Last Updated on August 18, 2021
Love the idea of fresh, homegrown herbs but don’t have much time for gardening? These delicious perennial herbs will come back reliably year after year. Even if you don’t have a dedicated veggie patch or herb garden, perennial herbs can be tucked into ornamental landscapes, where they provide both beauty and flavor for your table.
WHY TO GROW PERENNIAL HERBS
While many of our favorite herbs are tender annuals like basil, there are also some tough-as-nails perennial herbs worth considering adding to your garden.
There are several advantages to growing perennial herbs. First and foremost, you don’t have to remember to plant them each year and carefully tend your seedlings. It’s easy to get distracted by all the tasks to do in the garden in spring, and busy gardeners may forget to water enough for seeds to sprout. It’s so nice to have these perennial herbs take care of themselves!
You’ll also save money because you won’t need to buy pricey potted plants every year.
Another advantage to perennial herbs, like perennial vegetables and fruits, is that you don’t disturb the soil each season. This helps protect the microbial life of the soil, which in turn helps your plants to thrive.
Perennial herbs serve many purposes in the permaculture garden, where they can help attract pollinators, repel pests, and provide a living groundcover for your other perennial crops.
Best of all, perennial herb plants can be divided so you can multiply them as years go by or share them with friends eager to grow more of their own food as well.
WHAT ARE PERENNIAL HERBS?
Simply put, perennial herbs are herbs that don’t need to be started from seed each growing season. Annual herbs die in winter and don’t come back, while perennial herbs regenerate themselves when the soil warms up again in spring. Some of them are delightfully early, a welcome bit of green after a cold winter.
Note that several perennial herbs are only perennial in very warm climates, so if you live in northern growing zones you’ll find some options that will need to get moved indoors when it starts to get cold.
Not sure of your growing zone? Here’s the USDA map of growing zones.
WHERE TO GET PERENNIAL HERBS
As a Plant Division
One of the best things about perennial herbs is that you can likely get them for free from another gardener. Herbs like chives, mint, lemon balm, and thyme spread rapidly and are easily divided for sharing.
Many communities have online groups for exchanging plant divisions, and making use of these can save you a bundle on garden plants. Here’s more about ways to get plants free.
Grow Perennial Herbs from Cuttings
You can also grow herbs from cuttings, so no one has to dig up a part of a plant to get you started. Place a cutting taken from an herb plant in moist growing medium and it will develop roots. Here are detailed instructions for propagating plants from cuttings from the Missouri Botanical Gardens.
Grow Perennial Herbs From Seeds
Perennial herbs may be started from seed, but they’re often tricky to germinate. If you’re patient and diligent about keeping seeds watered, this method may work for you.
Buy Perennial Herbs as Plant Starts
You can of course also buy perennial herbs as plant starts from your local nursery or garden center. This method is more expensive, but it’s also the quickest way to have yummy herbs ready to harvest.
Some of the less common perennial herbs may only be available by mail order as seed.
WHERE TO GROW PERENNIAL HERBS
In Existing Plantings
One of the advantages of perennial herbs is that most work well in ornamental plantings. Lavender, oregano, hyssop, and chives all look nice in the flower bed, and thyme makes a fantastic groundcover.
You don’t need an entirely separate herb garden to grow these perennial herbs, though that’s certainly an option. You can add them to existing plantings, where lavender’s beautiful silver foliage and tricolor sage’s gorgeous colors, for example, add contrast and interest as well as edibility. Creeping thyme can be used as a living mulch and reduce your need to bring in wood mulch each season, while nourishing soil microbes and attracting pollinators to its abundant flowers.
Choose the perennial herbs that appeal to your palate and aesthetics and have fun incorporating them into your garden. Or set aside an area for a dedicated herb garden.
Perennial herbs can also be grown in pots on balconies and windowsills. Here’s more on growing food indoors if you want some of these delicious herbs at the ready in the kitchen.
I recommend self-watering planters for perennial herbs grown in pots. Pots dry out so much more quickly than garden soil, and planters with a water reservoir can help deliver a steady amount of moisture to their roots.
If you’re short on space, check out some of these clever vertical gardening containers to grow more food in small areas.
Sun and Water Requirements to Consider
Some perennial herbs need full sun, while others can handle some shade. Here’s a full list of herbs that grow in shade (both annual and perennial herbs) if you’re wondering what to plant in shadier parts of the garden. Here’s a list of vegetables for shade as well.
Some perennial herbs are known for their drought tolerance, such as sage and thyme. These plants would be wiser choices for areas further from the house than those that will need frequent watering.
WHAT HERBS ARE PERENNIAL? GETTING TO KNOW PERENNIAL HERB OPTIONS
Below is a list of perennial herbs to consider adding to your flower bed or veggie patch, or just tucking into existing plantings to create an edible landscape.
Note that opinions differ on the ranges of these plants, so you may well find that you can succeed with a perennial herb listed as hardy to zone 5 in zone 4 or that an herb listed as growing in zone 8 can manage in zone 9.
A lot depends on microclimates and whether the plant you get has adapted to your area. Getting a plant division from another gardener can help ensure you’ve got a perennial herb that can cope with your local climate.
The list of perennial herbs below focuses on the ones typically grown for cooking. An upcoming post on growing medicinal herbs will cover plants whose primary use is medicinal. Some, like thyme, sage, and mint, are commonly used in both ways and will appear on both lists.
Now, on to the list of perennial herbs! I’ll start with the more common options first, then move on to some more unusual choices you may want to consider for your perennial herb garden.
PERENNIAL HERBS LIST
Chives (Zones 3 to 10)
One of my favorite perennial herbs, flavorful chives shoot out of the ground soon after the snow melts away, adding lovely green flavor to numerous spring dishes. I cook them with fish, snip them over wild rice salads and soups, and top stirfries with them in place of more commonplace scallions.
Their pretty purple flowers make them an excellent choice for incorporating into an ornamental planting, and they’re one of many flowers you can eat. Just plan to cut off the flowers before they set seed, or you’ll be pulling up chives everywhere.
Garlic chives are another option, adding a note of garlic to the chive-y flavor.
Mint (Zones 3 to 8)
Mint is a very hardy perennial, holding on through early frosts and coming up quite early in the spring. Mints spread readily by runner, so plant it somewhere you don’t mind it taking over or plant in pots to keep it under control.
Mints come in numerous flavors beyond the run-of-the-mill common mint. In addition to peppermint and spearmint, you’ll find less familiar varieties like chocolate mint, apple mint, orange mint, and pineapple mint. I’ve grown all of these; chocolate mint has been one of the most successful, tolerating our cold climate and not taking over too much. It’s also beautiful, if not as versatile an ingredient.
Common mint is the most aggressive spreader we’ve grown, and while versatile, it’s not especially lovely. Apple, orange, and pineapple mints are prettier and more interesting but don’t survive our severe zone 4 winters.
Oregano (Zones 4 to 10)
Oregano is a member of the mint family, sharing its toughness if not its invasiveness. Oregano can be used fresh or dry in pasta dishes, soups, or homemade salad dressings. I often pick some leaves to use in the numerous ratatouilles I make each summer.
There are different types of oregano. Greek oregano is most commonly used for cooking, though Mexican oregano (a lemon verbena relative) can be used as well. Nurseries often carry Italian cultivars with a less powerful flavor than the Greek variety.
Unlike many members of the mint family, oregano prefers more sun, so choose a sunny location for best results.
Rosemary (Zones 5 to 10)
Fragrant rosemary is a favorite perennial herb, adding delicious flavor to all sorts of dishes. I strongly prefer the less commonly known creeping variety (also called prostrate rosemary), which is green rather than silver and has a brighter, less musky flavor. If you want to try it, you’ll likely need to ask for it at the nursery. It’s a bit of a niche plant.
We have to grow rosemary as an annual here in zone 4, but there are hardier varieties that can manage in zones 5 and 6 with winter protection, unlike most rosemary varieties that will only survive in zones 7 to 10. Some people overwinter their rosemary indoors, but they’re notoriously fussy about humidity and need a sunny spot to survive. If you want to try bringing your rosemary indoors for the winter, plan to give it some extra TLC.
Sage (Zones 5 to 9)
Sage is a versatile culinary herb, wonderful in comforting winter stews or used in holiday meals. Even if you don’t cook with it much, the variegated kinds are so lovely, consider including them as accent plants in flowerbeds or containers.
Sage can’t survive here in zone 4, alas, but I harvest all I need from our fantastic CSA farm, where they grow it as an annual.
Thyme (Zones 2 to 10)
Thyme is not only delicious, but the creeping varieties also make a beautiful and fragrant groundcover. I have lemon thyme growing as a groundcover in much of my yard and love the smell it emits when I walk on it. The plentiful tiny blossoms are bee magnets as well.
I prefer common thyme for most cooking purposes, though. It has a more upright form, which makes it much easier to harvest and dry for winter. Not all thymes are hardy north of zone 5, so make sure you’re getting one that’s suited to your climate.
Marjoram (Zones 4 to 10)
There are several different kinds of marjoram, each with different climate tolerances. The best known, sweet marjoram, only grows as a perennial herb in zones 9 and 10, while common marjoram (also known as wild oregano) may tolerate zone 4 growing conditions.
Tarragon (Zones 4-8)
Tarragon is a tough, drought-resistant herb that requires little care. French and Mexican tarragons are reported to have better flavor than the Russian variety. French tarragon is one of the herbs used in the French herb blend fines herbes and is often used in egg and fish dishes.
French tarragon cannot be grown from seed, so you’ll need cuttings, a division, or a nursery plant to get your tarragon started.
Garlic (Zones 2 to 10)
A favorite herb usually grown as an annual, garlic bulbs are perennial if you don’t dig them up. The bulbs will send up edible shoots and delicious scapes that will flower and produce little garlic bulblets you can eat or replant. You can harvest the green leaves while they’re tender and use them the way you would spring garlic.
Garlic’s health benefits are numerous, and garlic is stellar for fighting colds. In addition to growing garlic as a perennial herb to enjoy during the growing season, be sure to plant additional garlic for harvesting as long-lasting bulbs to see you through winter. Here’s how to grow garlic for long-term storage.
Fennel (Zones 4 to 10)
Fennel is both an herb and a vegetable, but if you’re growing fennel as a perennial herb, you’re not going to harvest the bulb, but the fronds and seeds. If you’re growing fennel as a perennial herb, choose an herb fennel rather than a bulb fennel,
Some varieties are hardy to zone 4, while others need warmer climates or are grown as annuals. Fennel will reseed itself readily, so if you’re not in a climate where you can grow it as a perennial, you can still likely get a annual harvest without replanting.
Horseradish (Zones 2 to 9)
Spicy horseradish is a tough, easy-to-grow root suited to even very cold climates. You can use the leaves as well as the grated root to add spice to your cooking or use it medicinally.
Spicebush (Zones 4 to 8)
Spicebush is a native North American plant in the laurel family. Also called wild allspice, the ground spicebush berries can be used in place of allspice in desserts. Spicebush is large shrub growing 6-12 feet tall covered with pretty yellow flowers that attract pollinators.
Winter Savory (Zones 4 to 8)
With a stronger flavor than the more familiar annual summer savory, winter savory grows as a small shrub (6-12″) that would work well tucked into an ornamental planting. Pinch off young shoots to encourage a bushy growth habet
Like many other herbs, both the leaves and flowers can be used.
Salad Burnet (Zones 4 to 8)
This lesser-known herb has leaves with a pleasant cucumber flavor that are used both as a salad vegetable and as an herb in dips, sauces. and herb butters. Salad Burnet also has medicinal uses.
Salad burnet makes an attractive landscape plant, with a mounding growth habit and attractive fern-like foliage.
Harvest leaves before flowering for best flavor.
Lovage (Zones 3 to 9)
A low-maintenance plant, lovage’s leaves, stems, seeds, and roots can all be used.
Bergamot / Bee Balm (Zones 4 to 9)
Bergamot’s name causes a fair amount of confusion. The perennial herb bergamot, often known as bee balm (and botanically, Monarda), is a member of the mint family and has leaves with a signature smell that reminds many of the bergamot orange, a citrus fruit used to flavor early grey tea.
It’s important to know if you intend to use your bergamot for tea, that many of the monardas you’ll find taste more like oregano than earl grey. A great herb for cooking, not necessarily great for tea. Try using the spicy leaves in place of oregano in your favorite recipes and see what you think.
Dried bee balm’s flavor may be more appealing for tea, and some people use the flower for tea. Different varieties of Monarda will taste slightly different.
Bergamot spreads readily, so you can expect this herb to pop up in different places around the yard. You can pull unwanted plants or share them with other gardeners.
Powdery mildew can be a problem, especially in humid conditions. ‘Jacob Cline’ is a powdery-mildew resistant cultivar you’ll find in many garden centers.
Hyssop (Zones 3 to 11)
Hyssop is a member of the mint family used in cooking and medicinally. Serious Eats recommends hyssop’s leaves and flavors in salads, soups, and desserts. Hyssop teas or syrup are helpful for coughs and congestion. This hardy and attractive perennial herb has plentiful flowers to attract pollinators.
Lavender (Zones 5 to 9)
Whether you grow it for culinary or medicinal purposes (or both), lavender is a must-have for the perennial herb garden.
If you live in a northern climate, make sure you’re getting hardy lavender plants. Even those rated to zone 4 may not reliably come back after a very harsh winter.
Lemon Balm (Zones 4 to 9)
Lemon balm, another member of the mint family (though not as invasive in cold climates) adds a wonderful lemony flavor to dishes as diverse as chicken and ice cream. I grow it everywhere I can to use in nightly pots of sleep-promoting tea. Like other mints, lemon balm is quite easy to grow and tolerant of cold. Here’s more on uses for lemon balm.
Yarrow (Zones 3 to 9)
Often used medicinally, yarrow may also be used as a culinary herb similar in flavor to tarragon. Fresh or dried yarrow can be used to flavor dishes toward the end of cooking. Yarrow is drought tolerant and its many flowers will help attract pollinators to your garden.
Here’s more on yarrow benefits and uses.
TROPICAL PERENNIAL HERBS
If you live in a very warm climate or want to try growing these perennial herbs indoors, you can give some of these more unusual options a try.
Bay Laurel (Zones 7-10)
If you like to make homemade soups, you’re probably familiar with bay leaves. You can grow your own supply of bay leaves to dry with a bay laurel in your herb garden.
If you live somewhere north of zone 7, you can grow it in a pot and bring it in for winter. It would be a beautiful and fragrant houseplant. Here are some other houseplants great for cleaning indoor air.
Ginger (Zones 9 to 12)
Growing your own ginger means having an unending supply of this useful and delicious medicinal root. If you live in a colder climate you can grow ginger indoors in a container.
One advantage of growing your own ginger is that you can use the leaves as well as the root.
Ginger can be grown from a small piece of ginger root you get from the grocery store.
Turmeric (Zones 9 to 12)
Closely related to ginger, turmeric is another powerful herb you can grow from a small piece of root. If you live in a warm climate, you can grow turmeric in your garden, but you can also grow turmeric year round in a container indoors.
Another bonus of growing your own turmeric is that the leaves are also edible.
Here’s more on the benefits of turmeric, plus more than 20 recipes to use turmeric in.
Lemon Verbena (Zones 9 to 10)
Lemon verbena adds fragrance and flavor to cooked dishes and tea. Those in cooler climates can plant lemon verbena in containers and bring them in when temperatures fall.
Lemongrass (Zones 9 to 10)
If you enjoy South Asian cooking and live in a warm climate, lemongrass is a perennial herb to consider. Typically the stems are used in cooking, but you can use the leaves as well.
Cardamom (Zones 10 to 11)
If you live in a tropical climate, you can grow cardamom, which is only perennial in zones 10 and 11. Cardamom can be grown in cooler climates if it’s brought in for the winter.
PERENNIAL HERBS TYPICALLY USED MEDICINALLY
A number of other perennial herbs are primarily used medicinally. They’re listed below, and many are covered in a post on medicinal herbs to grow in your garden, which will include annual medicinal herbs as well.
- Creeping Charlie or Ground Ivy (more on Creeping Charlie uses)
- Dandelion (more on dandelion uses)
- Elderflower (more on elderflower benefits)
- Nettle (more on nettle benefits)
- Red raspberry leaf
- Roman chamomile
- Solomon’s Seal
- St. John’s wort
- Sweet woodruff
- Violets (more on using wild violets)
- Wild ginger
- Wood betony
- Yerba Mansa
Once your garden is bursting with delicious perennial herbs, be sure to preserve some to enjoy when the season ends. Here’s what to know about preserving herbs.
What perennial herbs do you grow in your garden?
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Photo credits: Leonie Schoppema, Wolfgang Eckert, Phyzome, strecosa, Ulrike Leone, silviarita, congerdesign, Sandy Miller
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.