A lifetime of medicinal and culinary herbs for $12 or less

Through trial and error, we’ve come up with a tidy and tested list of herbs you can grow in Northeast Florida for a decade or more for $12 or less. ( For a much longer and thriftier list that includes an abundance of vegetables and greens, see my posts here and here.)

All of these herbs have medicinal and culinary uses and thrive on varying degrees of neglect. With the right care, they can produce more than your family and neighbors could ever use.

All are perennials, which means they grow year after year. In many cases cases, all you need to get them started are a neighbor with a plant you can cut, a 50 cent packet of seeds, a $1 bunch of herbs from an Asian market or a $3 seedling.

Bonus: Some plants grow so big, healthy and beautiful they can become part of your landscaping.

Rosemary

About: There’s a reason this ridiculously easy-to-care-for plant is No. 1 on the list. It absolutely loves our sandy soil and heat. I planted two small pots of rosemary almost 10 years ago and they have grown so huge I have to hack them back to keep them from taking over the beds. They love pruning and even better, flower with beautiful, delicate blue flowers twice a year, in winter and in spring.

This plant produces massivley. At the end of July, for instance, I aggressively pruned one plant and got enough rosemary to fill a clean pillowcase. It’s drying in the closet to be used all year long for seasoning, rosemary wreaths and crafts.

Uses: Rosemary is an excellent addition to roasted root vegetables and meat — especially turkey, beef and lamb — and in a bouquet garni. The essential oil has a variety of medicinal uses. See the Healthline article here.

Care: Plant it in sandy, well drained soil where it will get plenty of harsh sun. Water it regularly until it’s established and then forget about it. Best sites are southeast and southwest corners in full sun.

Cost: Free if you have a neighbor who will give you cuttings or $4 for a small plant from the hardware store. (Seeds are too much work.)

Tip: Don’t buy rosemary around the holidays because growers charge a seasonal premium for tree-shaped potted plants instead of offering normal seedlings.

Lemongrass

Our lemongrass is taller than 5 feet now. Shown Aug 1, 2019.

About: This is another plant that thrives on neglect when planted in the right place. I planted this one when it was just a small seedling (I think I paid $3) and it has grown to be five feet tall with a wider spread.

Use: Lemongrass smells crisp, cool and refreshing and adds wonderful flavor to marinades and Asian foods of all sorts. It’s great for aromatherapy, too. See a great article here. These plants are also great for privacy landscaping, as you can see.

Care: Plant in partial shade and make sure it gets plenty of water until it’s established. Once it’s established, you won’t have to do anything again except occasionally throw some fertilizer around the roots when and if you think about it. I planted this one in partial shade on the north side of the house and it is still happily growing where many other plants have failed.

Cost: As little as a $1. You can find this in Asian food stores and root the stalks in water. Once it’s established, you can continue to propagate the same way.

Chives

About: This is another plant that is perennial in our climate as long as it gets enough water and sun.

Use: It adds a garlic, umami taste to eggs and potatoes and can be used in a variety of ways. It also develops a pretty purple It also will continue to produce year after year with a little love and a lot of snipping pom pom once a year, atop a green shoot called a scape, The scape is tasty and juicy and the flower is beautiful dried and in bouquets.

Chives also have a lot of fiber and act like a prebiotic food, which means they help probiotic bacteria thrive in your gut and maintain your overall health.

Care: Plant in full sun and water diligently the first couple of years. Make sure drainage is good so it doesn’t die of root rot. After the first year or two, you can forget all about it until you’re making breakfast for company.

Cost: It’s easy to grow from seed, and Dollar General sells the seed seasonally, usually two for $1.

Greek oregano

About: Like its Italian siblings, this herb is a fragrant ground cover that loves to creep and spread. Like most Greeks I know (including myself) it loves food and company, especially other delicious edibles like tomatoes.

Use: What makes it superior to other types of oregano, in my book, is its stronger, earthier taste. It’s good for weed control and on-the-spot aromatherapy but even better for Mediterranean and Italian dishes. It has antibacterial properties and is loaded with phytonutrients – chemicals that help your body ward off disease.

Care: Plant it in partial shade and water it regularly but don’t overwater, because that will kill it; it doesn’t like extremes of water or of sun. That said, it’s fairly carefree as long as you keep an eye on it.

Make sure it has lots of space to stretch and it will continue to produce year after year with a little love and a lot of snipping.

Cost: It grows easily from seed — a packet will run around $2 at Walmart or any big box store — or you can buy a seedling for $3 and watch as it grows out and over whatever container it’s in.

Lemon thyme

About: The herb with the tiniest leaves and the most taste by surface area? Thyme and thyme again. In Florida, this plant is a creeping perennial that grows slowly and steadily and produces excellent leaves for drying.

Use: I find this herb so fragrant and flavorful that I’ve used it as the only spice in multiple dishes, especially when I’m cooking chicken soup for sick kids. The combination of the healthy vitamins and the healing properties of the broth pack a 1-2 punch against colds.

Care: This plant grows wonderfully well in containers on a sunny porch or in light shade beneath the trees, which keep it from getting scorched in the Florida heat. It needs well-drained soil and some attention the first year to get it established. It will produce for you for years and years as long as you don’t overwater or let it perish in a drought.

Cost: A small $3 seedling will get you started with no fuss and will soon spread all over if you care for it right the first year, then check on it every so often.

Do you have limited garden space or just want to try growing more herbs and veggies indoors? Check back on NortheastFloridaGardening.com soon for ways to grow them.

Would you rather we just grew it, cut it from our garden and brought it to your doorstep? Check out our produce page here.

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