Culinary Herbs

Learn all about herbs: growing, harvesting and using herbs for all sorts of culinary purposes. A great course for gardeners, herb farmers, chefs, or anyone interested in more adventurous cooking.

Course Code: VHT242
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Learn How Grow and to Cook with Herbs

Learn how to identify and successfully grow scores of common and uncommon edible herbs. Develop your skills and experience the delights of cooking adventurous new recipes with herbs. Learn drying and other methods of preserving the flavour (eg. herb oils, salts, vinegars).

Change how you Cook Forever
Most people today use a few herbs here and there in their cooking; but with greater knowledge comes a whole world of culinary possibilities that you may not have even considered. 
Professional cooks and chefs can achieve so much more when they understand the way different cultivars of a herb can have subtle differences in flavour. Similarly flavours can change depending upon where the herbs are grown, the time of year, the speed of growth, the parts that are harvested and the time of year. 
Bu exploring more herbs than you have encountered before; and understanding more about how to grow them, you will enhance your skills and possibilities for both growing culinary herbs, and for using them.

Comment from one of our Culinary Herb students:

"... interesting and it has expanded my knowledge of herbs immensely"   D. Christian, Culinary Herb Student.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction
    • Scope and Nature of Culinary Herbs
    • Herbs and Horticulture
    • Accurately Identifying Herbs
    • Plant Classification, binomial system
    • Finding the group a herb fits into -Monocotyledons and Dicotyledons, Plant Families
    • Pronouncing Plant Name
    • Resources - information contacts (ie. nurseries, seed, clubs etc.
  2. Culture
    • Overview
    • Soils
    • pH Requirements
    • Improving solid
    • Potting mixes
    • Plant Nutrition and Fertilizers
    • Water Management for Herbs
    • Diagnosing Plant Health Problems
    • Pests, Disease and Environmental Problems
    • Planting, staking, and establishing herb plants, etc.
  3. Growing Herbs
    • Propagation of herbs
    • Seed Propagation
    • Cutting Propagation
    • Potting Media
    • Division, Separation, Layering
    • Rejuvenation of Perennials
    • Designing a Culinary Herb Garden
    • Creating a Kitchen Garden
    • Planning a Fragrant Herb Garden
    • Companion Planting in Your Design
  4. Cooking With Herbs
    • General Guidelines for Using Herbs in Cooking
    • Harvesting Herbs; roots, leaves, seed, fruits
    • Handling after Harvest
    • Drying Herbs
    • Hints for Using a Range of Selected Herbs in Cooking
    • Herbs For Garnish
    • Herbal Teas: What & how to use different herbs
    • Herb Vinegars, oils, butters, cheeses, salts, sugars, honey,, etc
    • Herb Confectionary, Cakes, etc.
    • Selected Herb Recipes
    • Using Herbs with Fruit
  5. Most Commonly Grown Varieties.
    • Review of many Common Culinary herbs, including their culture and culinary use
    • Over 20 herbs reviewed in detail, incl. Alliums
    • Many additional herbs summarized
  6. Other Important Groups.
    • Lamiaceae (mint family) herbs
    • Lemon Scented Herbs and their uses
    • Hyssop
    • Mints
    • Bergamot
    • The Basils
    • Origanum species
    • Rosemary
    • Salvias
    • Thymes
    • Lavenders
  7. The Lesser Grown Varieties
    • Agastache
    • Agrimony
    • Visnaga
    • Apium
    • Arctium lappa
    • Bundium
    • Capparis; and many more
    • Using Australian Native Plants as Flavourings
  8. Special Assignment
    • A PBL Project on a selected genus of culinary herbs

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Describe the plant naming system, the major family groups that herbs fall into and the resources available to the culinary herb grower.
  • Describe how to manage the cultural requirements of culinary herbs.
  • Describe the various methods of propagation, both sexual and asexual, the treatments generally used for seed storage and the handling of cutting material.
  • Explain the way in which herbs are used in cooking and which herbs best suit various dishes.
  • Discuss the most common herb varieties used in cooking.
  • Compare a range of culinary herbs in a single plant family.
  • Discuss a range of lesser grown culinary herb varieties.
  • Explain the uses of a range of culinary herbs within a specific group of herb plants.


Harvest the leaves of herbs when the oils are at their peak.  This is usually just before flower set, which can be any time from late spring to early autumn. It is reasonable to harvest up to 75% of the season’s growth.

  • Herbs that are harvested for their roots are lifted in autumn. 
  • The flowers can also be used from many species, e.g. chamomile, borage. These should be harvested just before the flowers are fully open. 
  • Wait until seed pods change to grey before harvesting herbs for their seeds, e.g. dill. Make sure however that you do so before the pods split open. 
  • Collect herb flowers, such as borage and chamomile, just before full flower. Begin harvesting the herb when the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth.

Herb Harvesting Hints

  • Harvest before flowering as leaf production lessons after flowering.
  • Harvest in the early morning after dew has evaporated.
  • Pick flowers before they are fully open as they have the most flavour, oils are most concentrated now. 
  • Don’t harvest leaves once frosts start as this could damage the plant.
  • Prune back herbs in early summer to encourage a new flush of growth.

Harvesting Materials for Culinary and Medicinal Use
Leaves, flowers, roots, bark, bulbs and other plant parts are commonly used in cooking as well as botanic drugs.  To get proper results from such herbs though, they must be harvested and handled properly and, most of all, collected at precisely the correct time of year.

  • Leaves should always be collected on clear days, mid morning, after the dew. For most medicines, collect when the plant is starting to flower.  Leaves of biennial plants are best collected in the second year of growth. To dry, spread the leaves out on a clean dry surface. Stir occasionally until they are thoroughly dry.  Remove the stems from leaves and any leaves that have turned black due to dampness
  • Flowers should be collected immediately after they open. Dry the same as for leaves and only retain those which keep their natural colour.
  • Bulbs should be collected immediately after the leaves of the plant die (usually in autumn). Remove the outer scales of the bulb and dry it using artificial heat, but not over about 37°C. It may be necessary to cut the bulb into slices for drying.
  • Bark should be collected autumn or spring. Usually, the inner bark is required, so remove the outer bark first. Most barks should be dried in sunlight (but not wild cherry).
  • Seeds should be gathered on ripening.  Only larger, fully developed seeds are useful.


Grow and Make Your Own Tea

If growing your own herbs for use in teas, there are some points worth noting. Firstly, some herbs are annuals whereas others are perennials. Perennials are usually the woody stemmed types like sage, thyme, oregano and rosemary. Annuals are fleshier like coriander and basil. However, where you live can influence the lifespan of herbs. Many annual types do better in warmer regions where they can last indefinitely. In colder areas they are unlikely to withstand the winter temperatures and will die off.

Use herbs that are species plants rather than cultivated varieties – the latter are thought to have fewer active constituents (in some cases).

The quality of the herbs is also determined in part by your local climate. Most herbs need a lot of sunlight in order to promote oil production. It is the essential oils in herbs which produces their unmistakable aromas, and which provides flavour when ingested in food or infused in teas. If you are growing herbs in a cooler climate you will therefore need to position them where they can benefit from the most exposure to sunlight

Many perennial herbs do not need particularly rich soils, but most thrive in a warm and sunny position.  A few herbs such as rocket, parsley, mustard, and the mints, which make wonderfully refreshing teas, prefer a semi-shaded spot and moist soils. With some herbs, like the mints, there are also many different species, each with their unique taste. Why not grow several different types for a range of different teas?

Mints also have very invasive root systems, as do some others like horseradish, so they are best grown in containers to stop them from taking over garden beds. Containers are ideal for many other herbs too because it means you can move the containers to catch sunlight, and you can place them in the shelter of a greenhouse over winter if needs be. It is usually best to grow individual species in separate containers if space permits, since they may grow at different rates. Annuals and tender perennials grown in the open ground can be protected with a cloche or cold frame over winter.   

Apart from those needing moist conditions don’t over-water the herbs – this makes the leaves watery and in turn reduces their effectiveness as herbal tea or herbal medicine.

Some Popular Plants for Teas

  • Herbs - lemon balm, chamomile, fennel, mint, catnip, oregano, sage, thyme, parsley, rosemary, chives, dill, lavender, basil, lemongrass, echinacea
  • Trees and shrubs (leaves) - blackberry, raspberry, Backhousia citriodora, birch, lemon myrtle, lemon or orange verbena, linden (Tilia cordata).
  • Trees and shrubs (flowers) - rose, elderberry, citrus, hibiscus.
  • Garden weeds - dandelions, nettles, goldenrod (Solidago spp.), ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), purslane (Portulaca oleracea), wild mustard, red clover, milk thistle (Silybum marianum).
  • Annuals and perennials – Marigold (Calendula officinalis), chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum indicum or C. morifolium) nasturtium, pansies, violets, honeysuckle (flowers only), carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus), alliums, hollyhock (Althaea rosea), sunflower.

How to Make Teas

Teas make use of different plant parts, so if your favourite herb suddenly goes to flower, don't despair - you can use those flowers. The best plant parts for teas are the softer tissues. These include the fleshy growing tips of shoots, leaves, and flowers. The roots and toughened woody stems take more time and effort to break down, so are not us useful for a quick brew. Besides, if you want to keep the plant as a source of foliage, you won't want to dig out its roots.  

To make a tea all you need is your herbal plant parts and boiling water.  As a general rule of thumb, add one cup of water to one tablespoon of herbs. That's around 250ml of water to one ounce, or 28 grams, of herb. For less aromatic herbs you could go up to 3 tablespoons. Pour boiling water onto the herb and leave it to steep so as to extract the flavour, or essence, of the herb into the water. If you use a pan to heat the water rather than a kettle, place the herbs in a separate pan and pour the water over them. Do not return the pan to the heat of the stove - just leave the herbs to soak.


Learning to grow and use culinary herbs will expand your understanding of how to make food taste different and better.

Potentially, the very least that this course can do is to give you and your family a more interesting diet.

For most students though; the application of what is learned will extend beyond their own private use; improving their career and business prospects.

  • Cooks and caterers will be able to develop new tastes in the food they prepare.
  • Herb nurseries and herb shops will be able to grow and sell a wider range of products and highlight selling points for what they are selling
  • Manufacturers of herb products may use this course as inspiration for developing new products.
  • This may be a starting point for developing a business, furthering a career or the first of a series of courses leading to a higher qualification.

Principal of ACS Distance Education, John Mason, is fellow of the CIH.
Principal of ACS Distance Education, John Mason, is fellow of the CIH.
Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.
Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.
ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
Member Nursery and Garden Industry Association.
Member Nursery and Garden Industry Association.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
ACS is a Member of the Permaculture Association (membership number 14088).
ACS is a Member of the Permaculture Association (membership number 14088).
ACS is a Silver Sponsor of the AIH; and students studying designated courses are given free student membership. ACS and it's principal have had an association with AIH since the 1980's
ACS is a Silver Sponsor of the AIH; and students studying designated courses are given free student membership. ACS and it's principal have had an association with AIH since the 1980's
Long-term member since 1986.
Long-term member since 1986.

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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Yvonne Sharpe

RHS Cert.Hort, Dip.Hort, M.Hort, Cert.Ed., Dip.Mgt. Over 30 years experience in business, education, management and horticulture. Former department head at a UK government vocational college. Yvonne has traveled widely within and beyond Europe, and has worked in many areas of horticulture from garden centres to horticultural therapy. She has served on industry committees and been actively involved with amateur garden clubs for decades.

John Mason (Horticulturist)

Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant.
Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK.
He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world.

Maggi Brown

Maggi is regarded as an expert in organic growing throughout the UK, having worked for two decades as Education Officer at the world renowned Henry Doubleday Research Association. She has been active in education, environmental management and horticulture across the UK for more than three decades.
Some of Maggi's qualifications include RHS Cert. Hort. Cert. Ed. Member RHS Life Member Garden Organic (HDRA) .

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