Adding a quick snip of fresh herbs will spice up any simple summer meal. You’ve heard about the benefits of herbs, but you’re not quite sure how to grow them. You’ve looked at some books and blogs but you still have questions. Questions like:
- What are the best herbs to grow?
- My spot is shady — are there any herbs that grow in shade?
- The books say most herbs like full sun. What does “full sun” even mean?
- Do you have to plant herbs every year? Don’t some herbs grow by themselves?
Well, you’ve come to the right place. This post will answer all those questions and more.
- different light conditions important to gardeners,
- different plant types (annual, biennial, perennial, etc), and
- how to plant and use 7 of the best culinary herbs that grow in shade.
Follow these tips and you’ll see how easy it is to step outside your door, snip a few leaves, and make something fabulous for dinner.
From salads to barbecue, fresh-tasting meals bursting with flavor will soon be a snap.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
What herbs grow without sunlight?
Well, outdoors, no herb can grow without sunlight. Indoors, you can use special grow lights with good success.
there are some shade-loving herbs that do well outside with limited sunlight.
If you read my post 7 Vegetables That Grow in Shade (Fast), you know there are 3 (or 4) basic sunlight conditions. Here’s a recap:
Full sun gardens receive at least 6 hours a day of direct sunlight.
Partial Sun/Partial Shade
A fine line separates partial sun and partial shade but there is a subtle difference. Many people don’t bother with the distinction and treat them the same. But for your gardening knowledge…
Partial sun gardens receive 3-6 hours of direct sunlight but are shaded the rest of the day.
Partial shade gardens (sometimes called dappled or light shade) also receive 3-6 hours of sunlight, but it’s either morning sun or filtered light (generally through a canopy of tree leaves or a trellis).
Full shade gardens receive only 2-3 hours of sunlight each day.
If your herb garden is next to light-colored pavement such as a driveway or sidewalk, the reflected light will increase your “light time.”
So now that you understand lighting, let’s go over some basic herb types.
7 types of herbs
Annual herbs live for only 1 year. You can snip and enjoy them all summer. Annuals don’t like cold weather so harvest before the first frost hits.
Some annual herbs, such as dill and dandelion, will “self-seed” if allowed to bloom. So while the parent plant doesn’t come back, the seeds will start new plants the following season.
Biennial herbs take 2 years to complete a life cycle. Usually the stem remains short and the leaves stay close to the ground. After the herb blooms at the end of its first year, the biennial plant goes dormant for the cold winter months and returns in the spring. After its second season, it dies off completely.
Perennial herbs show up year after year without being asked. Like old friends, they’re usually low-maintenance herbs.
Shade-tolerant herbs will grow and often thrive in partial or full shade.
Culinary (cooking) herbs add flavor to food, making dishes spectacular.
Medicinal herbs will fix what ails you. Made into teas, salves, extracts, etc, they gently do their work.
Many herbs, like basil and dill, do double duty — they flavor food brilliantly and work to keep you healthy.
7 Herbs that Grow in Shade
So with all that out of the way, let’s get down and dirty.
Basil grows in shade
Yes, this bushy annual herb that grows about 2 feet tall and is best known for its culinary uses, prefers full sun but this herb grows very well in partial shade. It’s one of those hard-working herbs that does double duty and is a good medicinal too.
However, basil doesn’t get along with frost. So, plant seeds directly into the ground or transplant established seedlings after the danger of frost has passed.
Either way you plant, basil appreciates moderately rich soil that’s kept lightly moist. Pinch back the plant tip to encourage more leaf growth. Basil can be snipped and harvested multiple times throughout the growing season.
Use basil in sauces, soups, stews, pasta — it’s a favorite herb in Italian and Greek dishes. Basil reportedly lifts the spirits, alleviates anxiety, and helps with digestion.
Lightly rubbing the creased green leaves gives a delicious smell to your finger-tips — that always lightens my mood.
Lime basil has a slight citrusy taste. Genovese basil is especially delicious for pesto.
Fun fact: In Italy, basil signified love. In ancient Greece, it signified hate. And in France — well, the French designated basil as the “herbe royale” (royal herb).
Chives grow in shade
An old friend, perennial chive is part of the onion family — except you eat the grass-like leaves, not the bulb. The lavender blossoms (which bees and butterflies love) are also edible.
Chives produce 6 to 12 inch clumps of green leaves. For a mild onion flavor, clip and add this herb that grows in shade to your favorite dish.
Although chives prefer full sun, they’ll grow well in a partial shade garden. The flowers bloom less in shade, but the tasty leaves flourish.
Whether started from seed, transplants, or root divisions, chives grow best in rich, well-drained soil.
Cut the leaves back to 1 or 2 inches above the ground several times a season — new leaves will grow. Don’t just snip at the ends of the shoots, or the stalk will become tough. Chives self-seed if allowed to blossom and let their seeds go.
Use chives in salads, soups, eggs, cream cheese, butter, baked potato, or sandwiches. Sprinkle the blossoms on salads. Leaves and flowers added to vinegar make colorful flavored vinegars. Pink-lavender blooms added to white vinegar transforms it into a beautiful pink color with a light onion flavor.
Store chives in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several days.
Fun fact: In the 19th century, Dutch farmers fed chives to cattle to give the milk a different taste.
cilantro grows in shade
Often called coriander, cilantro is a cool-season, annual herb that grows about 1 to 2 feet high. Cilantro is actually the green leafy part of the plant, while the seeds are called coriander.
While cilantro can grow in full sun, it’s an herb that grows better in partial shade. Shade improves the flavor and prevents “bolting.”
Why do herbs bolt? Stress (usually caused by the hot sun) forces plants to produce seeds. It’s a last-ditch effort at reproducing. After bolting, cilantro leaves become bitter.
Cilantro is easy to grow from seeds planted directly into the soil after the last frost has passed; it develops a large taproot and doesn’t like to be transplanted. Cilantro prefers well-drained soil rich with organic matter.
You can start snipping fresh leaves from the outer edges once the plant is at least 4 inches tall; the center of the plant will continue to grow and produce.
Harvest coriander after the herb has flowered and the seeds have turned brown. Use the seeds as spice for cooking or save them to replant next season.
Like parsley, the entire plant can be eaten.
Use the flower blossoms either with cilantro leaves or instead of the leaves in most recipes — the blossoms give a milder flavor. Cilantro flowers should always be used fresh (not dried).
Use cilantro in Mexican, Asian, and Indian dishes such as burritos, koftes, and curries. The crushed seeds (coriander) add a mild earthy lemony flavor when added to curries, soups, and stews.
Fun fact: To some people, cilantro tastes like soap. According to recent research, 4-14% of the world’s population have a variation in an olfactory-receptor gene (OR6A2, to be exact) that allows them to strongly taste the soapy-flavored aldehydes found in cilantro leaves. So, disliking cilantro is not just bad taste (pun intended), it’s a genetic thing.
Dill grows in shade
A member of the carrot family, this hardy annual herb sports light-green feathery leaves and grows between 2 to 4 feet tall. Small yellow-green flowers form on top of thin stems like clusters of parasols.
While dill likes full sun, this herb will grow in partial shade. Shade encourages dill to produce larger leaves rather than flowers. Use the leaves (called dillweed) as a tasty, natural breath freshener.
Plant dill seeds directly into any well-drained soil; like cilantro, it doesn’t transplant well.
Don’t plant dill near fennel though; the bulbous fennel can cross-pollinate with dill and produce a bitter-tasting hybrid.
Keep the soil moist and dill will bloom in about 8 weeks. Plant new seeds every two weeks throughout the growing season to keep a steady supply of this tasty herb.
Dill puts out beautiful yellow blooms in late summer. Harvest the crescent-shaped seeds to plant next year.
Use dill in seafood, potatoes, and eggs. Add it to cucumbers and vinegar to make dill pickles. Dill has a soothing effect on the digestive system. Dill water has been used throughout the ages to soothe the tummies of colicky babies.
Fun fact: According to records found in Egyptian tombs, doctors have used dill as a digestive aid since ancient times.
Mint grows in shade
Yes. Full sun brings out the most intense flavor, but mint thrives when grown in partial shade.
It’s a hardy, fast-growing perennial herb and is a great filler for gardens that need extra specimens. There are over 30 varieties of mint and they all sport a characteristic square stem with aromatic leaves.
Mint isn’t too fussy about soil, as long as it’s moist. You can grow mint from seed, buy an established plant, or easily start your own with a cutting from a friend.
Mint grows vigorously — be careful or it’ll take over your garden. It’s best to keep this herb that grows in shade contained, either in a pot or in a container that can be sunk into the ground to contain its roots. Cut stalks and strip leaves as needed throughout the growing season, but be sure to trim mint frequently; when this herb grows in shade, it can get leggy.
Use mint for a delicious hot or a refreshing iced tea. Mix it up with a few fun varieties such as chocolate, peppermint, spearmint, pineapple, apple, or ginger mint. Add mint to green salads, fruit salads, roasts, soups, and pastas. Mint pesto elevates chicken to a whole new level — and it’s super easy.
Fun fact: Mint is named after Minthe (or Menthe), a maiden from Greek mythology. She died in a jealous dispute and, according to the Dictionary of Classical Mythology by Peter Grimal, “from the earth spray the weak herb that bears her name.”
Parsley grows in shade
Parsley is a cold-hardy biennial herb that’s often planted annually.
This herb produces tasty dark green leaves the first year, and after lying dormant all winter, flowers, sets seeds, and dies fairly quickly.
People have discovered it’s better to replant seeds each spring to enjoy the abundant first season parsley leaves all season. You can harvest second year leaves (briefly), but they’re not as tasty.
Parsley is one of the few herbs that can withstand almost any condition. It tolerates full sun but thrives best in partial shade, especially when planted in rich, moist, well-draining soil.
Sow seeds directly in the ground or purchase young plants in either spring or fall. Just make sure to protect young plants from frost.
Snip the outer stalks from the base of the plant and trim off leaves to use throughout the season. Frequent trimming keeps the herb compact and prevents legginess (a common issue with herbs that grow in shade).
Use parsley (both leaves and stems) for soups, stews, sauces and salads. Like cilantro, the whole plant can be eaten. The leaves of curly parsley is often used to garnish food (and freshen breath). Fresh or dried, parsley has almost unlimited use in cooking.
You’ll find many varieties of parsley, each with a slightly different flavor. Flat-leaf Italian parsley and curly parsley are the most common types of this herb found in the grocery store.
Fun fact: According to Growing & Using the Healing Herbs by Gaea and Shandor Weiss, “ancient Greeks wore chaplets (head wreath or necklace) of parsley at banquets in the belief that the herb would help keep them sober.”
Thyme grows in shade
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and …
Thyme is a hearty perennial herb that grows as a woody shrub, reaching 4 to 10 inches tall. Spreading low to the ground, thyme makes a lovely ground cover beneath tree canopies. It’s also a nice fragrant herb to add between pavers if you have a shady sitting area.
Thyme does best in dappled sunlight but tolerates full shade. The more shade it gets, the less it blooms — but you can always count on thyme to release its signature fragrance, beloved by bees and butterflies.
The leaves are small, oval, and gray-green, set in pairs along wiry stems. When thyme blooms, expect a variety of colors, from white to pale purple to pink.
You can start seeds indoors or purchase seedings; it’s also easy to grow from cuttings or root divisions.
Thyme likes to be planted in sandy, well-draining soil and it likes its soil to dry out slightly between waterings; it doesn’t like wet “feet.” Once established, thyme is relatively drought tolerant.
Cut leaves as needed leaving at least 3-inch stems for further growth.
Use thyme (fresh or dried) to flavor soups, stews, mushroom, fish or meat dishes. Dried thyme can keep its flavor for about 2 years.
Fun facts: The Egyptians used thyme in their embalming process. Ancient Greeks used it as a fumigant or cleanser. And thyme was used as a germicide during the European plagues in the 15th to 17th centuries.
Now, it’s time to grow a pair…
There you have it.
7 easy cooking herbs that grow in shade. Adding a quick snip of any of these fresh herbs will spice up any simple summer meal. Because let’s face it, that’s what summer eating is all about — fresh, simple, tasty.
So now it’s your turn.
It’s time for you to grow a pair…of herbs.
Or give three or four herbs a try. Head on out to your local nursery and see what catches your fancy. If you’re like me, you’ll come home with all 7!
To your gardening health!