case. It’s a single spice with the flavor and smell of several spices. It smells like a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves & pepper.
    • It delivers a flavor that is sweet and savory.
    • It is harvested from the Jamaican Myrtle tree but there is also a Mexican variety of it.
    • It can be used in puddings, rice, cakes, pies, cured meat & stews.
    • It is a natural antioxidant but other health benefits include the alleviation of gout, arthritis and & muscle pain as well as boost immunity and dental health.

Allspice. Photo by monicore.

  • Cacao
    • Cacao is a spice? Yes. Indeed, it is. Maybe you’re thinking of sweet cocoa; instead think of this as the dark chocolate flavor. Nonetheless, these two can be infused.
    • The other question is… Is it healthy? Of course it is! Some of its many benefits include is its ability to regulate energy levels which in turn regulates appetite, which leads to weight control! It also improves your mood and those nasty depression symptoms. Lastly, it can also improve your brain function via improved blood flow to your think tank.
    • It is harvested from the Theobrama cacao tree and you can commonly find it in supermarkets either ground or as nibs. Yum!

Cacao Whole Beans. Photo by dgchocolatier

  • Cayenne/ Paprika
    • This is known to be remarkably hot, and those properties are what makes its health benefits so unique. Cayenne also labeled as paprika or chili pepper contains capsaicin which gives its flavor.
    • It boosts metabolism and lowers your appetite which lead to higher fat burning rates due more ghrelin found in your body.
    • It can be added to casseroles, minced beef, dips and spreads and other everyday recipes.

Cayenne Pepper. Photo by uroburos

  • Cinnamon
    • Cinnamon is farmed from several species of trees in the Cinamomum genus. The bark is stripped from the tree and dried and can be used whole or ground.
    • It is mainly used in sweet and savory dishes as well as a multitude of other products, for e.g. breakfast cereals. You can add it to coffee and tea as well, and you will see why in a moment.
    • Cinnamon contains cinnamaldehyde, a compound responsible for lowering blood sugar levels; so it has a strong anti-diabetic effect.

Cinnamon Serving Suggestion. Photo by Joanna Kosinska

  • Citrus Zest
    • Zest refers to the outer layer of citrus fruits being dried and ground. You can achieve this either with a zester or a grater. Just stop when you see the white pith of the fruit.
    • It is this part that is even higher in vitamin C and antioxidants than the inner fruit itself. It protects against cancer and regulates insulin. Meaning it’s a natural medicine for diabetes.
    • You can use it in smoothies, yogurts, soups, chicken dishes, salads and even desserts.

Citrus Zest. Photo by Nathan Lemon

  • Horseradish Powder
    • This spice is notoriously pungent. When you buy it fresh, the best way to prepare it is where you have good ventilation. Freshly grated horseradish root can be preserved with vinegar. But the dried ground root can later be mixed either vinegar or lemon juice to bring out that flavor.
    • It is most commonly served as a condiment but can also be added to salad dressings and sauces, giving it a zesty taste. The is due to it being from the mustard family.
    • Health benefits include weight control, improved immune system and lower blood pressure. It is also a great food to fight cancer.

Horseradish Root. Photo by San906.

  • Mustard
    • There are 3 types of mustard, each species with a unique seed. You get the white (yellow), brown and black seed and the flavor gets more intense the darker the seed. Real mustard sauce is made from ground seeds and the takeaway version cannot compare to the real thing.
    • White mustard seeds are cultivated with Sinapis alba. Brown mustard seeds are cultivated with Brassica juncea, and black mustard seeds are cultivated with Brassica nigra.
    • The seeds can be used whole to preserve food, such as pickling brine. But mustard sauce can be applied to bisque, pork, sauerkraut, barbecue etc.
    • When consumed in moderation it will have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial affect and is great topical for healing wounds. Along with horseradish powder it can also fight cancer.

Mustard Seeds. Photo by gokalpiscan

  • Peppercorn/Black Pepper
    • Black, green and white peppercorn seeds are all harvested form Piper nigrum. It all depends on when you harvest and how you dry them. Each particular version has its own unique flavor.
    • Black pepper has a stronger flavor than white pepper, but that is because it is harvested early, leaving the later white pepper to have a milder taste. Taste may even differ from region to region.
    • Peppercorn is a spice that goes well with other spices, meaning they complement each other. This is mostly due to peppercorn allowing you to absorb more of the other nutrients.
    • Some of its many health benefits include the limit of cancer cell growth, improved energy production, digestion and skin conditions.

Black, Green & White Peppercorn Seeds. Photo by Couleur

  • Shallots
    • They are part of the onion family and is a flavor blend of onion and garlic. There are many varieties, one of them being Allium stipitatum.
    • It can be used in Indian curries as well as lentil dishes. It is known for its strong, sweet and spicy taste.
    • It is a good regulator of gut bacteria which in turns improves your disease contraction rate; but it also is a tasty food to keep you lean.

Shallots. Photo by Couleur

  • Saffron
    • Right off the bat I’m going to say it is the most expensive spice on the market. The reason is because it is the stigma of a flower that is very difficult to cultivate. You get very to harvest in return. The flower that produces the stigma is the Crocus sativus.
    • It contains crocin, a compound known to fight cancer, acts as an antioxidant and promotes hair growth. It may even promote puberty and libido.
    • This spice can be combined with garlic to complement its flavor and can be served with fish, chicken and rice dishes.

Saffron Spice. Photo by hodihu


What’s next?

Don’t you feel a bit more interested in the tastes herbs and spice has to offer? So many flavors to choose from! What will you try first?

These are my top spices and herbs I recommend you try. Tell me what you think of this article and look out for my next article where I will discuss how to prepare your garden for the herbs and spices you are about to plant.

18 Comments on “Grow Your Own Spice & Herb Garden – The Essential Starter Kit

  1. Hi Ian,

    glad I came across your article today. My wife is really keen about growing her own spice & herb garden and I believe this will help her.

    she currently has Aloe, catnip and rosemary but im sure she wants more. The aloe has grown really well in the Dubai weather – honestly i was surprised it survived the heat but I think my wife has a green thumb.

    quick question – can she grow all of these in pots as we stay in a flat and actual garden is possible?

    • Hi Tarun! Aloe is a hardy succulent that will most likely survive a hot dry climate. It is a species that will be the last to die in such a climate.

      As for your question, I am going to do another article on how you can prepare your garden soil or even your indoor pots to cultivate herbs and spices. Some people prefer it indoor and in their kitchen as it brings leafy green to your everyday living space.

  2. Thanks for the insight. I remember arguing with a friend about the difference between herbs and spices. We couldn’t agree. My sister is interested in cultivating herbs and spices and this article will be of great help to her. I would also love if you could do a piece on ‘how to make a garden for beginners’ thanks

  3. Thanks a bunch Ian. Prior to this time, i never knew spice was the seed, i called both seeds and leafs herbs. I grow both aloe and lemon grass, but i hardly use them. I was just searching for the benefits of milk thistle, and i found my self here. Thanks for this loaded article.

  4. Hey Ian,

    Great and very detailed post. I never thought of growing my own spice and herb garden. My parents do at their residence, but because I live in an apartment, and I haven’t got access to a garden, I never gave it any thought. Would you suggest proceeding growing such a garden in an apartment patio/veranda, and, if yes, how?

    Thanks!

    Marios

    • Hello Marios.

      Herbs will grow very well in a box planter. The extra energy it receives from the sun will give an even greater yield. Read my article on how raised garden beds can improve a crop’s yield here.

      https://worldseedscatalog.com/

  5. Great one!

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful article about nature ‘ spices and herbs’.  This is a very educative article. I really appreciate your efforts giving us the list of some of the herbs and spices with us. Personally, I am a lover of aloe vera and i never knew not all its species are edible. I really learnt from this. 

  6. Nice article on spice and herbs .rhis post is really informative and educative on areas of spice and herbs 

    Some of the benefits of herbs and spices is that it can be used to enhance and balance the flavour of your dishes and make something taste more delicious.one of the herbs I will like to grow is Ginseng

  7. I must say that this is very informative as I’m beginning to learn more about spice and herbs through this post. I’ve always wanted to grow them in my comfort zone so it can be used when ever I want. Thanks for your recommendations, will surely give it a try. 

    • Thank you Seun. Please let me know which herbs and spices you’ll grow and the progress you make. Best of luck!

  8. Hi Ian,

    What a wonderful post. 

    For a couple of months now I am taking some of this herbs /spices like ginseng, black pepper and cinnamon on an empty stomach in the morning with warm water. I also mix along honey, turmeric and lemon. I fully agree with the associated health benefits mentioned by you in this post as I have seen a great transformation within me since I started  consuming them on a regular basis. They have immense health benefits and accelerate the metabolism of the body and make the immune system stronger. 

    So yes I would urge the readers of this post that as Ian mentioned you should surely try out these herbs/spices and seriously try growing then in your own garden. Thanks for sharing this Ian.

    • Hi Nick.

      Thanks for the vote of confidence! I wish more and more people discovered the health benefits of herbs and spices.

  9. Great one!I must confess i found this information very interesting. I love the way you outlined your points.This is a very educative article. I really appreciate your efforts giving us the list of some of the herbs and spices with us. Personally, I am a lover of aloe vera and i never knew not all its species are edible. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thanks for sharing your herb experience on this article “Grow Your Own Own Spice &Herb; Garden-The Essential Starter Kit”.I’m glad I came across your article, it will be of great help to me, because I have a Aleovera which I planted in my garden but it not growing well. I think it’s worth trying all the herbs in different lications in the garden as the micro climates in different situations are unpredictable.Thank you!

    • Hi Mary,

      Research is key and I hoped that I were able to set you on the right path to get that perfect crop!

  11. With my knowledge and what I have read so far, I can say the difference between herbs and spices is where they are obtained from a plant. Herbs come from the leafy and green part of the plant while spices are from the parts of the plant other than the leafy part such as the root, stem, bulb, bark or seeds. I really love this article because there medicinal purpose and I strongly agree we look into herbs and spices for treatment.

    • Hi Marshall,

      Which herbs and spices are you using fro treatment and how well does it work in your practise?

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