Herbs and Spices

Herbs and Spices

Last revised February 11, 2010

Herb production may be for culinary purposes (food flavoring), for scents and fragrances (potpourris), for medicinal uses or others (dyes, dried floral arrangements etc). Herb producers often grow for all these markets, and some herbs may be used for all these purposes.
Some of the most popular culinary herbs grown commercially and by home gardeners and hobbyists are: basil, cilantro (coriander), chervil, dill, oregano, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme.

Cilantro. Photo credit: Alex Stone, Oregon State University

Information on herbs may be obtained from library references, seed catalogs, special garden books and some public bulletins. Because of the highly specialized nature of herb production, public bulletins are minimal and the information contained in them is very general. For these reasons, this document will only give a limited amount of general information on culinary herbs or those that may be used for culinary and other uses.

Medicinal herbs are so specialized and often controversial that mention of their use will be ancillary, and only if the herb is also used for culinary purposes. Two valuable references on medicinal herbs are The Honest Herbal (1993) and Herbs of Choice (1994), both by Varro E. Tyler, Ph.D., and published by Haworth Press Inc., New York City. Dr. Tyler was for 20 years the Dean of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Purdue University. He has published extensively on this subject and is a nationally and internationally recognized expert on medicinal herbs.

Valuable web resources on herbs in general include the Herbs Directory operated by the Dept. of Horticulture at Pennsylvania State University, and Herb/Spice Industry from the Alberta Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Development, Herb Growing and Marketing Network , International Herb Assoc., and Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs. Books include 'Culinary Herbs' by Ernest Small, published by the National Research Council of Canada, and 'The Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers' by Jeanne Mackin (Cornell Coop. Extension), and 'Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs', from Rodale Press. Newsletters include 'The Herb, Spice, and Medicinal Plant Digest', edited by L.E. Craker, Dept. of Plant & Soil Sciences, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, and Herb World, from The Herb Growing and Marketing Network.

Herbs most commonly grown in the Pacific Northwest are mostly adapted to sunny, warm locations. Those listed are generally adapted to a wide range of soil types. Herbs need minimal irrigation, particularly as they mature and their aromatic and flavor compounds are developing.


For the most current advice, see Nutrient Management for Sustainable Vegetable Cropping Systems in Western Oregon, available as a free download from the OSU Extension Catalog

Fertilizer requirements are basic, usually being limited to N, P, and K. In some cases lime is needed to maintain soil pH near neutral, but most are adapted to a wide range of soil pH (5.5-7.5). Nitrogen is usually applied at 75-150 lb/acre depending on the harvested product (leaves or seeds). Timing of nitrogen applications is dependent on whether the species is annual, biennial or perennial. Phosphorous is applied at 50-200 lb/acre and potassium at 0-150 lb/acre depending on the above-mentioned characteristics of the crop and soil test.


Harvest timing and equipment are also specific to the herbs being produced. Often, considerable hand labor is required in production and harvest operations, particularly when the marketable leafy portions of some must be separated from stems, or where only the floral parts are required. Small motorized clippers are often used as harvester aids. Sometimes, when seeds are the marketable product, combines, often specially adapted, are used. Where the distilled oil is the marketable product, there are those who provide custom distillation using portable or stationary stills.

The harvested product often requires immediate special handling such as drying, separation of leaves or seed, and temporary packaging storage to best preserve its color, aroma, flavor, the integrity of its appearance and sanitary condition.


The following is a listing of some of the herbs that may be produced in the Pacific Northwest, a brief description, their taxonomic classification, common synonyms, general uses, and production considerations.

Five characteristics or cultural practice considerations are coded and separated by a slash (/). The codes are represented as follows:

Life cycle: annual (a)/ biennial (b)/ perennial (p).
Established by: Seed (s)/ divisions (d)/ cuttings (c)/ or transplants (t).
Planting time: Spring (sp)/ after frost danger (af)/ fall (fa).
Plant size: as listed next.
Preferred site: Full sun (fs)/ part shade (ps)/ also a potted plant (pot).

Uses are represented by the abbreviations: Flavorings (FLA), tea (TEA), fragrances (FRA), ornamental (ORN), folk medicine (MED), and all of the above (ALL).

Angelica Angelica spp.
an herbaceous aromatic herb. about 50 spp. Sometimes planted for bold ornamental effects.
Angelica Angelica archangelica
(b/s/fa/6-7'/ps, fs)
Anise Pimpinella spp.
Herbaceous perennials and sometimes annuals numbering about 75 species of which only anise is cultivated.
Anise  Pimpinella anisum
(a/s/sp/1.5'/ms, fs)
Anise-hyssop/anise mint, Korean mint Agastache foeniculum
Balm (see lemon balm)    
Basil Ocimum spp.
About 60 little-known species of which only basil is important. More than a dozen types are grown for seasoning and their pleasing fragrance. Only the more common ones are listed. Frost sensitive.
Basil, bush O. basilicum
Basil, cinnamon O. basilicum
Basil, Genovese/sweet Italian O. basilicum
Basil, purple ruffles O. basilicum
Basil, licorice O. basilicum
Basil, sweet O. basilicum (main basil used)
Basil, lemon O. basilicum citrodorum
(Sweet Dani - new, true breeding variety from Purdue University New Crops Center)
Basil, dark opal O. basilicum purpurescence
Basil, sacred O. basilicum sanctum
Basil, spicy globe O. basilicum minimum
(a/s/sp-af/6"/fs, pot)
Bergamot/Bee balm Monarda didyma
Borage Borago officinalis
Burnet salad Sanguisobia minor
Calamintha (see Savory)    
Calendula, pot marigold Calendula officinalis
both orange and yellow types available.
Caraway Carum carvi
Catnip Nepeta cataria
Chamomile Matricaria recutita
an important medicinal plant
Chamomile/German chamomile Matricaria recutita
Chamomile/Roman chamomile Chamaemelum nobile
Chervil Anthriscus cerefolium
(a/s/sp/1'-2'/ps,fs) bolts easily
Chives Allium schoenoprasum
Chives/Chinese garlic/garlic chives Allium tuberosum
Citronella (see lemongrass)    
Cilantro Coriandrum sativum
(the Spanish name for the fresh leaves of coriander, also known as Chinese parsley); bolts at high temperatures. Use bolting resistant varieties, such as Santo, or grow during cool weather.
Coriander Coriandrum sativum
(same as cilantro but grown for its seed)
Corn-salad/mache/lamb's lettuce Valerianella olitoria and Italian corn-salad V. eriocarpa
There are more than 50 species. This northern hemisphere green is grown in the Mediterranean region, where the two species listed are grown as garden greens. The crop was often inter- planted with corn, thus the name.
Cress, curly, garden, pepper-grass Lepidium sativum
Cress, water Nasturtium officinale
Cress, winter/upland Barbarea verna
See Upland Cress for more information.
Cumin Cuminum cyminum
(a/s/sp/1'-2'/fs) like coriander
Dill Anethum graveolens
See file Dill for more information.
Fennel, Florence/sweet fennel/finocchio Foeniculum vulgare dulce
(perennial, but grown as an annual for its bulb) and Fennel seed/wild fennel Foeniculum vulgare (grown for the seed). Zefa fino (Royal Sluis) best root type evaluated, has resistance to bolting (Indiana). Days from seeding to bulb harvest range from 100 to 120.
Fenugreek Trigonella foenum-graecum
Geranium, scented Pelargonium spp.
Warm areas. Several forms and hybrids include: Rose- scented P. capitatum, nutmeg P. fragrans, apple P. odoratissimum, lemon P. crispum, pine-scented P. denticulatum, mint P. tomentosum and others.
Horehound, white Marrubium vulgare
Hyssop, blue Hyssopus officinalis
Lamb's lettuce (See corn-salad)    
Lavender, true Lavandula vera, and more than 28 other species. Two main species, Lavandula
(spike or sweet lavender) and L. angustifolia (English/French lavender) and their hybrids (some sterile) are used in commerce.
Lemongrass/citronella Cymbopogon sp., primarily East Indian Cymbopogon flexuosus, and West Indian Cymbopogon citratus Lemongrass
(p/d/sp/3'/fs,pot) not winter-hardy
Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis
(p/s,c,d/sp/1 1/2'-2'/fs)
Lemon verbena Aloysia triphylla
Licorice Glycyrrhiza glabra
Lovage Levisticum officinale
Mache (see corn-salad)    
Marjoram, sweet Origanum majorana (see also oregano)
Mint Mentha sp.  
 - Japanese mint M. arvensis piperescens ALL
 - Peppermint M. x M. piperita vulgaris ALL
or M. x M. piperita officinalis
 - Bergamot mint M. x M. piperita citrata ALL
 - Pennyroyal, European M. pulegium FLA,FRA,MED
 - - or American Hedeoma pulegioides FLA,FRA,MED
 - Corsican mint M. requienii ALL
 - Spearmint M. spicata ALL
 - Apple mint M. suaveolens ALL
 - Pineapple mint M. suaveolens variegata
Mustard, condiment Brassica sp.  
 - black B. nigra FLA,MED
 - brown B. juncea FLA,MED
 - white B. alba FLA,MED
 - yellow mustard B. hirta
(a,b/s/sp/2'-5'/fs) See Condiment Mustard in Mustard Greens file for more information.
Nasturtium Tropaeolum majus
(p,a/s/sp/1'-2'/fs, pot)
Oregano is of primarily two unrelated genera, Origanum and Lippia. European oregano is also call wild marjoram, winter marjoram, oregano and organy, and is Origanum vulgare. Greek oregano, also called winter sweet marjoram, or pot marjoram is Origanum heracleoticum (formerly O. hirtum). Mexican oregano, also called Mexican sage, origan, oregamon, wild marjoram, Mexican marjoram or Mexican wild sage is Lippia graveolens.  
Oregano, European Origanum vulgare
Oregano, Greek Origanum heracleoticum
Oregano, Mexican Lippia graveolens (not in the Labiatae family)
Parsley, Chinese (see Cilantro)    
Parsley, curly and Italian Petroselinum hortense See file Parsley for more information.
Pennyroyal (see "mint" above)    
Poppy Papaver somniferum, seed and opium poppy; P. orientale, morphine-free medicinal poppy.
 Rosemary   Rosmarinus officinalis
Saffron Crocus sativus, pollen of crocus flower
Sage Salvia officinales, several types including dwarf, mammoth, purple, golden, and tricolor. Others are: Pineapple S. elegans, Mexican S. leucantha, scarlet S. splendens, and Clary S. sclarea (a biennial).
Savory Satureja sp.
About 180 species. Aromatic herbs and shrubs, border or pot-herb plants. Warm regions. Two main types: Summer savory, Satureja hortensis, an annual, and Winter or creeping winter savory, Satureja montana, a perennial. An evergreen perennial used mainly for tea is Satureja douglasii.
Sesame Sesamum indicum.
(for warm areas only)
Spearmint (see "mint" above)    
Tarragon, French Artemisia dracunculus sativa
Not winter-hardy. The related Russian tarragon is more winter-hardy, but of inferior quality.
Thyme, common, English, French, garden Thymus vulgaris.
Over 300 species and their hybrids such as lemon thyme T. x citriodorus.
thyme, creeping T. serpyllum
Valerian, garden heliotrope Valeriana officinalis
Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens
Woodruff, sweet Galium odoratum


Few pesticides are registered for use in herb production. In some cases special restrictions apply to the use of pesticides in products that will be concentrated (distilled or processed in certain ways).


The Pacific Northwest Weed Control Handbook has no control entries for this crop. Cultivate as often as necessary when weeds are small. Proper cultivation, field selection and rotations can reduce or eliminate the need for chemical weed control.


The Pacific Northwest Insect Control Handbook has no control entries for this crop. Proper rotations and field selection can minimize problems with insects.


The Pacific Northwest Disease Control Handbook has no control entries for this crop. Proper rotations, field selection, sanitation, spacings, fertilizer and irrigation practices can reduce the risk of many diseases. Fields can be tested for presence of harmful nematodes. Using seed from reputable sources reduces risk from "seed-borne" diseases.