8 Cooking Herbs That Grow in Shade (and Some to Avoid)

Herbs that grow in shade

Fresh herbs in the kitchen are just a wonderful thing. Making fresh pizza? Tear up some basil and throw it on there. Fancy an afternoon mojito? Grab a few leaves of mint to finish it off. Need herbs for your homemade butter? Chop a few up and mix them into the cream. Having herbs to hand is just fantastic! But there are times when you are running short on space and you’re wondering where your herbs can go. What if all the sunny spots are taken? The good news is that there are several varieties of herbs that grow in shade. Actually, there are several that truly flourish in shade. Here, we list eight kitchen herbs that grow in shade and advise you – importantly – on what NOT to plant with them!

What Herbs Can Grow Without Sunlight?

1. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

I absolutely love Mexican food, so the top of the list for me had to be cilantro. But this recommendation needs a little bit of explanation. Cilantro is a sun-loving herb, and in colder climates, it’s likely to do best in the sun, not the shade. That said, cilantro can grow very quickly and if it gets too much sun, it’s likely to bolt. (If you’re not sure what that means, ‘bolting’ occurs when plants grow too quickly and then try to set seeds. They do this to try to ensure their survival. When this happens, they stop flowering and end up not tasting as nice, so we want to avoid this.)

Because of this risk of bolting, if you are in a particularly sunny and hot climate, you should bring your cilantro into the shade. Some gardeners recommend partial shade treatment. Others will start seeds off in the shade and leave the plants there when they mature. Remember that cilantro doesn’t like being transplanted, so they need to be able to grow where you set their seeds.

2. Mint (Mentha ssp.)

Mint is another excellent type of herb that grows in shade. The hardy mint plant is generally tolerant of different light and soil conditions. That said, they favor moist spots out of direct sunlight. A light shade (is that an oxymoron?) is best for most varieties of mint, meaning they can get some sunlight but it’s best if it’s not direct. You should pay special attention to varieties of mint that actually require protection from direct sunlight, as even partial shade could present too much sun for them depending on other conditions. Make sure to trim the mint often as the plants grow quickly and they are creepers, so they could overtake other plants if left to their own devices.

3. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Next on the list is the delicious chive. Being so easy to harvest and prepare and having so many different uses, chives are a welcome addition to most homestead kitchens. Chives are similar to mint in that they prefer to exist in light shade in most climates. If you live in a particularly sunny and hot area, your chives may get overwhelmed and will struggle. On the flip side, put chives in too dark and damp a spot and they won’t thrive there either. Somewhere in the middle is about right for most varieties of chive, but you should check the particular variety you have in case there are exceptions. Chives are self-seeders, so they’re great to have in shady gardens as they fill the gaps and take care of themselves for the most part.

4. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Picking off a few lemon balm leaves can be a great way to add natural lemon flavor to cakes as well as to bring some extra zest to salads. Lemon balm leaves can even be added as they are to hot water and made into a refreshing tea. Whatever you choose to do with them in the end, starting them off in shade is a good idea. They are not particularly choosy about where they live as long the soil quality is good, but they can – like chives – get overwhelmed if it’s too sunny. If you are in a colder climate, you might need to let your lemon balm enjoy some sunshine for part of the day. In hotter climates, a nice shaded area will do just fine.

5. Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

Another balm! Bee balm serves two important purposes. Firstly, it is a delicious herb in its own right. Secondly, it is a means of attracting pollinator bees, which are critical to the success of our gardens. Bee balm petals can be used in salads (they have a slightly spicy taste, which is interesting!) while the leaves make an earthy almost-Italian addition to dinner dishes. While happy enough out of sunlight, don’t put bee balm anywhere that gets too moist. These plants are susceptible to powdery mildew so drier conditions are needed.

6. Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)

While Tarragon sounds like a Lord of the Rings character to me, alas, it is not. Tarragon (also commonly referred to as French Tarragon) is a bright green herb with an anise/aniseedy sort of flavor. If you’re roasting up some vegetables from the garden, pick a bit of tarragon while you’re out there and throw it into the mix for a rich and distinctive taste. Tarragon will tolerate some sun, and if you’re in a cooler climate you should consider letting it sit in the sun for a few hours each day.

7. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

Flat-leaf parsley is another kitchen staple that can be used in everything from salads to stuffing! A parsley plant will grow in the shade, but only in warmer climates. If you are in a cooler climate, the plant will need to put in the warmer sunlight to be able to thrive as otherwise the cold and damp gets too much for it. As the plant grows, snip off the outer stalks first and strip the leaves of them for use in cooking.

8. Sorrel (Rumex ssp.)

Sorrel has a more acidic flavor than some of the other herbs that grow in shade mentioned here, but again it is a welcome addition to many things in the homestead kitchen. You can throw the leaves into salads or wilt them down in a pan and use them as you would spinach. Sorrel is quite happy in the shade as long as the soil isn’t damp, as it needs loose soil to thrive and reach its fullest most delicious potential.

Which Herbs Should NOT Be Planted Together in Shade?

There are several types of herbs that don’t get along with other herbs or vegetables, or vice versa. Dill has a reputation in this regard, but there are others. For this reason, it’s always worth double-checking your exact pairing before you plant. Here are some herbs that you need to pay extra close attention to:

  1. Dill – this aromatic little beauty can be quite mischievous, especially in the proximity of carrots or tomatoes. Dill can prevent carrots from growing, and they can damage tomatoes, so it’s worth considering this if you have some shady spots in that part of your garden.
  2. Fennel – this one always has to be planted on its own. Not only do plants not grow as well in proximity to fennel, but the taste of the plants can actually be affected by the fennel, too. Best to keep this one of the way of others – it does not play nicely.
  3. Mint – even though mint makes this list of herbs to grow in the shade, it’s worth considering planting it on its own, especially if it’s outside and can roam. Mint grows quickly and can spread remarkably, taking essential nutrients and water from other plants as it does so.

Growing Other Common Kitchen Herbs in Shade

The herbs mentioned above are ones that either need or can nonetheless thrive in shade. Not all herbs are like that, though, of course, so I wanted to cover just a few more common kitchen herbs and their propensity to thrive in shade.

1. Can rosemary grow in shade?

Unfortunately, rosemary doesn’t really like the shade at all so if you were hoping to plant some in a darker corner of the garden, you’ll have to think again. Sunny, hot, dry spaces are the preferred ones for rosemary plants, and they also need to be out of the wind.

2. Can basil grow in shade?

As a general rule, basil likes hot, sunny, airy spaces. That said, it can grow in partial shade if you’re desperate for some and that’s the only spot you’ve got available. If you are keeping basil in the shade, make sure not to over water it.

3. Can thyme grow in shade?

Yes, thyme can be grown in the shade! Try to avoid planting in moist areas, though, as thyme prefers to grow in drier conditions (it is pretty drought resistant once it has grown up, as well, which might be handy in some climates!)

Have You Successfully Grown Herbs in the Shade?

There we have it, the answer to ‘do any herbs actually grow well in shade?’ They do, and there are plenty of things you can make with them (including money!) once they are thriving! What has your experience been with herbs that grow in shade? Any advice for new shade gardeners?


Alice is a writer who grew up on a beautiful homestead in rural Old England. She now lives in New England with her fur babies and is on a mission to return to the land for a simpler, greener, and all-round kinder existence.

Recent Posts