As gardeners we know how much plants enhance our lives. They add beauty and life, even increase our home’s value, provide color, and a purpose for many of us as we watch them grow, develop and bloom. Some of our plants produce healthy and flavorful harvests, and that is especially true when it comes to culinary herbs. These days herbs are so much a part of our cooking repertoire it would seem impossible to prepare meals without them.

However, a recent investigative feature in “Consumer Reports” magazine exposed how many of the dried herbs sold in those little jars contain alarming amounts of harmful elements such as “lead, arsenic and cadmium.” Having fresh herbs on hand is one of life’s joys and conveniences, and now it seems it could be a ticket to a healthier life as well. We always knew growing our own was better for us.

Many herbs can be grown inexpensively, by starting them from seed, or purchased as small plants. Some are annuals, like basil for instance. One of my favorite varieties is lemon basil — a mild, lemony basil that adds a distinctive flavor to many dishes in which it is used. It can be difficult to start from seed, however, it is especially easy to root from cuttings, which is a good way to expand your supply.

Basil is one of those summertime treats, but like a lot of the herbs listed here, it is easy to dry or freeze for use throughout the year for a healthy and safe, and especially tasty, alternative to dried selections from the supermarket. A sunny windowsill can support a series of potted herbs indoors throughout the winter months for ready-to-use ingredients and embellishments.

Culinary sage is a perennial herb that blooms in the summer. Photo by Lynette Walther.

There are also biennial herbs such as parsley, and perennial ones as well. And, it is those perennial herbs we will focus upon today. Plant once and enjoy forever is the mantra of these ten perennial herbs.

Chives — Cousin of onions and garlic, chives are great added to a number of dishes from fresh salads, to soups, stews and casseroles. Grow it in full sun and snip bits to use. Even the flowers are good to add to salads or to flavor vinegars.

Oregano — Your pizza is not the same without this Mediterranean favorite, also known as marjoram. This perennial herb can spread rampantly and prefers full sun.

Mint – Mint is useful for more than just juleps. Add some cut into julienne to frozen peas to make them taste almost as good as fresh-snapped. I like to dry some for soothing herbal teas. This comforting herb is good to calm an upset stomach.

Rosemary — A truly “memorable” herb, rosemary is fragrant and refreshing. In milder climates rosemary grows thickly enough to create low hedges. Full sun and good drainage are essential for growing rosemary.

Sage — Fragrant, this perennial herb is also one of the most ornamental of herbs with lovely purple flowers. Full sun, and good drainage are important. Try cutting leaves into julienne strips and add to breadcrumbs crisped in browned butter as a topping for pasta dishes.

Lemon balm — This cousin of mint offers a pleasant citrusy hint of lemon. Sun and plenty of moisture help this one thrive.

Thyme — Many cooks will agree that thyme is their friend. This savory herb can be used with roasts and other cooked dishes.

Lovage — How many times have you passed up on a recipe that calls for a bit of finely-chopped celery just because there was no celery in the house? Lovage comes to the rescue, but go easy on it because the celery-essence of this perennial is strong.

Horseradish — Big leaves make this perennial an attractive addition to any garden. Just be sure to let this one grow at least a year before harvesting your first roots of this pungent herb.

Lemon grass — Sublime essence of lemon is why we grow this attractive grass. In colder climates it must be brought indoors for the winter months, but it always grows best in full sun. This is used in many Asian dishes, and I like to add some to a pot of hot tea.

Once you start growing your own fresh herbs, you won’t have to rely upon “store-bought” versions. Most of these perennial herbs can be divided for sharing with other gardeners.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. She is a member of GardenComm and the National Garden Bureau. Her gardens are in Camden.