How to grow flavor-packed herbs

Last Updated: 
July 19, 2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If you love fresh, home-grown cilantro to flavor dinner and basil to toss into salads, it's good to know that how you grow herbs and when you harvest them can make a big difference in how they taste.

Ross Penhallegon, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, offers these suggestions for growing flavorful herbs.

Do not over-fertilize herbs. The essential oils that provide flavor are more concentrated when herbs are grown in moderately rich soil with just enough fertilizer to keep them green. Too much makes the plant grow large, rangy and less flavorful. Be careful when adding compost or manure as well, and use moderate amounts.

Plant herbs in well-drained soil. Poorly drained soil inhibits healthy root systems, causes stress and invites insect and disease problems.

Trim back perennial herbs such as oregano and thyme when they get woody stems. Sage should be pruned annually. Tender new growth has the most flavor, but older, tougher growth that is trimmed off is great for use when barbequing. By trimming herbs often, the plants also look more attractive, with plenty of new leaves.

Leaves are the most flavorful before the plant blooms.

Remove the blossoms of sweet basil plants to make the plant grow bushier, with more leaves. If the herb has already bloomed, pick the younger side shoots.

"If you're growing herbs for seeds such as fennel, caraway, cilantro or dill, pick the seeds when they look brown and almost ripe and you won't lose seeds," Penhallegon said. "Let them finish drying in a warm, dry dark area of the house, barn or garage."

Author: Judy Scott