If you have a shady garden, or no garden at all and want to grow some herbs indoors, fear not—there are some exciting choices. Tender herbs that thrive in damper soil will grow admirably in darker locations without a lot of direct sunlight. We’ve put together a collection of useful culinary and soothing herbs that grow in the shade, so you have plenty of options to choose from.
People with shady yards often plant ornamentals or ground covers. It makes the garden look pretty, but if you opt for shade-loving herbs that produce beautiful flowers or have other eye-catching features, you can also experience the joy of harvesting plants for your kitchen or home apothecary.
In the gardening community, mint is known to take over garden beds and plots. This is a hardy plant, which can survive in most conditions, including shade.
Although used most commonly as a component for tea, mint is actually quite versatile. Try it in a summer fruit salad, or use it as a savory element in a spring pea soup. You can even create a mint pesto to serve with chicken.
There are also many varieties—like the well-known peppermint and spearmint—but there are also chocolate, pineapple, apple, and ginger mints. Have fun choosing your favorites.
Mint is the perfect choice for an indoor container garden, since it has a tendency to overpower other herbs if left to grow freely outdoors.
Parsley is loved the world over for its bright flavor. The whole plant can be eaten, including its roots. There are two varieties; flat-leaved Italian parsley, and the curly variety. Flat leaf is most commonly used to flavor food, whereas curly is mainly reserved as a garnish.
This is a cold-hardy herb, which means it can withstand more extreme temperatures. This makes it a great fit if you live in a colder climate. It’s also a good choice for containers—just make sure to keep the soil nice and damp.
Parsley will self-seed and grow again if allowed to flower and go to seed.
Cilantro is the green leafy part of the Coriandrum sativum plant, whose seeds are known as coriander. Some people have an aversion to cilantro and say it tastes like soap. Others adore it in Mexican, Thai, and Indian cuisines.
Partial shade maintains the taste and flavor of the herb and reduces bolting and bitter leaves.
It is very easy to grow cilantro from seeds, and like parsley, the entire plant can be consumed.
Chives are part of the onion family, but instead of the bulb being consumed, it’s the leaves that add a mild onion flavor to dishes. It’s wonderful paired with eggs (especially scrambled, or devilled), and potatoes.
These perennial herbs are beneficial to the digestive system. Both the long grass-like stems and the flowers are edible.
They self-seed, and are good pollinators, which means bees love them. Their purple flowers look pretty, which makes them a nice addition to an indoor container garden. For them to bloom regularly they require a few hours of direct sunlight daily.
Lemon balm, also known as Melissa, is a tender-leafed herb with, as you can guess from its name, a fresh citrus flavor.
It has long been used for its mild sedative properties, and also has culinary uses. Try it as a tea or make a simple syrup with it, and use that as cocktail ingredient. You can even make a compound butter to be paired with chicken or fish dishes.
This herb is a perennial, and easy to grow in rich soil.
Thyme is a well-loved and time-honored perennial herb. It has a spicy woody flavor and is a great addition to meat and mushroom dishes.
It comes in a variety of bloom colors, from white to pink. Although the blooms are pretty, it is not the best choice for an indoor garden. It spreads low to the ground and makes a nice ground cover beneath tree canopies, where it seeks shade.
Thyme stores very well after being dried, and can maintain its flavor for about 2 years.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Sweet woodruff produces little star-shaped flowers, which makes it one of the prettiest shade-loving herbs. It gets its name from its sweet-smelling leaves. Woodruff also tends to grow close to the ground, and like thyme, makes a beautiful ground cover.
This herb likes moist, but well-drained soil. Similar to mint, it can be an aggressive plant that takes over the garden, so it would do best in a larger shallow pot where it can spread.
Due to its vanilla-like flavor, it has traditionally been used to flavor cordials, candies, and desserts. Its strong scent also makes it an environmentally friendly mothball replacement. Create an herb pillow with sweet woodruff to have sweet dreams.
Dill is a well-known herb best used with seafood, potatoes, and eggs. It’s also used to make dill pickles. This herb is best used fresh, and has an aroma similar to anise.
Its leaves can also be used as a tasty, natural breath freshener. Since it has a soothing effect on the digestive system, it has historically been given to colicky babies in the form of dill water.
Plant seeds directly into the soil, instead of transplanting seedlings. In late summer, dill produces beautiful yellow blooms, which makes it another nice choice for an indoor garden. Be sure that your pot is taller than 12 inches, since dill grows from a long taproot, and keep the soil moist.
Collect the seeds to plant more next year.
Chervil, also known as “French Parsley” due to its appearance, has a mild anise flavor and is one of the fines herbes used to season delicate French dishes. The leaves themselves are delicate; therefore add them at the last minute to salads, sauces, omelets, and soups.
This herb is a rich source of bioflavinoids, and has a long-standing history in folk medicine for aiding the digestive system and reducing hiccups when infused in vinegar.
Plant chervil in a deep container, as it has a long taproot similar to dill. Slugs tend to like the plant, so growing it indoors is a good idea. The hot sun causes chervil plants to bolt and go to seed, so try to grow it in early spring or early fall. It thrives in cooler temperatures in wet soil and shade.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Tarragon has long, narrow leaves and an anise-like flavor. Like chervil, it is part of French cuisine’s fines herbes. Its leaves are best used fresh, but also freeze well.
Gargling with tarragon tea, or even just chewing the herb, is said to relieve mouth and tooth pain. It also helps with digestion.
This herb is a perennial that does best in a shady spot with well-drained soil, because it will wilt in high temperatures. Root division propagates it because its flowers are sterile.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is a perennial herb with a sour flavor, and its tender leaves are delicious in salads and soups, or stewed with vegetables and meats. It is often used in conjunction with spinach, and is great with cream-based dishes and oily fish. If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic digestif after a heavy meal, make tea from the young leaves, as the herb aids digestion.
The word “sorrel” comes from the Germanic word “sur” and the old French word “surele,” both meaning “sour.” During the Middle Ages, before citrus fruit had reached Europe, sorrel was used to lend a lemony flavor to cooking.
Rich in vitamin C, sorrel was valued for centuries for its ability to prevent scurvy. However, people with arthritis or kidney stones should eat only small quantities of sorrel, as oxalic acid—which makes it taste tart—can aggravate these conditions.
Harvest the young leaves often and use them fresh. Sorrel is a frost-hardy plant and can often be seen growing in winter.
Black elderberries are delicious and often used in jams, cordials, and sweet sauces. They’re also commonly used in a syrup to support a healthy immune system.
The berries contain flavonoids called anthocyanins, which are high in antioxidants, and give the berries their blueish purple color. They’ve also been recorded to have a high oxygen radical absorption capacity (ORAC), which is the scale by which antioxidant activity is measured.
Elderberries fruit best when you plant at least two different varieties within 60 feet of each other for necessary cross-pollination. They grow best in moist, well-drained soil, and start producing when the plants are 2 to 3 years old. There is a short ripening period of 5 to 15 days from mid-August and mid-September.
Nettles have small, sharp hairs on their leaves and stems. Those hairs inject a mix of acetylcholine, formic acid, histamine, and serotonin, causing an itchy, burning rash in humans and other animals, which may last up to 12 hours. Please use caution and wear gloves when harvesting this plant. Soaking nettles in water or cooking them removes the stinging chemicals.
Although it requires special attention, you definitely want this plant close by as it’s good for so many things. When cooked, it tastes much like spinach and is often made into soup or tea. It’s rich in vitamins A and C, as well as iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium.
Nettles have been used for hundreds of years to help relieve painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. It’s also good for allergies.
If you have children or pets, grow your nettles inside a fence both for obvious reasons, and because it tends to spread. It likes damp soil and partial shade.
Since there are so many different herbs that grow in the shade, you’re certain to find a few that best suit your garden space. Most of the ones mentioned here have medicinal as well as culinary uses, so they’re well suited to food gardeners and herbalists alike.Whether you’re growing indoors or outside, in a container or right in the earth, there are beautiful plants to choose from.
Shade Tolerant Herbs For Your Herb Garden
Herbs are generally considered the hardiest of all garden plants. They have relatively few problems with insects and disease and are extremely adaptable. While most herbs prefer to be located in full sun, there are many shade tolerant herbs that can brighten up dull, dark areas of the garden.
Shade herbs can make excellent companions for other shade-loving plants like hostas, ferns, and numerous types of bulbs. They make great companions with numerous types of flowering plants as well. Growing herbs for shade is a great way to add color and fragrance to the garden.
When growing herbs for shade, it helps to know what herbs will grow in shade. Knowing which herbs are more likely to succeed and understanding their adaptations in shady conditions can increase the chances of success.
For instance, while some herbs may require full sun in cooler regions, these same herbs might prefer shady areas in warmer climates. Before choosing shade tolerant herbs for the garden, it’s also
important to understand the difference between full shade, partial shade, and light shade or partial sunlight.
What Herbs Will Grow in Shade?
Some of the most popular shade tolerant herbs include:
- Lemon balm – Lemon balm grows well in shady areas, especially in dry climates, provided it has adequate drainage.
- Sweet woodruff – Sweet woodruff is great for use in shade, providing excellent ground coverage for dark areas. This shade herb also grows well with bulbs.
- Ginger – Ginger prefers areas of light shade in moist but well-drained soil.
- Chives – Chives also prefer light shade in moist, well-draining soil.
- Parsley – In warmer climates, parsley can be grown in shade.
- Mint – Several varieties of mint also make suitable shade herbs. They do well in lightly shaded areas with adequate moisture and relatively fertile soil.
- Angelica – Angelica plants are also suitable shade herbs.
Growing Herbs for Shade
Shade tolerant herbs also grow taller and lankier as they reach for the sun. However, you can easily keep shade herbs bushier and encourage new growth by pinching back their foliage. It may also help to prune the lower branches of trees to allow more sunlight to peak through.
In addition, pruning helps to improve the air circulation of shade herbs. When growing herbs for shade, try to choose herbs that are native to woodland settings.
Shade herbs typically require less watering. The majority of shade tolerant herbs prefer moist, humus-rich soil. Amending the soil with organic matter such as compost will help improve the soil quality and ultimate success of the garden.
Gardening in the shade doesn’t have to be frustrating. Shade herbs can be integrated with other shade-loving flowering plants. Knowing what herbs will grow in shade is key to their success. Choosing and planting shade tolerant herbs is a great way for the gardener with limited sunlight to create diversity within dull areas of the landscape.
MALCOLM RUTHERFORD/ 123RF Parsley thrives and readily self-sows in part shade with average soil.
We all have shady corners in our garden where most plants would not perform. But these five herbs will survive – and even thrive – in low-light conditions.
Parsley is the plain Jane of the herb garden, but it’s incredibly versatile and useful in the kitchen. I’ve grown mine in full sun, full shade, part shade, rich soil and not so rich soil – and the best spot, I’ve determined, is part shade with average soil and a little compost dug in. In these conditions, and when kept reasonably moist, my parsley thrives and readily self-sows.
That’s a good thing, because although parsley is biennial – and can, in fact, be grown for three or four years if you remove the flower stems – it’s best grown as an annual, as the leaves tend to become slightly bitter in their second year, and more so in following years. I harvest only from first-year plants and let my second-year plants go to seed. When in flower, they attract all manner of beneficial insects, including bees.
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Parsley is packed full of nutrients, including vitamins A, C and K, iron, folic acid and calcium. Half a cup of parsley gives you far in excess of the recommended daily vitamin K intake (this vitamin plays an important role in blood clotting and building strong bones, which is why parsley may be recommended as a natural ingredient to help increase or maintain bone density), half of your recommended daily vitamin C intake, 14 per cent of the vitamin A intake, 12 per cent of folic acid, 10 per cent of iron and 4 per cent of your recommended daily calcium.
There are two types of parsley: curly leaf (Petroselinum crispum var. crispum) and Italian or flat leaf (Petroselinum crispum var. neapolitanum). Both taste pretty much the same, but have different textures. Both require the same growing conditions.
If you have trouble getting your seeds to germinate, soak them in warm water overnight, then pour boiling water into your drill before you sow them. You can also try keeping your plants in a warm spot.
GREATANDLITTLE/ 123RF All the many varieties of mint do well in shade.
There are many different varieties of mint (Mentha spp.): apple mint, pineapple mint, basil mint, ginger mint, spearmint (also known as common mint and garden mint), peppermint, black peppermint, Corsican mint and pennyroyal, to name a few. All of these grow well in part shade. In fact, if you’re looking for an aromatic ground cover for part shade, low-growing pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) or Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) are ideal. With their tiny leaves, they grow readily between cracks in pavers and look lovely as a border alongside pathways.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and spearmint (Mentha spicata) are widely used for medicinal purposes, peppermint more so. It contains high levels of menthol (spearmint contains only a minimal amount), which is extracted for medicinal and cosmetic use, and to a lesser extent to flavour food (mostly tea and confectionary). Spearmint is used extensively in food preparation, and is the mentha of choice for discerning mint julep drinkers. Aside from the taste, the two mints can be distinguished by their scent. Peppermint has the characteristically stronger odour of menthol, whereas the scent of spearmint is dominated by carvone, a natural chemical that also has medicinal properties. Both types of mint can be used to relieve digestive disorders such as nausea, indigestion and flatulence.
I love pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’) for its ornamental value, but you can also cook with it. It’s a variegated cultivar of apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) and also looks spectacular as a filler in bouquets.
All mints have wide-spreading underground runners, so they generally need to be contained or they’ll take over your garden. They like moist, fairly rich soil, or good- quality potting mix. You can easily propagate mint from cuttings or by dividing clumps.
SIAMPHOTOS/ 123RF Use the hollow stems of lovage as straws for tomato-based drinks like bloody Marys.
If you like parsley and you like celery, there’s a good chance you’ll like lovage (Levisticum officinale). This perennial herb has an intense parsley/celery/yeast-like flavour that can be used to enhance practically any dish. The leaves can be used to create a simple broth or stock when infused in water, or add them fresh to salads and soups. Collect the seeds and use them crushed in bread and pastry, or mix them through mashed potato or rice. Lovage adds a strong flavour to dishes, so use only a little at first to determine your preference. For fancy-pants presentations, use the hollow stems as straws for tomato-based drinks like bloody Marys.
Lovage can be grown in full sun, but in my opinion it does best in part shade. It grows in similar conditions to parsley, lapping up a fair bit of moisture in average to mildly rich, free-draining soil. The flower heads are topped with umbels of yellow blooms, typical of members of the Umbelliferae or Apiaceae family. The seeds ripen in late summer or autumn and can easily be collected for sowing or eating.
Pick whole flower heads as soon as they change colour from yellow to brown, then hang them upside down in a paper bag. As the fruit ripens, it will split open and the seeds will fall out. Collect the seeds and store them in an airtight container. Lovage conveniently self-sows, but if you don’t want any more plants, snip off the seed heads before the seeds form. A hardy perennial, lovage dies back in winter and emerges again in spring. If you want to use the savoury leaves throughout winter, dry them or freeze them in water in ice cube trays for adding to stock, soup and stew.
THANAMAT SOMWAN/ 123RF Coriander leaves, stems, roots and seeds can all be eaten.
This love-it-or-hate-it herb is best grown in the cooler seasons of autumn and spring, but if you do grow it in summer, position it in shade or it will rocket to seed. Even in autumn and spring, I grow mine in part shade to keep it growing longer and stronger before it throws up flowers. I like to let it flower because it self-sows, and in time many new plants emerge.
I also like to collect the seeds for cooking. Commercially, they’re used in curries, as well as desserts, sweet pastries and beer. Even Gordon’s gin is flavoured with coriander seeds. The roots can be eaten too. Many Asian dishes utilise them as well as the leaves, as they have a stronger flavour and are especially good for curries. Pull the whole plant out if you wish to use the roots – it takes only 30-50 days after germinating to get good-sized roots for cooking.
Don’t leave roots in the ground for too long if you’re planning to collect them, as they’ll become woody. When your largest stem is about 5mm in diameter, your roots should be ready to harvest. At this stage, the roots should be 7-10cm long. If you want to keep some coriander roots for use later in the year, cut the stems down to about 1cm, wash the roots, pat them dry with a clean tea towel or paper towel, place them in a container and freeze.
Because coriander has a taproot, the plants are best sown directly where you want to grow them. If you’re growing them in pots, choose a fairly deep container to accommodate the roots. Sow seeds every two to four weeks for a continuous supply of this herb. Feed regularly with liquid fertiliser to promote luscious leaf growth.
ALEXANDER BUDYLIN/ 123RF Lemon balm has soporific qualities and has long been used medicinally by herbalists to promote restful sleep, improve mood and reduce digestive distress. It has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, analgesic and carminative properties too.
The leaves of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) are citrus scented and make a deliciously refreshing tea, which is used medicinally for calming the nerves. It has soporific qualities and has long been used by herbalists for relaxation purposes, to promote restful sleep, improve mood and reduce digestive distress. It has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, analgesic and carminative properties too.
The leaves can be used fresh, or you can dry them for use in winter. Tie a few stems together and hang them in a well-ventilated room out of direct sunlight. Once they’re dry, strip the leaves from the stems and store them in an airtight container. To make lemon balm tea, loosely pack a teapot with fresh leaves, add boiling water and steep for 10-15 minutes. Or use 1 teaspoon of dried lemon balm per cup of boiled water.
Lemon balm grows and spreads easily. Even when it’s grown in pots, you may find small seedlings popping up in nearby spots in the garden. But thankfully, it’s very easy to weed out. To reduce self-sowing, cut off the flowers before they go to seed. Lemon balm plants grow 60-80cm tall, though in winter the stems die down, only to re-emerge in spring. Moist but free-draining soil and part shade will provide the optimal conditions for growth. During summer, plants should be protected from the midday sun, or they’ll wilt.
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Above: You can use small rocks in the bottom of a planter to prevent the soil from compacting and clogging drainage holes.
A lot of the more sun-loving herbs are particularly sensitive to overly damp roots, but if you stick to herbs that don’t require as much sunlight, you won’t have to worry as much about keeping the soil sandy. (If you keep the planter inside, consider investing in a small tray to place beneath it to catch water drainage).
Above: Since I’m fairly certain that I’m going to spend the summer sipping mint juleps, I bought a mint plant, too.
Mint is an herb that really thrives in shadier gardens. In fact, it sometimes thrives too well. I didn’t want my mint to take over my tiny window box, so I picked up a Ben Wolff pot in white and potted it there instead.
When it came to potting the rest of my herbs, I left about two inches between each plant to ensure that they’ll have room to stretch out. Above: My apartment windowsill only gets about three hours of direct sunlight daily, but that’s more than enough to keep these plants happy.
(Full disclosure: I stuck a basil out there a few weeks ago, and to my surprise that’s doing A-OK too. If you can’t get through summer without a daily caprese salad, I say give it a go—just don’t get too sad if it doesn’t survive).
Above: Herbs are meant to be eaten, so harvest often. In case you need a little help with your clipping, here are some beautiful scissors to help with the task.
If you’d prefer a zinc or galvanized window box, see some of our favorites at 10 Easy Pieces: Metal Window Boxes.
Ready to design and plant a spring herb garden? See:
- Expert Advice: 10 Tips to Get Your Garden Ready for Spring
- 10 Easy Pieces: Heirloom Seeds for Spring
- Thyme: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design
- Edibles 101: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design
- The New Vegetable Garden: 8 Favorite Edible Backyards
- Lemon Verbena: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design
N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published on May 15, 2013, during our Gold Coast week.
How to grow your own urban herb garden in the shade
Chives are not only a delicious addition to most dishes with their mild onion flavour but they are also great for your veggie patch as they naturally deter garden pests (which means you can avoid excessive use of herbicides). Possibly one of the easiest plants to grown, some hail chives as a gateway herb for new gardeners, they love shade and bloom every year like clock work.
Chives are also great for your health as they contain folate, magnesium, calcium and potassium which are all vitamins known to benefit a variety of health issues, particularly for women.
Chives are another great herb for cutting down on food waste with the entire of the plant being edible from the bulbs which are similar to a mild onion and delicious pickled to the soft purple flowers with a faint garlic taste to liven up salads.
Read more: How To Preserve Herbs
Coriander is possibly the most controversial of all the herbs. For those of us who love it, it adds delicious Asian inspired flavours to soups, salads and sandwiches (think Vietnamese Banh mi) and for a reported 14% of the population it tastes like soap.
Hopefully you’re not in the 14% because this herb is consistently easy to grow, incredibly versatile and a great source of dietary fibre and iron.
Coriander likes to grow in the shade all year round. Coriander leaves are delicious to add to pretty much anything, the stalks are great in soups and juices to bulk up nutrients and the seeds are lesser known but equally delicious to add to dishes for spice and crunch.
We have a lot of thyme for this herb that can be hailed the ‘Armageddon herb’ due to its ability to grow anywhere, anytime, all the thyme. Whilst thyme prefers the shade it will generally succeed in most conditions and is the perfect herb to start growing in winter due to its compatibility with roasted everything.
Thyme also has medicinal properties; it has been used to treat conditions from your everyday common cold and sore throat to whopping cough.