Last Updated on September 19, 2020
Love fresh herbs but don’t have much sun to grow them in? Fortunately, many of your favorite herbs grow well in shadier locations. Here are more than 35 herbs that grow in shade.
WHY TO GROW YOUR OWN HERBS
Nothing beats fresh-picked herbs to make your cooking sparkle. Whether it’s basil with summer tomatoes, or mint in your tea, that pop of fresh herb-y flavor is one of the delights of summer.
And when you grow your own herbs, you’ll save so much money over buying them. Not to mention the huge amount of plastic you avoid if you buy those tiny plastic packs of fresh herbs. A green win for the bank account and for your zero waste kitchen!
Whether you have a garden, a traditionally-landscaped yard, a patio, or just a windowsill, growing some of your own shade-tolerant herbs is in reach for practically everyone. Herbs are also a perfect place for the newbie gardener to start getting their hands dirty.
Tending a few herbs in pots may help you learn that growing some of your own food isn’t that difficult and whet your appetite for more. Here’s a primer on gardening if you’re thinking of starting a garden for the first time.
Herbs are also easy to pot up and bring in for the winter, and you’ll love having those homegrown herbs when all the plants have succumbed to the cold. Here’s what to know about growing food indoors.
Remember that many of these herbs are a snap to dry or freeze, so even if you don’t bring the plants inside, you can still enjoy some homegrown goodness with these easy beginner preservation techniques.
Ready to learn more about herbs that grow in shade? Let’s start by clarifying what shade really means when we’re talking about garden plants.
WHAT EXACTLY DO WE MEAN BY ‘SHADE’?
While many herbs will grow in some shade, it’s important to understand that very few plants grow without any sun at all. When we say shade, we’re usually talking about degrees of shade, where plants are either partly shaded from the sun, or receive sun for a relatively small portion of the day.
For instance, my house faces east and gets a little morning sun before our mature trees and the house itself block sunlight from reaching the front yard for the rest of the day. Shade-tolerant plants like edible wild violets thrive there, along with more shade-tolerant herbs like wild ginger, chives, and lemon balm.
The north side of the house receives very little direct sun, and not much grows there besides ferns and hostas. These are both edible, by the way, among the more than 50 perennial vegetables you might consider for your permaculture garden. Here are more than 45 vegetables that grow in part shade also.
Here’s a run-down of how to take stock of shade in your garden when choosing which herbs to grow in the shade:
Your sun exposure is considered ‘full’ if you get 6 or more hours of sun. But if you’re getting about 6 and live in northern latitudes where the sun isn’t as strong, your plants will likely yield less than in a location with 10-12 hours of sun.
I really notice the difference between the sun-loving plants I grow in the sunniest parts of my tree-filled yard and those that grow out at our CSA, where they get hours more sunshine. I’ve given up on things like eggplants and sweet potatoes, and leave those to the professionals.
PARTIAL SHADE/PARTIAL SUN
Partial shade and partial sun both mean that plants get 2-6 hours of sun exposure.
Dappled shade, as through a tree without dense foliage rather than complete blocking of the sun by a building for example, means that more light will reach your plants. Reflected light will also help. (See tips for bringing in more light below.)
In hotter climates, some shade actually helps plants that can’t tolerate extreme heat.
Full shade means plants get no direct sun at all. Stick with groundcovers and plants that can handle full shade, like hostas. Consider trying wild ginger or mint.
GETTING MORE LIGHT TO YOUR PLANTS
Some tips and tricks for bringing light to the shadier areas of your garden:
- Plant near a reflective surface like a light-colored wall, so your plants can take advantage reflected sunlight. You can place reflectors for cars around your plants to bring in more reflected light.
- Reflective mulches or aluminum foil can bring more light to your plants. I generally don’t recommend using plastic in the garden because of the chemicals it may release into the soil and because of plastic pollution.
- Plant your herbs in pots or in a planter with wheels so you can move crops to catch more hours of sun.
- Prune trees to let in more light.
TIPS FOR GROWING HERBS IN SHADE
Be sure plants have nutrient-rich soil and get watered regularly to help them manage with lower-light conditions. Shadier gardens may need less water since they’re not being hammered by summer sun, but if you’re planting beneath a tree, the leaf canopy may block rainfall. Check your soil moisture regularly. A simple moisture meter can help. This 3-in-1 meter has a light and pH meter as well.
In low-light conditions, plants grow taller in their attempts to get more sunlight. If you pinch back new growth regularly, you’ll encourage your herbs to branch out and get bushier. Eat what you pinch, of course!
WHICH HERBS GROW IN SHADE?
Many herbs can handle a fair amount of shade and need only 3 hours of daily sun, though they may be less productive than herb plants grown with more sun exposure.
Note that many herbs have edible flowers, so you get a bonus crop when they bolt.
The term ‘herb’ means different things to different people. The herbs listed here are both traditional culinary herbs and herbs you might use in herbal medicine. Many are both, like lemon balm, thyme, mint, and oregano.
There are both annual and perennial herbs that grow in shade. In addition to considering which herbs you’ll be happiest to have in your kitchen, consider planting both annual and perennial herbs to enjoy the advantages of each.
Many perennial herbs are also hardy and will appear early in the season and last well into the fall, or even in winter if you live somewhere that it doesn’t get very cold.
–> Don’t forget that many perennial herbs are easy to get for free as divisions from other gardeners. Here are more suggestions for scoring free plants for your garden.
Botanical Interests Seeds carries seeds for annual and perennial herbs for shade. I’ve linked several in the list below.
PERENNIAL HERBS THAT GROW IN SHADE
There are a number of perennial herbs that grow in shade. As with all perennials, you’ll need to decide on a permanent location and take into account how trees may increase in the amount of shade they cast as they grow.
Cardamom’s aromatic seeds are ground to yield the delicious spice that you’ve enjoyed in Indian cuisine. Considered a useful digestive aid, cardamom is being studied for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects.
A large tropical plant, cardamom is perennial in zones 10 and 11 and can be grown in cooler climates if it’s brought in for the winter.
Chives are extremely easy to grow, tolerating poor soil and requiring little water or care. Their onion-flavored leaves are some of the first home-grown edibles each spring, a must-have for the northern permaculture garden. I love them chopped and added to spring stirfries and wild rice salad. Their beautiful purple flowers are also edible.
Chives are easy to get as a division from another gardener as they’re prone to spreading. Be sure to snip and eat those chive flowers before they seed your yard with baby chive plants.
You may be more familiar with the vegetable fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce, also called Florence fennel or Finocchio), a bulbing fennel that’s utterly delicious roasted or sauteed. The herb version of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) produces plentiful fronds that may be used in cooked dishes, soups, and salads. The bronze variety is also a beautiful addition to the edible landscape.
Fennel seeds may also be used to impart an anise flavoring, and chewing them after a meal is considered helpful for digestion.
Fennel can handle partial shade, but it will produce better with more light exposure. Fennel may be grown as a perennial in zones 6 and warmer, and as a self-seeding annual in colder climates.
Be wary of planting too close with dill, as they will cross-pollinate and not have the expected flavor.
Ginger is such a fantastic herb to keep on hand, having your own ginger growing year-round can mean an unending supply of this delicious and medicinal root. Ginger is perennial in zones 9-12; those in colder climates can grow ginger in a pot indoors.
Lemon balm, another member of the mint family, is my absolute favorite herb for homemade herbal sleep tea. It’s also a delicious culinary herb with edible flowers. In addition to promoting sleep, lemon balm is also used to soothe headaches, stomach upset, and anxiety. Read more about lemon balm here.
A parsley relative, lovage has a strong celery flavor and is valued for its medicinal properties. Here’s more about lovage from Herbal Academy. Hardy to zone 4.
“Mint” is actually a pretty broad category, containing not only mint-y plants, but some distant relatives as well. For the plants we call “mint,” you’ll find so many more flavors than common mint! Here are a few I’ve enjoyed:
- Pineapple mint
- Orange mint
- Ginger Mint
- Apple mint
- Chocolate mint
Plant a few different varieties and enjoy the flavors in homemade sun tea. Chocolate and pineapple mint are some of my favorites, and I’ve found them less aggressive in the garden than common mint. Pineapple mint has not proven as cold-hardy as other mints I’ve planted, so don’t count on it coming back if your winters are as extreme as mine.
A versatile herb you can use in herbal teas, homemade body products, and a variety of recipes, mint is worth welcoming to your garden, provided you do it thoughtfully.
Mints can be very aggressive, so plant them where you don’t mind them taking over, or grow them in a pot to keep them contained. I used mints to cover up large areas of my boulevard when I smothered the last remnants of our grass lawn and converted to edible landscaping.
Oregano is a member of the mint family, and shares mint’s toughness without its invasiveness. Oregano doesn’t require much care and can tolerate drier conditions. I use oregano often in pasta dishes like my go-to ratatouille. Oregano is rich in polyphenols, plant compounds associated with lowered disease risk. Creeping oregano makes a good groundcover, while the more upright forms are an excellent addition to any flowerbed.
The unmistakable aroma of rosemary is wonderful for fragrance in the house and the garden, and a standout in cooking, from vegetables and meats to homemade bread. The scent is also reputed to assist memory and alleviate stress.
The silvery rosemary you’re likely familiar with is a small shrubby plant, but I much prefer the creeping variety (also called prostrate rosemary), which has a brighter green color and flavor than its silvery cousin.
If you live in zone 7 or warmer, you may be one of the lucky ones who can grow this fragrant herb year-round. The rest of us need to take our rosemary inside for the winter or buy new plants each year.
Shiso is a slightly minty basil used often in Asian cooking. Like many other herbs, shiso is rich in anti-inflammatory plant compounds with a variety of health benefits.
Typically grown as an annual, shiso may be grown as a perennial in zone 10 and 11. You can buy a mix of green and red shiso here.
I think of sorrel as a leafy vegetable, but you’ll find it on many lists of herbs to grow in the shade. It can be used as a seasoning or in tea, so for our purposes here, we’ll consider it an herb 🙂
If you live in a colder climate, choose common sorrel (Rumex acetosa), which is hardy to zone 3. French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) is hardy to zone 6.
As with other perennial plants, you can propagate sorrel by division or start it from seed. It has a reputation for self-sowing, so if you don’t want it becoming a weed in the garden, be sure to snip off the flower stalk before it sets seed.
Spicebush is a large shrub that grows 6-12 feet tall with yellow flowers that attract pollinators. It’s a North American native in the laurel family. Also known as wild allspice, the ground berries can be used like allspice in desserts. Hardy in zones 4-8.
Sweet Cicely has edible leaves, stalks, flowers, and roots that may be consumed cooked or raw in salads, soups, and other dishes. Be forewarned it resembles the poisonous hemlocks, so don’t go taking a nibble if you find something that looks like sweet Cicely in the wild unless you use all the identifying characteristics.
Sweet Cicely has been used medicinally for coughs and digestive upset. In the garden, it attracts pollinators. It’s a hardy perennial, thriving in zones 3-7.
Tarragon is a hardy perennial in zones 4-8. It’s one of the herbs used in , the French herb blend fines herbes. Tarragon is best grown from cuttings or obtained from a nursery. The more flavorful French and Mexican tarragons are generally preferred in cooking to the Russian variety.
Thyme is another workhorse for the edible landscape, providing groundcover, abundant food for pollinators, and delicious flavoring for so many meals. I use it in my frequent homemade pea soups and numerous other dishes. It’s also useful for treating coughs.
Thyme comes in several varieties. The more upright form has easier-to-harvest leaves, but the many creeping forms are better choices for groundcovers. Variegated thyme is beautiful, but less hardy than some other types. Lemon thyme adds a nice lemon flavor to cooked food, and tiny wooly thyme is among the “stepable” groundcovers that can be used in place of a grass lawn.
ANNUAL HERBS THAT GROW IN SHADE
The licorice-flavored seeds of the anise plant are used in a number of cuisines worldwide, as well as many alcoholic beverages. Medicinally, it’s used for digestive complaints and as a cough remedy. Here’s more on anise’s medicinal uses from Maud Grieve.
Though basil is often considered a sun-loving crop, it produces pretty well with less than full sun. It grows readily from seed, so grow plenty for caprese salads and pestos, or try this super-simple summer dinner of tomatoes, feta and basil over pasta.
There are many types of basil, including purple, Thai, and lemon. Botanical Interests carries some mixes if you can’t choose just one. Basil will die when temperatures start to drop in fall, so make sure to put plenty up to enjoy in winter. Here’s how to preserve basil.
Borage leaves have a delicious cucumber-melon flavor that tastes amazing infused in water or seltzer, one of my favorite refreshers on hot summer days. They’re also used as a cooking green. The edible blossoms are beautiful and make lovely edible additions to fruit salads or used as cake toppings. More on growing and using borage here.
With a flavor some describe as anise-like, chervil is a member of the carrot family. Used often in French cuisine, it’s one of the herbs in fines herbes blends and is often used in fish and egg dishes, or in salads.
Chervil prefers cool weather and will bolt when temperatures warm. It can be grown in containers, though they should be deep enough to accommodate chervil’s long taproot. Best used fresh, chervil’s mature leaves will have more flavor than newer growth.
Chervil reportedly helps repel slugs, if those are a problem in your garden. (Here’s more on companion planting if you want to know more about using plants to control pests and maximize yields.)
Cilantro & Coriander
With fragrant cilantro, you actually get two crops. The fresh green foliage makes salsa and so many other foods sparkle with flavor. A sizable fraction of the population experiences cilantro’s flavor as “soapy,” however, but those people might find the seeds, used to make the spice we call coriander, palatable. Coriander seeds are ground and used commonly in Indian cooking.
Cilantro can take awhile to germinate, but it’s a cold-hardy plant you can enjoy when cooler weather begins to kill off more tender herbs like basil.
A popular herb for pickling, dill has edible leaves, flowers, and seeds. Dill’s abundant flower umbels will attract pollinators to your garden, and it will self-sow readily. A biennial, dill is usually grown as an annual.
Used in tea, cooked dishes, desserts, and for its scent in homemade body care, lemon verbena adds lemony fragrance and flavor. This anti-inflammatory herb is used to alleviate pain, support immune response, and curb appetite, among other benefits.
Lemon verbena is a shrubby plant usually grown from cuttings that’s perennial in zones 9 and 10. In cooler climates, you need to plant lemon verbena in a pot and bring it in for the winter.
Whether you choose curly or flat-leaved parsley, this polyphenol-packed herb is commonly added to chimichurri and tabbouleh or used as a garnish. Parley is a biennial in zones 7 and warmer and is grown as an annual further north. Soak seeds before planting to help with germination, which can take 4-6 weeks.
MEDICINAL HERBS THAT GROW IN SHADE
A number of the culinary herbs mentioned above have medicinal properties, but some of the herbs below you might want to grow strictly for their medicinal use. Growing your own natural remedies is so rewarding and fun!
Angelica’s flowers, stems, leaves, seeds, and roots are all edible. Stems may be candied or eaten as a vegetable, and the leaves are used in cooking. The seeds are used to make vermouth.
Medicinally, angelica is used as an all-around tonic as well as a treatment for arthritis, intestinal complaints, anxiety, insomnia, and other ailments. (More from WebMD here.)
A short-lived perennial, angelica is best grown as an annual from freshly-harvested seed. Angelica doesn’t handle drought or heat well, so growing in partial shade will help your angelica thrive.
Be sure to get the edible variety of angelica (Angelica archangelica), as ornamental varieties are not edible. Angelica may be confused with some poisonous weeds, so don’t go digging up a wild plant you think looks like angelica without positively identifying it.
Bee balm comes in a variety of colors and flavors. The name bergamot comes from the plant’s scent, which resembles the fruit bergamot that gives Earl Grey tea its signature flavor and smell. But they are not in the least related, and many types of bee balm taste quite a bit like oregano, not at all what you want in your tea! If you’re after a tea replacement, be sure you’ve got monarda didyma, or you may need to spit out your tea.
Calendula’s sunny flowers are gorgeous in the garden and are often used to make soothing skin care products. They’re also edible, and the dried petals are valued as a sunny addition to wintertime cooking, where they’re believed to help with symptoms of SAD. Here’s more on calendula from the Herbal Academy.
Catnip isn’t just for cats, though your resident felines will be thrilled if you grow it. Catnip is a useful herb for promoting sleep as well as a powerful natural bug repellent. I add it to my sleep-promoting tea blend along with my homegrown lemon balm. A hardy perennial, catnip is often one of the earliest herbs to appear in early spring. It self-sows readily, so expect to find it popping up around your yard if you don’t cut the flowers before they seed.
Chamomile is a beautiful annual flower with some fantastic soothing properties. It’s a go-to for tea that promotes relaxation and sleep. It’s in the aster family, which means you may want to avoid it if you have ragweed allergies.
Tiny chamomile seeds can take up to three weeks to germinate, so plant them somewhere you will remember to water regularly. They will self-sow freely, so keep an eye out for volunteers in other parts of your garden and enjoy some extra tea.
Elderflower is a popular medicinal used by herbalists to treat colds, fevers, and other maladies. It’s also incredibly delicious either as a simple tea or made into a sweet syrup that can be used in numerous recipes. I make a tincture to use at the first sign of a cold, along with homemade elderberry syrup using the elderberries that form later. I love a small splash of the syrup in homemade seltzer for a fabulously refreshing summer drink. Here’s more on the benefits of elderflower and how to use it.
If you have a lot of patience, you can experiment with growing ginseng. The root takes 5-10 years to develop, so growing your own ginseng is a long-term project. Here’s more on growing ginseng if you’re up to the challenge.
This licorice-y herb is often used in teas and syrups to treat cough and congestion. A hardy perennial with plentiful flowers to attract pollinators, hyssop is hardy to zone 3.
Meadowsweet contains salicylic acid, the active component in aspirin that helps relieve pain. (In fact, the inventor of aspirin derived the salicylic acid for what would become Bayer aspirin from meadowsweet.) It’s often brewed into a tea or made into a tincture for pain relief or digestive troubles. Its sweet smell has made it a popular strewing herb as well.
You may find some references to other plants sometimes called meadowsweet, so check the botanical name. Look for the name Filipendula ulmaria to be sure you have the right plant.
Meadowsweet prefers moist, rich soil, but it’s a hardy plant, surviving as a perennial as far north as zone 2.
Red Raspberry Leaf
Relatively few people realize that their raspberry patch offers a bonus crop of delicious and medicinal tea leaves. Red raspberry leaf is a popular remedy for menstrual cramps and is considered generally supportive of reproductive health. As a tea, it has a pleasant tannic flavor with a hint of raspberry, and it tastes great iced or hot.
Raspberry plants tend to spread, so plan to dig up baby plants regularly. Offer them to friends and neighbors — someone’s always looking for raspberry plants and will be delighted to take them off your hands.
Besides making a lovely groundcover for shadier spots, sweet woodruff has a long history of medicinal use.
Maud Grieve reports that “woodruff was much used as a medicine in the Middle Ages. The fresh leaves, bruised and applied to cuts and wounds, were said to have a healing effect, and formerly a strong decoction of the fresh herb was used as a cordial and stomachic. It is also said to be useful for removing biliary obstructions of the liver. ”
Dried sweet woodruff was used to freshen the air in houses and to protect linen from insects and as a bed and pillow stuffing. It’s also made into a syrup used in German dessert recipes as well as being a key ingredient in May wine.
Hardy in zones 4-8, sweet woodruff can become an aggressive spreader if the conditions are favorable.
Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Tulsi is considered one of the top adaptogenic herbs, helping the body deal with stress and providing numerous other benefits. It’s most commonly consumed as a tea, alone or in combination with other herbs. It can also be sprinkled as a spice on salads or cooked dishes.
Tulsi can be grown as a perennial in zones 10 and warmer, and as an annual elsewhere. Like many other frost-sensitive herbs, you can pot up tulsi and bring it indoors for the winter.
Wild ginger is a terrific groundcover for shadier locations, though it can get a little invasive if conditions are favorable. It has lovely, fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves that appear early in the season and hidden flowers that bloom just above the soil.
Native Americans and early European settlers used the rhizome as a culinary spice and medicinally, but Hank Shaw at Hunt Gather Cook recommends caution when using wild ginger. Hardy in zones 4-8.
Which herbs that grow in shade have a spot in your garden?
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Photo credits: silviarita, Hans Linde, lightgirl, zoosnow, PommeGrenade
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.