Zero Waste Living

The Beginner’s Guide to Growing, Harvesting, and Preserving Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs are delicious, amiright? But they also can be expensive; and how many recipes use up the entire bunch that you buy from the store or farmer’s market? In the last year and a half or so since we started reducing our waste, I have become increasingly aware of how much food ends up in the trash. And not only in our house (although we have gone through a number of measures to reduce our food waste), but also throughout the US.

Did you know that 40% of all food in the US ends up in the trash? That’s a lot of waste and a lot of money we are literally throwing away. And not only that, but food in the landfill doesn’t just ‘compost’. As it rots, it ends up producing greenhouse gasses which contribute to climate change.

40 percent of all food is waste in US

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Uses for Herbs

Cooking: Dry herbs and fresh herbs are a staple in all dishes, but they can be expensive as well and can come in not the most zero-waste friendly packaging.

Tea: The same goes for tea (yes, did you know you can grow your own herbs for teas?). Some can be expensive and the packaging isn’t always the most eco-friendly. Not to mention that many tea bags contain plastic and can’t be composted.

drying herbs for tea

Medicinal: Many herbs can be used for medicinal purposes through tinctures or teas. I’ll share a little bit more throughout the article, but many people grow herbs for this reason. I probably don’t have to mention how expensive some medicinal products can be, not to mention the packaging isn’t as zero-waste friendly as growing herbs. Of course, as with any medicinal-type of product, check with your doctor before using. AND, regarding packaging and medicines/tinctures, your health comes first, so worry about that over any type of packaging it comes in.

Cleaning products: DIY cleaning products can be a popular alternative to conventional cleaning products due to being more budget-friendly, environmentally friendly, less packaging, and better for our health. Herbs can make a great addition to many of the make-your-own recipes out there.

So what can you do to save money, reduce waste, and have fresh, delicious herbs?

Grow your own!

There are lots of benefits to growing your own herbs. Here are some of my favorite:

    • Super budget friendly!
    • Easy to dry for DIY, zero waste spices, tinctures, cleaning recipes, and teas
    • Speaking of zero waste…zero waste friendly!
    • Natural pest control for your garden!
    • Organic (if you don’t use pesticides)
    • Easy to grow
    • Beneficial for pollinators
  • Host plants for some butterflies (ex. Swallowtail butterflies LOVE dill)

Before we dive into it, I want to talk a little bit about the differences between herbs.

Related Post: The ‘So Big it Should’ve Been an E-book’ Guide to Growing Your Own Vegetables (Zero Waste Style)



I know you know what herbs are, but here are a couple of different types  you should be aware of:

Leafy herbs: These are herbs where you don’t typically eat the flowers. Think herbs such as basil, oregano, and cilantro.

Flowering herbs: These are herbs where you DO traditionally use the flowers. Some of these would be chamomile and lavender.

Types of Herbs

Here are some of the more common types of herbs, and some of my favorites:

  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Cilantro
  • Lavender
  • Dill
  • Holy Basil
  • Thai Basil
  • Chamomile
  • Lemongrass
  • Peppermint
  • Spearmint
  • Catmint

How to Grow Herbs

Growing herbs are super easy! Here are all the ways you can do so: 

    • By seed. I always start my herbs by seed. I usually just plant the seeds directly in the soil (follow planting instructions on seed packet), but you can start them in a seed starting kit if you want. Note that you will want to be able to plan them within a couple of weeks either outside or in a larger pot. Not only is it much more cost efficient, but it also creates a lot less waste. You can find herb seeds in any garden store or online.
    • Pre-grown from a garden center. You can buy herbs pre-planted and partially grown from garden centers. This option is good if you’re starting your veggie garden mid-season, if you want to start indoors late in the season, or if you simply don’t want to plant via seed! Simply plant directly into the soil, following instructions on the tag.
    • Right in the ground. I tried planting directly in the ground this year and it worked great. One thing to keep in mind. Some will take over…looking at you mint family (catnip, spearmint, etc).  Additionally, chamomile, cilantro, and dill don’t necessarily take over, but they do reseed very easily year after year.
    • Pots! Pots are perfect for herbs that spread and/or small spaces. I grew herbs in pots for the past couple of years before trying directly in the ground.
    • Don’t forget about inside! Herbs can easily be grown inside near a bright window (doesn’t need direct sun necessarily, but bright light). This is perfect for growing climates that are short (hello, Minnesota) where you want fresh herbs year round.
    • Full sun is best, but not required. This is true for MOST herbs. I have a lot of shade in my backyard where I grow my herbs, so they definitely don’t get full sun all day long. The two herbs I haven’t had a lot of luck with not being in full sun are lavender and basil. The seed package/herb tag should give specific care for each one.
    • Leafy herbs that flower: If non-flowering herbs start flowering (looking at you, basil), pinch the flowers off You don’t want the plant’s energy going into making the flowers, you want them to put the energy into the leaves (aka the herb part). The one exception I have to this is dill, because I always have enough dill, and I love the flowers!
    • Water and weed daily. Self-explanatory. Those herbs get thirsty!
    • Pest control. The great thing about herbs is that many of them are natural pest repellants. Some examples are lavender and lemongrass. However, there are some natural pest-control methods you can use if you find something unwanted on your herbs.


        • Marigolds: Marigolds are a natural deterrent. I grow them all over my veggie and herb garden. I usually start them by seed when I start my other veggies indoors so they are ready to go when the plants are!
        • Make a DIY garden spray such as this oneI haven’t found that I need to use a spray on my herbs, but this spray is made with all natural ingredients (and ones you likely already have at home) in case you do.
        • Eggshells: Eggshells can be a great way to deter pests such as slugs. Adding eggshells can also add nutrients into your soil. 
        • A dish full of beer: No, I haven’t gone crazy. This works for slugs! I promise. Just pour a can or bottle of beer into a bowl, and leave it out for a day or two. If you have a slug problem, they like the sugar/yeast in the beer and will come on down for a drink. 
        • AlliumsThese are super cool pom-pom looking type flowers known as alliums. Alliums are part of the onion family (which are natural pest deterrents).
        • Diatomaceous EarthDiatomaceous Earth can be a good natural pest deterrent for lots of insects. However, it does not differentiate between beneficial and problematic insects, so use this only if you must outside in your garden.


Don’t be afraid to harvest!

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that for many years, I would ‘save’ my herbs throughout the summer instead of using them as often as I could. Well, I did not make that mistake this year; in fact, I planned plenty of recipes around the fresh herbs we had in our garden (like this chimichurri sauce). Not only did we enjoy fresh herbs all summer/fall, but I still had some leftover when it became time to harvest.

So, how do you know when to harvest? Some herbs are hearty (cilantro, sage, thyme, oregano) and can withstand cooler temps. My rule of thumb is before the first frost, unless I plan on covering them with a blanket the nights it gets below 32 F.

So how do you harvest herbs? You can easily pull the stem out of the dirt, cut the stem near the base of the plant, or pull off the leaves.

  • Leafy herbs: Simply pull the leaf off where it is attached to the stem. That’s it!
  • Flowering herbs: Slide the stem in between two fingers, and pull up gently once your fingers touch the base of the flower. Easy peasy.

There really isn’t a way to screw it up!

Tips for Drying Herbs

Once you have harvested the herbs, it’s time to figure out how you want to use them. There are a few options. First, I’ll get into drying herbs.

Here are 3 ways you can dry herbs:


  • Take a bunch of herb stems and tie them together (bouquet-style) using any type of string
  • After you’ve tied them into a bouquet, hang upside down in a cool, dry place for 1-2 weeks


  • Place a thin cloth onto a microwavable safe plate
  • Lay the herb stems onto the cloth and place the plate into the microwave.
  • Microwave in 15-20 second intervals until dry. Be careful, the plate can get really hot!

Hanging rack:


    • This hanging rack is great if you have a lot of herbs you need to dry at once. I have one that I hang in the garage, and I can dry a ton of herbs without having to try and find places all over the house to hang bouquets. You simply lay the herbs on each shelf and wait until the leaves are dry.

Once the herbs are dry, crumble them up and store in airtight containers until needed!  You can use the spices in recipes or teas. Locally grown, organic (if you don’t use any pesticides), and zero waste friendly!

Other ways to preserve herbs

Drying is a great way to preserve a lot of herbs. However, there are a couple of other options you can do to preserve your herbs.

  • Freeze them in oil: Freezing herbs in oil helps to preserve fresh leaves. The easiest way is to pour neutral cooking oil or olive oil in an ice cube tray, and add 3-4 herb leaves to each ‘cube’. Freeze and store in an airtight container.
    • Note: you can try freezing them without oil in an air-tight container if you would like. I will admit I haven’t had the best of luck with this method personally.
  • Use them in sauces: Making sauces with your herbs to freeze or can is a great way to use up excess herbs. Pesto, spaghetti sauce, or chimichurri are great options, but you can find tons of ideas on Pinterest!
  • Use them for medicinal purposes: Lots of herbs are medicinal and can be used/made into tinctures or for different types of ailments. One I tried this year was this sage/honey cough syrup with my excess sage. As with the option above, you can find a ton of specific ideas on Pinterest.
  • Make an infused all-purpose cleaner: I love making my own all-purpose cleaner (scroll down to page 4 for recipe) using citrus peels and vinegar. However, you can add different herbs for all sorts of yummy smelling goodness. For example, using some excess sage (yes, I had a lot this year!), I made a lemon and sage cleaner using the recipe linked above and just adding some sage leaves!
  • Store in a cup of water in the fridge: If you know you want to save some of your herbs to use fresh in the near future, you can store them in a cup of water in the fridge. I usually just put the whole stem into the cup and simply check the water every other day or so. I’ve had herbs last 2 weeks (easily – maybe even longer) using this method.
  • Transplant indoors: You can always try transplanting some of the stems from the ground/pot into a small pot for inside. That way you can have fresh herbs all year long!

Growing, harvesting, and preserving herbs can be fun and rewarding! By simply growing a few herbs in the summer/fall, you can enjoy herbs through cooking, teas, tinctures, and cleaning recipes all year long.

What is your favorite herb to grow? What do you do with it once you’ve harvested it?

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How to grow herbs

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Jennifer Love

What great advice to help one get started! My son is so interested in this but I don’t know where to begin. Thanks!


THere’s nothing better than being able to pick fresh herbs from your backyard!

Elena Pappalardo

I may have to start harvesting, thanks for a great article!


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