For the skilled home cook, a vegetable and herb garden is an indispensable tool—as vital as that favored chef’s knife, and with even greater versatility. No matter what flavors the household prefers, there are certain plants that are at home in every chef’s backyard cornucopia (or rooftop garden, in some cases). Here’s a list of some of the most solid players.


With its intoxicating aroma and distinctive flavor, basil is a must-have even for those who cook infrequently. Its leaves can be muddled into a delightful summer cocktail, added to soups for a last-minute hit of flavor, or ground into a crowd-pleasing pesto.


This miniature member of the allium family serves as the perfect harbinger of spring flavor. Toss a handful of minced chives into a lightly dressed potato salad or a dip for vegetables to give the results a subtly savory kick.

Lemon balm

In addition to its noted antioxidant properties, lemon balm can be used to lend a floral note to summer salads, or as a flavoring for iced tea. As a bonus, it’s also a natural mosquito repellent.

Anise Hyssop

The black-licorice notes of this lovely herb will find their home in any number of desserts or sweet sauces, from blackberry preserves to homemade ice cream. It will also attract pollinators like bees, to improve the overall health of the garden.

Parsley Root

Those who have only ever tasted the delicate green leaves are in for a surprise. This hearty root adds a parsnip-like flavor and satisfying texture to stews or gratins, and is delicious roasted and eaten as a side dish.


These colorful, earthy roots can be grated with carrots and tossed with lemon juice and olive oil for a simple starter, or else roasted and eaten with just about anything. See this article for a wonderful recipe for warm beet salad with charred mushroom vinegar.


One of the best fruits that can be eaten directly out of the garden, with just a sprinkle of salt—or nothing at all. The ones found in the supermarket simply can’t compare to the home-grown variety—or maybe it’s just the satisfaction of knowing exactly where they came from that makes them taste so good.