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Top plants for home garden to be used in cooking? Answered

I was curious about what are some of the best plants for my backyard garden. I want to be able to use these plants in my cooking. So far I know that strawberries and tomatoes and cilantro are going in. Maybe some common herbs will add to the variety. I am a southern California residence and the area is shaded by two palm trees. The temperature range is very mild with few extremes and the soil is of mediocre quality. I just need some direction as to what else is available and what I would most commonly need for my cooking. Thank you,


As a long time herb and perennial gardener I have discovered that the plants I need are the ones that offer the most flavor when fresh and are difficult or expensive to get year round.  Since I live in New England, a small greenhouse or growing system on the kitchen counter is optimal for when I need the freshest of the fresh. 

BASIL is one of my favorites.  It can be grown from seed fairly quickly but I like to buy the  rooted plant from the grocery store and put it in a pot in the kitchen.  Added to beans, whole wheat pasta or brown rice and a bunch of veggies with or without meat is a very nutritious meal.

When I bring home SCALLIONS from the store, I use most of the tops and take the roots and put them in a pot as well.  Those grow quite quickly.

Romaine LETTUCE is a favorite of mine and I have several heads growing in pots on the counter under a light.  I have five per pot and feed them regularly.  Since I have done this I do not have to buy lettuce any more unless there is a large dinner for many planned.

PARSLEY is very healthy for everyone and is a nice addition to the top of steak or potato. For the most part it is a palette cleaner and can be used for the influx of vitamins but the taste isn't spectacular.

MALABAR SPINACH is a vine that grows quite well in any warm format.  It is a tasty form of spinach but has more vitamins than our american varieties.  It needs quite a bit of light and water so plant it where it where it will be the most happy.

CHIVES are a wonderful addition to salads, potatoes, rice, and meat.  I have to use twice the amount of dried to get the right taste, sometimes four times the amount but they are so healthy when eaten fresh that it is a welcome change to the  menu.

Although ROSEMARY is a welcome and tasty herb to add to those buttered red potatoes, rosemary takes a long time to grow and  can be used up fairly quickly if you keep picking it.  I keep mine in the greenhouse so I dont use it too often.

TARRAGON is similar to rosemary in growth and habit, shape and needs. It has a strong flavor and is used in french dishes and cooking when a strong flavor is needed. Not my favorite due to the needs of the plant when growing it. And the flavor is so strong that I do not use it often in the kitchen but it makes a nice decoration on Christmas packages wrapped in  brown paper with raffia or attached to the top of herbal sachets. It is also pretty inside a vinegar bottle.

CILANTRO is a terrific herb to grow in the kitchen garden if you enjoy mexican flavored dishes regularly. It grows fairly quickly and is better when used fresh.

KALE.  Now here's a plant that  is great for all seasons.  You can leave it in the garden over winter and it will come back in the spring.  Pick it and freeze in a ziploc bag, crush it while it is frozen in the bag and add it to soups for your health. It is loaded with vitamins. It is a dry land seaweed when it comes to nutrients.

How to  grow them  in the kitchen? Dont throw away those old edged cookie sheets or tart pans.  Plant in regular plant pots or whatever you use and then place on the cookie sheet that has edging so that the water will not go allover your counter.  Set up a fish tank light underneath the cabinets above and put in a grow light bulb.  Keep the light on 12 hours per  day for optimum light and keep in mind that indoor plants need more water than out door plants that have access to water through their  tap roots when the earth and times are dry. Indoor plants need more water due to un-natural heat sources and un-natural light sources that can be drying.  The plant needs a bit more water than usual due to the need to remove toxins...just like the human body.
Misting the plants is a good way to relieve them if you know they have had enough water in the root system.  Using Dyna-grow in the mist is a good option because it allows nutrients to be absorbed via the leaves of the plants.  Dyna=grow is usually used in the hydro-system but can be used in this way to make healthier leaves of your herbs and vegetables in the kitchen.

Some people use the hydro system.  I have experimented with that and found that the increase in the electricity bill was not worth using the system when I could grow more plants for less energy consumed if I grew them a described above.

Please ask more questions about this topic. I love talking about it, especially during winter.


10 years ago

Rosemary! It's awesome all year and smells great every time you brush against it. Drought resistant once established and all kinds of tasty. And any kind of squash! You may have more than you want at any one time, so chop it up and freeze it for later. It'll make a great addition to a winter soup when you are dreaming of summer... Have fun!


10 years ago

What about the herbs from the song "Scarbourough Fair"? Parsley sage, rosemary and thyme


10 years ago

I live in So. Cal. as well, you can take a look at my instructable that details the making of my garden if you want. I am growing pattypan squash, crook neck squash, better boy tomato, persimmon tomato (an heirloom variety), lemon basil, cilantro, serrano peppers, sweet peppers, parsley, cucumbers, honey dew melon, and cantaloupe. All seem to be doing well except two of the cilantro have now flowered and proceeded to start to die it seems. They are annuals, which I didnt know at first, but to the best of my knowledge if you dont let them flower you can get them to stick around longer. Also, depending on your cooking you can chose other plants, but squash in the summer with tomatoes can be good for a steak BBQ, while cilantro, serranos, and tomatoes can go into a nice salsa if you, as I and generally most of my fellow southern californians seem to enjoy. Cucumbers can be fresh or pickled, and melons are just plain awesome. I also planted pumpkin, not in my main bed, but those will be good for the fall. Hope this helps.


10 years ago

My favorites are basil, chives, and parsley.

pie popper

10 years ago

i know that this was answered a while ago, but red beans are really simple, and are really good in soup.


10 years ago

I generally go for a wide variety of herbs first, since they're so expensive to buy in grocery stores and you generally only use a bit at a time.

After that, optimize for things that really benefit from a short garden-to-table time frame. (ie, things that will be MUCH better than stuff you get in the store.) I find tomatoes, sugar snap peas, strawberries, raspberries, and rhubarb fit into this category; your mileage may vary depending on your tastes and favorites. ;)

Also, plants that require very little maintenance and produce lots of veggies are good - zucchini and other squash are excellent choices. You might try artichokes as well - they don't require much attention, but taste fabulous.

Since your soil is mediocre, it's worth a bit of effort to augment it. Start a compost pile now for use next season, and in the meantime buy some organic amendments and dig them in before you ad your plants.

Good luck - I'd love to hear how it goes, and maybe even get some pictures!


10 years ago

I know that the question is answered, but I do know that dandelion leaves make a good spinach, or put them in marinara sauce for extra flavor.