Culinary herbs are fresh or dried plant parts used as a food flavoring; mostly prepared from leaves, but can also be prepared from flowers, fruits and roots. Some of the more popular commercially grown herbs include cilantro or coriander (Coriandrum sativum), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), dill (Anthum graveolens), French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), mint (Mentha spp.), oregano (Origanum vulgare), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), sage (Salvia officinalis), sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), and thyme (Thymus vulgaris).
Culinary herbs may be sold fresh, dried, or as live plants, and will add variety and sales volume in direct markets like farmers markets, on-farm stands and community supported agriculture (CSA) memberships. Dried herbs may also be marketed as ornamental products to florists or directly to consumers as wreaths. Live plants can be marketed for use in traditional herb and vegetable gardens and may also be promoted for “edible landscaping” to homeowners and landscape contractors. Displaying recipes with fresh-cut or live herbs can help promote the sale of these crops. Value-added products, such as herbal teas, butters, jellies, flavored oils, and bouquet garni are other ways to market herbs, but growers must be aware of the food processing regulations that govern these products. Small-scale wholesale markets (direct to local restaurants and grocers) are also possible for fresh herbs. Interest is usually greatest among chefs for herbs used in higher volumes, such as basil, chives, cilantro, parsley, and rosemary. Kentucky chefs surveyed in the past have also noted specific interests in horseradish, oregano, sage, tarragon, and thyme. Larger-scale greenhouse production of fresh-cut herbs, for wholesale to large-scale grocery chains, has also occurred in Kentucky.
In general, field-grown herbs can be produced using similar cultivation techniques used for standard or organic vegetable crops. However, specific cultural requirements can vary depending on the herb. As a rule, herbs are easy to grow, tolerating a wide range of soils and growing conditions. Preferably, select a warm, sunny site with good soil drainage and few weed problems. Raised beds with plastic mulch and drip irrigation increase yields and produce a cleaner product. Some herbs can be direct-seeded, while others should be transplanted. Soil tests should be taken in advance of planting to amend soil nutrients and to adjust soil pH. Herbs can be grown in soil beds under protected cultivation (i.e., greenhouse or high tunnels). Seeds can be directly sown into raised beds and thinned to a proper spacing, or the grower can choose to use transplants. Alternatively, plants can be grown in a greenhouse bench with a 6- to 8-inch-tall frame filled with an appropriate greenhouse substrate. Fresh herbs are produced in containers as point-of-sale garden transplants or to be sold for fresh kitchen herbs at farmer markets or groceries. Container-grown fresh herbs are most commonly produced under greenhouse conditions. Container size is usually 4 to 6 inches, and marketing may be enhanced by producing in “environmentally friendly” biocontainers.