Not only does an herb garden connect kids with nature, it gives them teachable moments they'll see in their school science programs, helps them develop a taste for new flavours, and inspires young chefs to experiment in the kitchen.
Best of all, an herb garden requires little investment in time or money.
How to plant an herb garden with your kids
You can grow herbs from seed with your kids, or buy small bedding plants, often called plugs. We do a bit of both. The miracle of watching a seed turn into a plant is too exciting to miss, but our seedlings tend to fail when transplanted.
Tip: Sometimes I switch a dying plant outside with a new robust plug while the kids’ backs are turned.
Keeping the garden organic - free of fertilizers, sprays or chemicals - allows little ones to pick and munch as they’re outside playing. Mint, with its sweet tones, is a special favourite for crunching on-the-fly.
Kid-friendly herb: Basil
Gardener's note: Fusarium oxysporum is an untreatable fungal disease that can be in basil seeds. Look for seeds that are guaranteed fusarium free.
We plant as much basil outside as space allows. It gets put fresh in salads all summer, and at the end of the season the whole family makes pesto. Everyone gets a turn at the food processor as we mulch our basil harvest into a delicious paste that lasts (frozen) through the autumn. Basil-making day often becomes a day for making fresh pasta.
Kid-friendly herb: Chives
Gardener's note:Plant chives in a permanent home; they’ll come back year after year.
My eight-year-old Amanda is a chive muncher. She’s thrilled when her terracotta chive pot is free from snow because it means the sprouts are just days away. Munching on fresh chives is her first burst of home-grown flavour every year. She knows to snip her chives off rather than tear them out of the soil so they’ll grow back. She also loves the purple chive flowers when they bloom.
Kid-friendly herb: Thyme
Gardener's note:Perennial creeping thyme is perfect for planting in borders, around rocks or along pathways.
Thyme is an evergreen, and my kids' thyme garden offers up its fragrant charms early in the season. Since he was ten, my son Nathan has experimented with combinations; learning the citrusy character of lemon thyme, the complexity of basil thyme and in the end preferring common thyme.
He makes his own herb and spice rubs for meats and fish. He loves to get out the ceramic mortar and pestle and grind some spices with the thyme he has chosen. Kids are always trying on different career hats. It's here - playing with herbs - where my son's earlier decision to become a mad scientist met a dawning desire to become a celebrity chef.
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Kid-friendly herb: Mint
Gardener's note: Mint will grow for anyone, almost anywhere. A marvellous choice for a window box.
Tenacious mint has overgrown a portion of our gravel driveway. Plant it for making refreshing summer drinks and adorning desserts, but keep it contained. Once you have mint, you will always have mint. Ditto for lemon balm.
Kid-friendly herb: Oregano
Gardener's note: Bristol Cross oregano grows in a lovely ball shape; put it in a hanging basket.
Oregano is another invasive herb. Plant it for its lovely scent and flowers. A child of mature tastes will enjoy the bitterness of raw oregano, but a finely chopped mix of basil, thyme and oregano comprise the essential trinity I use to flavour soups and stews my kids love.
More suggestions for your child’s garden of herbs:
• Dill – kids will eat this raw. Great for dips.
• Tarragon – some kids think it tastes like liquorice. Nice with fish.
• Sage – my kids don’t like this raw, but enjoy it in pasta with cream sauce.
• Parsley – great with everything. Also helps with preteen stinky breath.
• Chervil – close relative of parsley. Lovely white flowers.
• Rosemary – this is one my kids prefer to smell over eat. Great with meats.
• Coriander – once kids get to like it, they love it.
• Savory - an acquired taste. Use sparingly until your kids start to enjoy it.
Family-friendly, fresh herb recipes by The Canadian Living Test Kitchen
• Basil Pesto
• French-Style Potato Salad with Herbs
• Chicken Chili Burritos (use fresh oregano)
• Curly Pasta with Tomato Sauce
• Lazy Shepherd’s Pie
• Parsley Mashed Potatoes