Herbs: Overview

herbsHerbs have a long history of use by humans for medicinal, cosmetic, and culinary purposes. Consumption of herbs and spice has recently doubled, providing new opportunities for products and markets. Herbs include plants from many different families, which all have their own cultural requirements. Herbs are grown for a wide variety of products or purposes including food products, potted plants, decorative or edible flowers, essential oils, spices, teas, dyes, cosmetic products, and health products. The large growth in fresh culinary herbs provides opportunities for growers to develop a special market.

Some of the more popular fresh culinary herbs include basil, cilantro, mint, rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, dill, arugula, chives, oregano, lemon balm, tarragon, and marjoram. It is likely that production will continue to increase, especially in states, like Florida, with intensive vegetable production. Herbs have traditionally been considered a good crop choice for small farms; however, many herbs are now becoming fully integrated with larger fresh market vegetable operations in packing, cooling, transport, and marketing. For small growers, finding specialized local markets or unique herbs may be important for success.

One major challenge for herb producers in Florida is that few chemicals are labeled for most of these specialty crops due to the small market potential for chemical manufacturers. Producers should be familiar with farming practices that will reduce pest problems, such as organic production, greenhouse production, and other protected agricultural systems. Small growers considering herbs as an alternative crop will need to prepare for relatively labor-intensive production demands, especially in harvesting, packaging, and marketing. In addition, developing a sound marketing plan in terms of both market outlets and crop choice will be critical for success.