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An evergreen shrub, member of the laurel family. Flower buds are carried through winter and open in spring. The small yellowish flowers produce berries in autumn.


It needs a sheltered position in sun or partial sun.

It is best kept small and grown in a container. It has shallow roots so take care when weeding around base of shrubs planted in open ground where it will eventually grow large - up to 8 m.

The Greeks crowned poets, athletes and scholars with bay which may be the origin of the term Poet Laureate 

They also believed bay warded off evil and protected against lightning. Apollo’s temple had a roof that was made from bay leaves in order to shield it from witchcraft and lightning. They believed death of a bay tree signalled disaster


The chive is a member of the onion family and must be one of the best herbs for attracting bees so do allow some plants to flower even if you grow this herb mainly for culinary purposes.

It is best grown in a sunny position although chives like a moist, rich soil. It has attractive edible purple flowers and produces a low clump which can make a very attractive edging plant. Once they have flowered the plants can be cut back to produce a new flush of leaves.

Chives are very easy to grow and will self seed. They develop into clumps which can be divided. They will grow in sun or partial shade and die back in autumn.

Chives originated from Ancient Greece and Rome. Romans used chives to relieve the pain from sunburn or a sore throat, increase blood pressure and encourage urination.

Having a bunch of chives in your house was thought to ward off disease.

Also in Ancient times gypsies used chives in fortune telling.


Unlike the other herbs described here this herb isn’t included for culinary purposes. Comfrey is a vigorous spreading perennial, growing to about a metre in height and would be best confined to a fairly wild corner of the garden. It prefers a damp soil but will grow almost anywhere. It has large roughly textured leaves and flowers which bees seem unable to resist.

Other than that it attracts bees, the reason that comfrey is included in this section is that it provides material for adding to the compost bin and also can be used to make a plant fertiliser. 

The Ancient Greeks and Turks used comfrey to heal wounds and believed that it helped broken bones to mend.


Lavender is very attractive to bees, including bumblebees and butterflies. It is native of Mediterranean where fields of it are grown for use in the perfume industry.

It enjoys a sunny sheltered well drained position and will grow in poor soil.

The flowers can also be used as a flavouring in cooking.

After flowering or early spring it needs trimming back by about a third to avoid becoming straggly. 


There are over 85 different varieties of mint including, spearmint, peppermint, apple mint, ginger mint, pineapple mint and there are even mints with variegated leaves and a variety that grows in water.

Most varieties are notoriously invasive so it is best grown in an area by itself or even in a large container. On the whole mints will tolerate a more shaded spot than most other herbs but prefer a rich well drained soil.

They produce pale purple flowers. Mint is one of the best plants for attracting beneficial insects to your garden.

In order for the mint to continue producing fresh leaves you need to keep cutting. After flowering it should be cut back hard. Container grown mints can often die off over winter if the container becomes too waterlogged.

Mint is famously used as a flavouring in toothpaste and sweets as well as in cooking.

It originated in Ancient Greece and Rome and was introduced to this country by the Romans. These ancient people grew mint for its medicinal properties.

In Athens where every part of the body was perfumed with a different scent spearmint was specially designated to the arms. The Greeks also crowned themselves with peppermint leaves during feasts and used it as a culinary flavouring

In the Middle Ages powdered peppermint leaves were used to whiten the teeth and also in cooking.


There are two main types of parsley, curly leaved and flat leaved. The curly type is more decorative but the flat type has a more intense flavour. Unlike many herbs parsley is not a perennial. It is biennial meaning that it flowers and seeds in second year so needs replacing every two years.

It grows best in rich soil with compost incorporated. It grows well in containers and requires more moisture then many other herbs.

Seeds can be very slow to germinate, sometimes taking up to a month for the first shoots to make an appearance. Sow seeds in small pots or modules in the greenhouse to get them started and plant out when large enough or even as small plants. You can also buy living herbs from the supermarket and plant these.

Like many herbs parsley originated from Ancient Greece and Rome. The Greeks didn’t eat it but covered tombs with parsley and also fed it to horses. Parsley was also used in Roman times as flavouring and garnish cooked dishes. It was also used in Ancient times as a medicine to help relieve rheumatism, kidney pains and improve general health.

It is used as a symbol of spring and rebirth in the Hebrew celebration of Passover.


Rosemary is a long lived, evergreen shrub which grows well in a sunny, sheltered position and like thyme grows well in poor soil. It has pale flowers which attract beneficial insects. There are different varieties, some of which produce low ground hugging plants and other which produce upright shrubs which will grow to about 1 metre in height. The low spreading plants tend to be hardier than the upright varieties.

Another native of the Mediterranean area, it needs to be planted in well drained soil in a sunny sheltered position. It will stand very dry conditions and doesn’t need feeding. To prevent rosemary becoming woody it should be trimmed each year.

In Ancient Greece, students regularly wore garlands of rosemary braided into their hair or around their necks in order to improve their memory when taking exams. It is also believed it to be sacred to remembrance and friendship.

In the 16 and 17 centuries many believed that the aroma of rosemary would offer protection against the plague when it was worn around the neck, burned in sick rooms or used as an ingredient in a cordial.


Some varieties of sage or salvias are grown as ornamental plants. There are many varieties of evergreen, culinary sage some with variegated or purple leaves and attractive flowers. They have textured leaves and flowers which attract beneficial insects. The blue flowered varieties are especially attractive to insects.

Sages like most herbs prefer well drained soil in full sun. Not all varieties are fully winter hardy. All sages should be lightly cut back after flowering to keep them tidy and prevent them from becoming woody.

Sage also originated from Ancient Greece and Rome. The Romans believed that it sharpened the mind and that it was associated with immortality. The sage gatherer had to wear clean clothes and have clean feet. They had to make a sacrifice of bread and wine before cutting the sage with a special knife.

It was used in the Middle Ages as a healing herb to treat memory loss, epilepsy and fevers, infection, intestinal problems and eye problems. 


Thyme plants are small leaved, hardy perennials which last for several years. There are many varieties some with variegated, yellow or silvery grey leaves.

All varieties grow into fairly low plants but some have a more creeping or trailing habit than others.

Thyme is another plant with its origins in the Mediterranean region and thrives best in a sunny, well drained position. It can tolerate drought and is often grown in a gravel bed or in gaps in dry stone walls or rockeries. It should only be watered when necessary and shouldn’t be fed.

Like many of the herbs thymes need to be trimmed each year after flowering to prevent them from becoming straggly.

The Greeks and Romans valued thyme for its medicinal properties as an expectorant and antiseptic. It was used as an ingredient in bath oils and as incense and also to purify rooms. 

It was associated with bravery and courage - women gave thyme leaves to knights and warriors. Ancient Romans would bathe in water scented with thyme before going into battle.

It was also used as incense during funerals to ensure passage into next life. Ancient Egyptians used it in the mummification process 

Choosing Herbs Other topics that link to this subject Biodiversity  Drying Herbs  Bees PLANT SUPPLIERS