Perennial Herbs for Cold Climates

An herb garden is almost an essential part of every kitchen garden, providing fresh, flavourful seasonings for the cook and attracting beneficial insects. Although northern gardeners might not be able to overwinter a border of lavender, there are many hardy perennial herbs and self-seeding annual herbs to use in your garden. Others can be brought inside and grown as housplants for the winter. If a plant is hardy to one or two zones above yours, it might be worth trying, as long as you have a good snow cover or give it plenty of mulch for the winter. Although it might succumb to the coldest winters, it might survive seven out of every ten years.

From the helpful book Culinary Herbs for Short-Season Gardeners, here is a list of herbs for the colder zones:

Herbs hardy to zone 2: Hyssop, juniper, Turkestan rose (Rosa rugosa).

Herbs hardy to zone 3: Agrimony, caraway, catnip, English chamomile, chives, upland cress, garlic, hops, horseradish, peppermint, spearmint, parsley (usually only lives 2 or 3 years), oriental poppy (although most sources list these seeds as inedible), dog rose (Rosa canina), garden sorrel and French sorrel.

Herbs hardy to zone 4: Angelica, lemon balm, bee balm, garlic chives, sweet cicely, anise hyssop, lovage, lesser calamint, mountain mint, garden sage, winter savory, French tarragon, thyme.

Herbs hardy to zone 5: Lavender, exotic mint hybrids (apple, ginger, orange, chocolate, etc.), large-flowered calamint.

Herbs grown as annuals: Basil, chervil, garden cress, fennel, fenugreek, scented geraniums, sweet marjoram, korean mint, mexican mint marigold, white and brown mustard (grown for seeds), nasturtiums, Greek oregano, rosemary, summer savory.

Annual herbs that reseed themselves: Borage, false chamomile, coriander, dill (to zone 3), pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), flat-leaved parsley, opium poppy (for seeds, of course).

Herbs that can be overwintered indoors: Sweet marjoram, Greek oregano, rosemary, thyme.


  1. We live in zone 5 and have had success over wintering our Greek oregano in the garden by leaving the oak leaves that fall on it until it warms up in the spring. When we take them off there is a lovely dense show of green under there. It's been 3 winters now and this past one we had some nasty cold days and heavy snow fall.

  2. I live in zone 3 and my Greek oregano keeps coming back as well :)

  3. Wow,this gives me hope, I live in Ontario on the edge of the St.Laurence River, I'll try mulching. Canadian zone 5. My Greek Oregano is gorgeous & the Golden one too! Thanks :))

  4. I live in Zone 3, with a fairly sheltered yard and my Angelica self-seeds (it's a biennial) along with anise hyssop. Thyme is 'iffy' - French Cooking thyme returns for 2 years if snow cover is heavy as well as tarragon.
    Apple mint, spearmint and peppermint all ramble around year to year.
    'Munstead' lavender is the hardiest of all and returns every year although the stems look dead until mid-June and re-green shortly thereafter. 'Hidcote' and 'Provence' lavenders are iffy - I replace them every 3 years.
    I 'trick' my biennials herbs and plants to think they need to survive another year by snipping off the seedheads along the stems, forcing the plant to return the following year to complete its plant cycle. When the flower scape only has 3 to 5 flowers at its top, I chop down the flower stalk to the ground, preventing it from going to seed and dying.

    1. That is an AWSOME! idea. Thanks for the trick. I will definantly be using it

  5. I have Greek Oregano in Northern Vermont and it has been in my garden for about ten years. We have moved it a couple of times. Be careful and contain it or it will spread like wild fire.

  6. I have regular oregano and lavender in the garden from last year and both are coming back as well as the peppermint and spearmint.

  7. I live in zone 4b with punishing winters. These herbs came back:
    chives, spring onions, garlic, golden oregano, all mint varieties, all thyme varieties.

  8. Here in the upper reaches of zone 5 I've had good luck overwintering my Greek oregano, but not thyme.

  9. lovage grows fine here and comes back every year 2 manitoba canada

  10. I'm in zone 4b, and can't get thyme to come back no matter what. Sage and lovage, no problem; Greek oregano can't be gotten rid of (I dug it out and now it's coming up through cracks in the parking pad) . But thyme dies every year. Any tips?

  11. Interesting as my thyme comes back every year in southern Yukon zone 1-2 (we are not sure which and climate change is huge here). I've had it about 4 years now.

  12. We live in zone 2 and our oregano has come back to life for seven years. I need to trim them back to curb their growth. I give no mulch covering at all and suspect the early snow creates a nice blanket.

  13. It is great to see all these comments. A good snow cover will help overwinter many herbs that are not rated as hardy for your area. If your area does not get good snow, a covering of leaves or mulch might keep many of the herbs mentioned above alive for you.

  14. In Zone 5, my thyme has thrived for several winters, harsh as well as mild.

  15. I garden near Brandon, Manitoba, in zone 2b, and it is so interesting to see how varied herbs can be in their hardiness; I amn going to give French tarragon a try after reading these posts. I too have found Munstead to be the hardiest lavender, and that was after I stopped following
    the recommendations of mild climate gardening books and stopped trying to grow it in full hot sun. It appreciates some shade at mid-day, and likes regular watering, too, in my dry prairie garden. I have had two lovage plants for many years; when there is plenty of moisture they grow as tall as me (5'9"). Occasionally a sage plant will survive the winter but rarely thyme, and I've had plain oregano as self-sown annual and as perennial (if left undisturbed) since I first planted it many years ago. Chives & garlic chives survive the winter well, as do the Welsh onions. They don't form bulbs but make wonderful thick green onions that I like to braise in butter and eat on toast, yum! They are often our first veggie from the garden (after the parsnips that didn't get harvested the fall before).


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