While some herbs require plenty of sunlight for healthy growth, there are a good number that can flourish in shade or partial shade. Here’s our roundup of shade-loving herbs below along with some basic care instructions.
American pennyroyal/American false pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides)
Perennial grown in USDA zones 5 to 9. Prefers full sun to partial shade and dry soil. Grows six inches to a foot tall with slightly hairy stems and narrow leaves. Lavender to fuchsia blooms appear in clusters from July to September. Spreads; can be invasive. Relieves pain and menstrual cramps, soothes gastric discomfort, and relieves colds.
Biennial or short-lived perennial hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9. Prefers partial shade to sun or, in hot regions, dappled shade. Plant in well draining slightly acidic loamy soil, and keep moderately moist. Grows between 72 and 96 inches tall. Produces a compound circular formation of greenish white flowers. Stems can be candied; seeds used to flavor liqueurs.
Bee balm/bergamot/horsemint/Oswego tea/wild bergamot (Monarda)
Perennial hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9. Prefers full sun to partial shade; Monarda didyma grows in rich, moist soil while Monarda fistulosa tolerates drier soil. Varieties range from 18 inches to four feet tall. Blooms in red, pink, purple, or white, and has fragrant foliage. Attracts pollinators such as hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. Member of the mint family. Leaves used in tea, in salad, or as a garnish, and flowers are edible.
Black elderberry (Sambucus)
Deciduous shrub hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8. Prefers partial shade and well draining, loamy soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.6. Grows between 10 and 12 feet tall and produces white flowers. Blue-black fruit is used in wine, juice, jelly, jam, pie, or a tincture to relieve cold and flu symptoms.
Borage/bee bush/bee bread/bugloss/starflower (Borago officinalis)
Annual or sometimes biennial herb suitable for USDA zones 3 to 10. Prefers full sun to partial shade, with plants in full sun displaying the most flowers. Tolerates all soil types, even poor dry soil, but does best in rich, well draining soil. Grows between 18 and 36 inches, with hairy leaves and stems that produce star-shaped indigo blue flowers. Flowers, stems, and leaves are edible. Flowers can be eaten fresh or candied; stems and leaves taste like cucumber and can be included in salads, sandwiches, and desserts as well as served steamed orsauteed as a side dish. Deer resistant and an excellent companion plant.
Calendula/common marigold/pot marigold/Scotch marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Perennial, though commonly grown as an annual, hardy in USDA zones 9b to 11 but grown as an annual in 2 through 11. Prefers full sun to partial shade and average soil that drains well and is rich in organic material. In warm regions, benefits from afternoon shade during the hottest times of year. Grows between one and two feet tall, producing yellow and orange flowers as well as rarer blooms in pink or cream. Sometimes used in a topical ointment to treat cuts and scrapes. Petals of the blossoms used in salads, to flavor soup, and to color butter or cheese. Attracts butterflies.
Cardamom/green cardamom/true cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
Perennial hardy in USDA zones 10 to 13. Prefers partial shade; thrives in rich loamy soil that is slightly acidic, with a pH level between 6.1 and 6.6, and kept moist. Does not tolerate drought or temperatures below 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Grows between five and 10 feet high by its third year with lance-shaped leaves that can measure up to two feet, tiny purple, cream, yellow, or white flowers accented with yellow or red, and black, white, or red pods containing black seeds. Seeds taste sweet (like a mixture of ginger, clove, vanilla, mint, and citron) and are used to flavor beverages such as mulled wine, as part of Scandinavian pastries, and as a fragrance in perfumes; a part of traditional Indian cuisine included in desserts, teas, coffees, as a spice in masala, and to flavor a diverse array of dishes. Used to treat bug bites, snake bite, sore throat, oral infections, tuberculosis and other lung infections, stomach discomfort, and kidney problems. Some say it alleviates depression and works as an aphrodisiac.
Catnip/catwort/catswort/catmint (Nepeta cataria)
Perennial hardy in USDA zones 3 through 10. Prefers full sun to partial shade and somewhat rich loamy or sandy soil that has plenty of drainage, with a pH level between 6.1 and 7.8. Tolerant of drought. Grows between three and four feet tall with pale green feathery foliage and white or lavender blossoms; some species are invasive. Member of the mint family and a natural mosquito repellent. When consumed by cats, acts as a sedative; when smelled by cats, results in a psychoactive effect—use by cats is harmless and nonaddictive. Deer resistant; attracts bees, butterflies, and birds. Leaves are used in tea to treat coughs, and oil made from the plant soothes headache, anxiety, and nervousness. Treats gastric discomfort, arthritis, fevers, viruses, and hives; induces menstruation; works as a sleep aid and diuretic; encourages appetite; functions as a sedative. Smoking dried leaves soothes respiratory illness, or leaves can be used topically in a poultice or juice to relieve swelling. Candied leaves are used in desserts; leaves and shoots taste grassy, like a cross between pennyroyal and mint, and are used to flavor sauces, soup, or stew and to flavor wine and liquor.
Chamomile/English chamomile/ground apple/mother’s daisy/Roman chamomile/Russian chamomile/whig plant (Chamaemelum nobile/Anthemis nobilis)
Perennial hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9. Prefers partial shade but can tolerate full sun; thrives in acidic to neutral dry soil that drains well. Feathery foliage grows as a groundcover three to six inches tall and produces flowers that resemble tiny daisies. Flowers are dried and used in tea, which has a soothing, fresh flavor similar to hay, and is used to treat cold, flu, headaches, spasms, and digestive discomfort; tea is also used as a relaxant and sleep aid. As a compress, rinse, or gargle, chamomile treats inflammation or irritation of the mouth, gums, or respiratory tract as well as hemorrhoids. Fresh or dried flowers may be used in fruit salads or as a cake decoration.
Chervil/French parsley (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Hardy cool season annual grown in USDA zones 3 to 7. Prefers light shade and rich soil with good drainage and a pH level between 6.0 and 6.7. Does not tolerate heat. Grows between one and two feet tall with curly, parsley-like foliage that produces tiny white flowers. Repels slugs from the garden. Flavor is similar to anise, tarragon, licorice, and parsley. Leaves are included in salad, chopped into fines herbes, and used to flavor eggs, béarnaise sauce, cheeses, cream sauces, soups, stews, potatoes, carrots, corn, peas, spinach, and meats. Leaves, dried flowers, and juice are used to treat cough, high blood pressure, fluid retention, gout, poor digestion, abscesses, and eczema.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) or Garlic chives/Chinese leeks (Allium tuberosum)
Cool season perennial hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9. Prefers full sun or partial shade and moist, rich loamy or sandy soil that drains well and has a pH level between 6.2 and 6.8. Grows between 12 and 24 inches with vertical ribbon-like leaves similar to those of other alliums produce purple flowers. Deer resistant; flowers are edible. Flavor of greens is similar to the greens of garlic or scallions; used to flavor potatoes, salads, eggs, quiche, dips, dressings, soups, sandwiches, sauces, fish, and in herb butter.
Cilantro/Chinese parsley/Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Annual that self-seeds prolifically in frost-free zones and grows in USDA zones 3 to 11. Prefers full sun but will tolerate light shade in the south or southwest of the U.S. Thrives in rich, moist soil with good drainage and a pH level between 4.9 and 8.3. Needs afternoon shade in hot regions. Flat, curly foliage produces pink and white blooms. All parts of the plant are edible, including leaves, stems, and seeds. Cilantro is used to flavor curry, poultry, relish, pickles, salsa, and many Hispanic and Asian dishes. Seeds are used to aid in digestion and treat insomnia. Some individuals are genetically predisposed to interpret the taste of cilantro as similar to soap, but for most people, the flavor is fresh and similar to citrus.
Costmary/alecost/balsam herb/bible leaf/mint geranium (Tanacetum balsamita)
Perennial hardy in USDA zones 5 to 11. Prefers full sun to partial shade and tolerates all soil types, including poor, dry soil and clay or sand. Grows between two and three feet tall with feathery foliage that produces small yellow or white flowers similar to daisies. Leaves can be made into a poultice to treat bug bites, cuts, and scrapes. Treats diarrhea, worms, colds, flu, fever, digestive discomfort, rheumatism, blisters, ulcers, shingles, and scabs. Sprinkled around pet runs, costmary discourages fleas. Mint-scented leaves add flavor to ale, soup, salad, or sauce and garnish beverages or fresh fruit. Dried, leaves are used in sachets or potpourri.
Dill/dill weed (Anethum graveolens)
Annual grown in frost-free seasons or biennial warm-season herb grown in USDA zones 3 to 11. Prefers full shade but will grow in partial shade; thrives in poor, sandy soil with an ideal pH between 5.5 and 6.5, though it will grow in soil with a pH up to 7.5. Fine, feathery fernlike foliage grows between one and a half and five feet tall and produces clusters of yellow flowers. Attracts bees and butterflies and other beneficial insects. Used to treat poor digestion, soothe menstrual problems, and as an immune booster and anti-inflammatory. The flavor is recognizable because of the herb’s use in dill pickles. It is also used to flavor soup, salad, cottage cheese, roasted potatoes, and green beans. In Europe, dill is an ingredient included in cakes and pastries.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Annual, biennial, or short-lived perennial (depending on climate) hardy between USDA Zones 4 and 9. Prefers full sun to partial shade and loose, acidic, fertile soil with plenty of drainage and a pH level between 5.5 and 6.8. Grows between one and eight feet with fernlike foliage similar to that of dill that produces clusters of small yellow flowers. Attracts birds, pollinators, and other beneficial insects, especially the swallowtail butterfly and its caterpillars. Used to stimulate digestion and reduce gas, treat spasms, soothe bronchial cough, stimulate milk flow in nursing mothers, and as an anti-inflammatory. Fennel seeds are used in teas and tinctures to treat poor digestion, work as an expectorant, and serve as a tonic for the kidneys, spleen, and reproductive organs. Bulbs, foliage, and seeds are edible and have a flavor similar to citrus mixed with licorice or anise. Used as a microgreen or to flavor salads, dressing, cole slaw, soups, fish, as a garnish, and in tea, with seeds used in desserts, breads, baked goods, sausage, and beverages. Bulbs may be sliced raw into salads, simmered in soups, or roasted.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) or Myoga ginger/Japanese ginger (Zingiber mioga)
Perennial hardy between USDA Zones 7b and 12 (with most species thriving in 8 through 11). Prefers partial or dappled shade to partial sun and well draining loamy soil with moderate moisture. Ginger can tolerate full shade but is unlikely to bloom when planted there. Grows between two and eight feet tall with long, narrow leaves. Some species have colorful or variegated foliage, and the plants produce small yellow-green blossoms. Used fresh or taken as a tea, oil, or juice to treat a broad range of digestive issues (especially morning sickness) and loss of appetite as well as treating rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, cold, flu, muscle pain, menstrual discomfort, inflammation, and infection. Topically, ginger can be used on burns, to prevent insect bite, or applied to painful areas of the skin. Ginger has a trademark sweet and spicy flavor with peppery heat and some tartness. The root is used in a variety of Asian dishes and to flavor baked goods, marinades, beverages, chutney, meats, salad dressing, vegetable dishes, fruit salads, and confections. Thinly sliced pickled ginger is traditionally served with sushi.
Ginseng/Asian ginseng/Chinese ginseng/Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng)
Long-lived perennial hardy to USDA Zones 5 through 9. Prefers moderate to deep shade; ginseng thrives under a tree canopy with 70 to 75 percent shade coverage to replicate their natural home in hardwood forests. More than 90 percent shade will drastically slow the plant’s growth, however. The ideal spot for growing ginseng is sloping, has a layer of leaf mulch, faces north or east, and has a pH level between 4.5 and 5.5. Farmers sometimes create artificial shade to cultivate ginseng plants. Ginseng thrives in soil with lots of humus that drains well and contains lots of calcium and phosphorus. Does not tolerate extremes of either prolonged drought or extended periods of wetness. Grows between six and 24 inches tall with leaves that branch in prongs from the stem. Produces small yellow-green flowers and dark red berries.
Ginseng is traditionally used to boost overall health and stamina, strengthen the immune system, improve athletic performance, enhance memory and mental function, revitalize exhausted or depleted individuals, and help people cope with stress. Ginseng is sometimes taken as a reproductive tonic and also enhances the effectiveness of flu vaccines. People can consume ginseng as a juice or in capsules, elixirs, and extracts. Ginseng root is the primary part used for its health benefits, although sometimes the leaves are taken as a health supplement as well. The leaves and root are both used to make tea, and the root can also be eaten raw, dried, steamed, or simmered into soups.
Ginseng is sometimes included in food products such as beverages, gum, and chips. In the kitchen, the leaves (which have a flavor similar to bitter radishes) are used in Asian soup recipes, steamed with chicken, or mixed with pork, dates, and ginger. The berry juice, which has a slightly tart but mostly flavorless quality, is used as an ingredient in teas and other beverages. Ginseng should be taken in moderation, as ingesting too much can result in problems for some individuals, including agitation, confusion, headaches, heart palpitations, and sleep disturbances. The following people should not consume ginseng: Pregnant, breastfeeding, or menopausal women; individuals who take blood thinners or hypoglycemic medications; and those who have low blood pressure, high blood sugar, or heart problems.
Golden oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’)
Semi-evergreen perennial groundcover herb hardy between USDA Zones 4 and 9 and grown as an annual in other zones. Prefers partial shade to light shade (too much sun will scorch golden oregano’s leaves) and can thrive in poor to moderately fertile soil with good drainage, ample air circulation, and plenty of organic matter—even gritty, rocky, or sandy soils, whether they’re neutral, alkaline, or acidic. Golden oregano is mildly invasive, tolerant of drought, deer resistant, and attracts butterflies. This herb does not require very much water and must not be overwatered at the risk of developing root rot. Winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. Measures six inches to one foot tall with tiny leaves in lighter shades than standard oregano varieties: yellow and chartreuse. As spring turns into summer, the leaves darken until they’re more vibrant green, then they become more pale and golden again as summer progresses toward autumn. Golden oregano produces small pink, mauve, white, or lavender blossoms. The foliage has a mild aroma but is generally not used in culinary applications, though it is completely edible. Instead, golden oregano is most frequently cultivated as an ornamental. (However, there’s nothing to prevent a gardener from cooking with golden oregano leaves if they wish to try it.)
Greek oregano/European oregano/Turkish oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum, formerly listed as Origanum heracleoticum)
Perennial hardy between USDA Zones 6 and 9 (marginally hardy in Zone 5). Prefers full sun to partial shade and soil that offers plenty of drainage, whether it’s sandy, loamy, or clay. Though slightly alkaline soil is ideal, will tolerate neutral or basic soils as well. Does not perform well in regions with too much heat, excessive humidity, or extreme levels of rainfall. In hot climates, Greek oregano benefits from the protection of afternoon shade. Grows between six and 30 inches tall with hairy leaves in shades of gray and dark green that produce small white blooms. Spreads prolifically and can be invasive; attracts wildlife and pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and moths.
Greek oregano is considered the “true” oregano variety and is the one you’d find dried and bottled in the spice aisle at the grocery store. This variety has a pungent aroma and intense spicy flavor that’s classic in Greek, Spanish, and Italian food. The species is so spicy that a fresh leaf eaten straight will numb the end of a person’s tongue. Greek oregano’s fresh and dried leaves are used to flavor fresh or dried leaves are used to flavor pizzas, pasta sauce, soups and stews, beans, rice, salad dressing, vegetables, dips, herbal vinegars, marinates, meats, potatoes, egg dishes, and a variety of foods in Italian, Greek, and Spanish cuisines. Used to treat arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, muscle pain, colds, flus, mild fevers, digestive or respiratory problems, and to promote healthy menstruation. Greek oregano is a strong sedative, antiseptic, antispasmodic, expectorant, and mild tonic. Pregnant women should not take Greek oregano for its health benefits, although the amount used for culinary purposes is completely safe for them. When taken as a tea, Greek oregano helps to promote healthy sleep patterns. It can also be taken in capsules or as an essential oil. A few drops of the oil can be applied to a cotton ball, then used to treat toothache by placing the cotton ball on the painful tooth.
Holy grass/sacred grass/sweetgrass/alpine sweetgrass/Seneca grass/bisongrass/vanilla grass/manna grass/Mary’s grass (Hierochloe odorata/Anthoxanthum nitens)
An aromatic cool season perennial hardy between USDA Zones 3 and 9. Prefers full or partial sun in some regions and partial shade in the American South, Midwest, Southwest, and southern California. At minimum, sweetgrass needs half a day of sunlight for healthy growth. It thrives in moist, nutrient-rich soil that offers plenty of drainage and has a pH level between 6.0 and 8.0. Sweetgrass benefits from shade after 3 p.m. in these warm regions to offer protection from the sweltering sun. Grows between one and three feet tall with hollow stems and gray-green bladelike leaves, eventually producing yellow flowers. Can be somewhat invasive; prone to consumption by rabbits and gophers. An essential oil extracted from the herb is used to flavor food and beverages.
Note that the coumarin that gives sweetgrass its pleasing aroma is a potentially toxic blood thinning agent that can cause liver injury and hemorrhage. Consuming coumarin in excess may even cause cancer. Information about sweetgrass consumption is for information only and should not be taken as medical advice. Taking sweetgrass internally for any reason is not recommended without the direction of a trained herbalist.
Indigenous Americans and Europeans consider sweetgrass a holy plant and have used it for ages as a ceremonial incense or smudge and to alleviate spiritual struggles. Historically in Native American culture, tea made with sweetgrass was used as an eye wash, to repel insects, to aid in recovery after childbirth or miscarriage, as a treatment for venereal infections in men, and to soothe coughs, windburn, chapping, and sore throats. Mixed with seeds of meadow rue, sweetgrass was used to relieve nasal congestion. Braids of dried sweetgrass were woven into cradleboards and bowls or burned as a purification measure after menstruation. Sweetgrass was even used to treat illness in dogs. In Europe, sweetgrass is a traditional ingredient in tea and is used to flavor tobacco and vodka.
Lemon balm/common balm/balm mint (Melissa officinalis)
Perennial grown in USDA Zones 4 through 9 (though in Zone 4 it will require mulch in winter and a sandy soil with plenty of drainage). Prefers partial shade and fertile, well-draining soil kept consistently moist with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0 (though it will tolerate pH levels between 5.6 and 9.0). You may wish to grow lemon balm in a container because, like its cousin mint, it spreads prolifically and can become invasive. Grows to heights between 24 and 36 inches tall, with crinkled, vibrant green leaves similar to mint that have a lemon aroma and produces white flowers that may have a bit of yellow or pink hue. Varieties are available with variegated or yellow foliage. Used as a mild sedative and digestive aid as well as to reduce pain from menstrual cramps, headache, and toothache. Also used to alleviate stress, improve mood, soothe anxiety, promote restful sleep, relieve digestive discomfort, or as a topical treatment for cold sores. Has a mild citrus flavor and is traditionally included in herb butter, fruit salad, sorbet, soups, casseroles, egg dishes, custards, sauces, marinades, and desserts as well as being used to garnish drinks, salads, and main dishes; dried leaves are used to make tea.
Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
Perennial hardy to USDA Zones 4 through 8. Prefers full sun to partial shade and fertile, sandy soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 but will tolerate loamy soil as long as drainage is good. Can reach heights of three to six feet with celery-like foliage that produces tiny yellow-green flowers. Traditionally used to treat digestive discomfort, irregular menstruation, sore throat, boils, jaundice, malaria, gout, joint pain, pleurisy, migraines, and pain and inflammation in the urinary tract when taken by mouth; as prevention of kidney stones; and as an expectorant to relieve congestion from respiratory conditions. Similar in flavor to celery; leaves are used to flavor potato dishes, soups, stocks, pork, poultry, salads, pickles, tomato sauces, and flavored vinegars; seeds are used in salads and mashed potatoes or crushed in baked goods and cheeses.
Meadowsweet/mead wort/queen of the meadow (Filipendula ulmaria)
Perennial grown in USDA Zones 3 through 9. Prefers full sun to partial shade and well-draining neutral or alkaline soil kept consistently moist. Grows to reach three to six feet tall and produces feathery white flowers. Used to treat colds, bronchitis, nausea, heartburn, stomach ulcers, joint problems, and gout. Foliage has a wintergreen flavor, while flowers taste nutty; young leaves used in soups, while flowers flavor jam or stewed fruit. Leaves, flowers, and roots are used in tea.
Mint (Mentha) or Coriscan mint (Mentha requienii) or Stone mint/American dittany/fairy skirts/frost flowers/Maryland dittany (Cunila origanoides)
Perennial grown in USDA Zones 4 through 9. Prefers full sun or partial shade and light. loamy moist soil with good drainage that has a pH between 6.0 and 7.0, although it will tolerate a range from 5.6 to 7.5. Known for its tendency to be invasive due to underground runner roots. Grows to one or two feet tall (tends to sprawl and spread horizontally) with crinkly, fragrant foliage that produces purple, pink, or white blossoms. Used to treat digestive ailments such as IBS or cold symptoms, and to soothe sunburn or freshen breath. Mint is often used for its distinctive fragrance, as a room freshener, in a sachet, or as part of skin and hair care recipes. It’s also a bug repellent. The fresh-tasting leaves are used in tea, lemonade, and lots of other beverages as well as in fruit salads or desserts, sauces, dressings, or marinades, with lamb or fruit, and in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Musk geranium/Bland’s musk/Blandford (Geranium macrorhizum)
[Annual or perennial] hardy to (or grown in) USDA Zones [x through x]. Prefers [sun details and soil details with pH if available]. Grows to [size] with [foliage] that produces [flowers]. Used to treat [medical uses]. [Tastes like]; used to flavor [food made with it].
Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Perennial hardy to USDA Zones 4 through 8. Prefers full to partial shade and a medium to wet, well-drained soil details with pH between 4.8 and 8.3. Grows to 6 to 12 inches tall fragrant, lance-shaped, dark-green foliage that produces clusters of white, star-shaped flowers. Used to treat lung, stomach, liver, gallbladder, and urinary disorders, heart problems, blood and circulation issues, restlessness, agitation, hysteria, and insomnia. Flavor is bitter, used to flavor sweet drinks and desserts.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Perennial hardy to (or grown in) USDA Zones 5 through 9. Prefers full sun to partial shade; will bloom less when planted in the shade. Ideal soil is well-draining and 7.0 pH or slightly alkaline. Grows to 6 to 10 inches tall with tiny gray-green evergreen foliage that produces tiny pink, lavender, or white tubular flowers. Used to treat bronchitis, whooping cough, sore throat, colic, arthritis, upset stomach, stomach pain, diarrhea, bedwetting, dyspraxia, intestinal gas, parasitic worm infections, and skin disorders. Flavor is earthy, slightly sweet, and slightly minty, used to flavor soups, sauces, braises, potatoes, rice, vegetables, and bread.
Wild ginger (Asarum)
Perennial hardy to USDA Zones 4 through 7 or 8. Prefers full to partial shade and acidic, humus-rich, well-drained but moist soil. Grows to 6 to 10 inches tall with evergreen kidney or heart-shaped foliage. Used to treat upset stomach, intestinal ailments, cramps, indigestion, and colic . Flavor is similar to common ginger; used as a ginger substitute, a flavoring agent, and for making some candy.