We love growing herbs from seed at Jekka’s, almost as much as Jekka herself who is continually monitoring which herb seeds have chitted and which have germinated best. We sow continually through-out the year as nature has developed seeds that will germinate in the cold, in the warm and after frost. As with growing herbs, sowing herb seeds is much about reproducing their natural environment.
This blog lists Jekka's top 10 herbs that you can grow from seed this year; outlining their habit, medicinal and culinary use. For more of our favourite herb seeds, check out Jekka's top culinary herb seeds.
Jekka's top 3 tips for sowing herb seeds
- We strongly advocate not touching seeds as the oil and acidity from your hands, as well as your warmth, can effect your seeds and therefore, the success of your germination.
- Something often overlooked, is how to correctly store your seeds; they prefer a cool dry spot and should not be left in the sun on a window sill.
- Jekka’s top tip for growing herbs from seeds is to use a seed mix, not a standard compost. If you use a standard compost you are likely to end up with stretched and leggy seeds as you have given them too much nutrition too early. Our herb seed mix contains grit and vermiculite. We use perlite to cover them as this keeps them warm, it is light in weight, it doesn’t retain moisture and therefore won’t leave your seeds waterlogged. Available in Jekka's Herb Kits and Jekka's Seed Sowing Kit.
Jekka’s top 10 herb seeds to grow
- Borage (Borago officinalis)
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
- Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
- Dill (Anethum graveolens)
- French Parsley (Petroselinum crispum 'French')
- Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
- Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
- Purple Basil (Ocimum basilicum var. purpurascens 'Red Shiraz')
- Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
- Wild Rocket (Diplotaxis muralis)
Read about these herbs below and check out Jekka's seed sowing video as well as Jekka's blogs on how to grow herbs from seeds, including: sowing herb seeds, sowing your winter culinary herbs and sowing vegetables.
Borage is from the family Boraginaceae and also known as starflower, bee bush, bee bread, and bugloss. It was regarded by both the Greeks and Romans to be comforting and imparting courage. The latter could stem from the Celtic word borrach meaning ‘courage’. Borage is also wonderful for bees which likely relates to its other names.
Borage is an annual and will grow to 60 cm tall. It is also one of Jekka’s herbs that can be grown in dry conditions and will survive to -10C. For best results, sow seeds in early spring, into prepared plug trays or pots, cover with perlite.
It is a culinary herb with edible leaves and flowers. The leaves have a cucumber-like taste and is often used in salads or as a garnish. The flowers have a sweet, honey-like taste and are often used to decorate desserts and cocktails, most commonly, frozen in ice cubes and added to Pimms.
As a medicinal herb, the seeds have been found to contain an oil rich in fatty acids that has been used to help with menopause, premenstrual symptoms and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
Chives are from the family Alliaceae and are one of the most ancient of all herbs being a favourite in China as long ago as 3000 BC. However, they were not cultivated in Europe until the 16th century.
Chives are a herbaceous perennial that will grow to roughly 30 cm tall with purple globe shaped flowers that are wonderful for bees and taste great.
They are delicious freshly picked and snipped and should be added towards the end of the preparation of a meal so that the flavour does not disappear. Chives work well in a variety of dishes including eggs, fish, potatoes, salads, shellfish, and soups. We particularly enjoy both the stems and flowers mixed into soft cheese or sprinkled onto grilled meat.
Medicinally, Chives are an excellent source of beta carotene and Vitamin C.
Coriander is from the family Apiaceae and has been cultivated for over 3000 years, being found in the tombs of the 21st Egyptian Dynasty (1085 – 945 BC). It is one of the traditional bitter herbs to be eaten at the Passover.
Coriander is an annual that grows up to 20 cm tall and can survive to -5 Deg C. The first and lower mid green leaves are broad and scalloped and have the best flavour. It has umbels of white flowers that are followed by round seeds.
All parts of the herb are edible. The leaves and ripe seeds have two distinct flavours; the seeds are warmly aromatic and the leaves have an earthy pungency. The seeds are frequent ground as a spice and added to curries, tomato chutneys, ratatouille, cakes and biscuits. The leaves are frequently used in Mexican, Chinese, Southeast Asian and Indian cuisines and, in particular, with vegetables and poultry dishes. It is also used as a garnish.
Medicinally, Coriander has high levels of nutrients as well as antioxidant and antifungal properties.
Dill is from the family Apiaceae and its name is said to have come from the Anglo-Saxon dylle or the Norse dilla, meaning to soothe or lull. This is reflected in its culinary use where it improves the appetite and digestion and also acts as a calmative.
Dill is an annual and can grow up to 1.5m tall with fine, feathery, aromatic, mid green leaves and umbels of small yellow/green flowers followed by aromatic seeds.
As a culinary herb, like Coriander, you can use all parts of the herb in cooking. The only difference is the degree of potency as the seed has a sharper flavour. You can also eat the flower when it is in the green and before it sets seed; the flavour is stronger than the leaves but fresher than the seed. They can be added to pickled gherkins, cucumbers and cauliflower and make wonderful biscuits and breads.
As mentioned, it is traditionally seen as medicinal herb that has digestive properties with relaxing and calming effects on the gut. It has often been used to relieve nausea, colic, and wind whilst assisting with appetite and digestion.
Parsley is from the family Apiaceae. It has had a mixed history, the Greeks associated it with Archemorus, the Herald of Death, and decorated their tombs with it. It was the Romans who consumed Parsley in large quantities and today, it is wildly used as a garnishing herb.
Parsley is a hardy biennial that has small creamy white flowers in flat umbels in the summer of the second season. The leaves are flat, dark green with serrated edges. It is suitable to be grown in a container.
At Jekka’s we advocate using Parsley for flavour not just as a garnish, it is mildly bitter and enhances the taste of other foods and herbs and is best added at the end of cooking. There are numerous Parsley recipes in our herb-based recipe section for you to try.
Medicinally, all Parsleys are a good source of Vitamins A and C, they are also high in iron and contain antiseptic chlorophyll. As an added benefit, Parsley can aid digestion.
Lemon Balm is from the family Lamiaceae and is native to the Mediterranean region and Central Europe.
It is a herbaceous perennial that can grow up to 75cm and spread 45cm. It is predominately used for its leaves that are lemon scented, oval, toothed and textured. Lemon Balm also has clusters of small pale creamy flowers.
As the name suggest, Lemon Balm has a refreshing, bright and citrus flavour, that is like lemon with a hint of Mint or Lemon grass. However, it is much better as an infusion than eaten raw or cooked, which we do not recommend.
It was used medicinally by the Greeks, some 2000 years ago. An infusion made from the leaves is said to relieve headaches and tension as well as restore the memory. It is also good after meals to aid digestion and prevent flatulence and colic.
Lovage is from the family Apiaceae and has long been used; from the Greeks who chewed the seed to aid digestion and relieve flatulence, to travellers in the Middle Ages who used the leaves as latter-day odour eaters in their shoes.
Lovage can grow up to 2m in height and has flat clusters of tiny pale, greenish yellow flowers, followed by brown seeds. The deeply divided toothed green leave have a celery scent when crushed.
Lovage is an essential, if sometimes forgotten, member of the culinary herb collection. As with many of the herbs listed here, the flowers, seeds and leaves are all edible. They taste of meaty celery and can be used in soups, stews and stocks. The fresh young leaves found in the centre of the plant can be eaten in salads or to add flavour to both rice or mash potato.
Medicinally, Lovage has warming and calming effects on the stomach. Regarded as having antibacterial qualities, it can be used as a gargle for tonsillitis and a mouth wash for aphthous ulcers.
Purple Basil is a frost tender annual from the family Lamiaceae. Basils are native to India, the middle East and some Pacific Islands. They only arrived in Western Europe in the 16th Century with the spice trade.
Purple Basil has light purple stems, strongly scented purple leaves and clusters of small pink/mauve tubular flowers in summer. The dark purple, oval pointed leaves have a very spicy warm flavour.
Basils in general have a unique flavour and should be used with discretion otherwise they will dominate other flavours. They are unique culinary herbs in that their flavour increases upon cooking and therefore, for best results, you should add at the end of cooking. Purple Basil is particularly good added to rice and pasta dishes as a stunning colour contrast. It also makes a lovely panacotta.
Basil has health benefits as an antioxidant and is a defence against low blood sugar.
Sweet Basil is a frost tender annual from the family Lamiaceae. It has a history and background similar to Purple Basil above.
Sweet Basil differs from Purple Basil as, where it does not have a striking colour, it makes up in taste and scent. It is a strongly scented basil with green, oval pointed leaves that smell wonderful when crushed and have a warm anise flavour. If allowed to flower, the flowers are small and white.
Sweet Basil is without doubt the most popular basil and can be used in pasta sauces and salads, it especially goes well with tomatoes and garlic. Also, not generally known, it makes a lovely calming tisane; just add a couple of sprigs to boiling water.
Wild Rocket is from the family Brassicaceae and is native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, but it is found throughout the temperate world, where it has naturalised.
Wild Rocket is a hardy perennial though it is often grown as an annual. It has small yellow 4-petalled flowers with green, deeply divided, aromatic leaves. It is one herb that can be sown in the garden all year round.
It is a much-loved culinary herb that can be chopped and added to salads or used as a flavouring for cooked dishes. With its strong, sometimes punchy piquant flavour, somewhat resembling Salad Rocket but with a sharp peppery aftertaste, it goes particularly well with egg, cheese and meat dishes. Jekka makes a delicious and simple Wild Rocket pesto that can be added to pasta.
Medicinally, the leaves are high in sulphur, good for healthy skin.
Want to know more?
Enjoy reading about the culinary and medicinal uses of herbs? Check out Jekka's How to Use Herbs Master Class that covers the uses of herbs in the kitchen and home.
For information on growing herbs from seeds please see Jekka's blogs as well as Jekka's "How to Grow Herbs" videos that includes Jekka's video on how to sow seeds for an informative step-by-step guide to seed sowing.
Growing indoors? Check out Jekka's blog on indoor herb gardening for some advice.
If you require pots or compost, see Jekka's Herb Kits that includes Jekka's Seed Sowing Kit. and Jekka's Grow At Home Spring Herb Kit which contains 5 packets of seeds: Borage, Chervil, Chives, Red Orach & Sweet Marjoram and all you need to sow a collection of herb seeds.
For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter. Together they form the basis of Jekka’s guide on how to grow herbs.
Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar). Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us (firstname.lastname@example.org). We no longer offer a general mail order service for our plants but we do offer a limited selection of Jekka's Culinary Herb Boxes.